Whether your container is left empty as a sculptural element or abundantly planted with a colorful assortment of trees, shrubs perennials and annuals, it is unlikely to be seen in isolation. Often they are placed
- On a patio
- Within a garden border
- Adjacent to a path
Look around and behind your container – what do you see? Is there a colorful shrub or tree adjacent to the container? Are there distant trees – what color is the foliage in spring, summer, fall or winter?
If we take these color and style cues into account when we select plants for the container or the color of the container itself, the overall composition becomes a memorable vignette, not just a container garden. Even a small container can ‘ live large’ when tied into its surroundings in this way.
Foliage as a Backdrop
Sometimes it is only through the camera lens that we really see what works. I tried photographing this purple pot in several locations and from different angles before settling on this one. I needed to achieve two things; have the container be distinct from the backdrop yet also be visually related to it. Since the pot is only about 18″ in front of the grass that wasn’t easy!
To keep the seriously squished, exuberant planting from being lost I looked for a solid backdrop. That didn’t mean it had to be a conifer or hedge but rather that there was only subtle detail within the backdrop foliage itself. The soft wispy Shenandoah grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) provided a shimmery curtain that set off the bolder textures of the plants in the container.
Since the color scheme of the container was purple, burgundy and silver with a pop of raspberry for accent the burgundy tipped grass tied in perfectly.
Foliage as a Frame
When empty containers are placed in the garden they always seem to look better when nestled within plants rather than standing in a void. I especially like to add foliage plants with soft textures in front of them but take care to tie the colors of the foliage and container together.
In the photo above you can see how the multi-hued leaves of Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Gulf Stream’) repeats the dusky colors of the rustic pot. A cream and yellow striped grass would not have completed the scene so effectively
Foliage as a Color Highlight
This small blue pot is only 12″ tall and wide so I often set it into a border to make it ‘live large’. This fall it is planted with foliage in shades of gold and blue/green, accented with the pink Bud Bloomer heather in the center. Notice the broad leaf perennial at the front which is a blend of pinky-purple and dusky green. That is Burgundy Glow bugleweed (Ajuga repens ‘Burgundy Glow’ ) and was my inspiration for setting the pot within a cluster of Midnight Wine weigela (Weigela florida ‘Midnight Wine’). This adds depth to the colors of the bugelweed and frames the entire scene taking this blue pot from a small focal point into a more dramatic vignette
Foliage as a Seasonal Accent
Learn to observe the changes in the garden and see if you can take advantage of seasonal foliage colors. Here the clay rim of the container is enhanced by the backdrop of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’) in its fall glory. In summer a blue hosta to the front of the pot ties into the main container color.
Foliage sets the Scene
A tropical design in this container would not have been nearly so effective – or pleasing to the eye as this more naturalistic style. The backdrop of native trees, shrubs and ferns suggested this dwarf maple as the centerpiece (Acer palmatum ‘Redwood’) whose red bark tied into the color of the container itself and inspired the colors of the summer annuals. The container stands out from the backdrop visually yet stylistically it is connected to it.
If you would like to learn more about using containers as focal points in the garden take a look at the course I teach for Craftsy; GORGEOUS GARDEN DESIGN; Foliage and Focal Points