Containers-Part One

A new month means a new topic for the Garden Blogger’s Design Workshops begun by Nan over at GGW , Gardening Gone Wild, one of my must read blogs. This popular series brings the creative juices to a rolling boil in many a gardener, new or with a few years of digging the dirt under their fingernails. This time the topic is containers, not one of our shining stars here at Faire Garden for sure. BUT we will concentrate on the containers themselves, rather than what is planted in them, since the plantings are almost never up to snuff. In fact, it has often been thought that the containers would look better with nothing planted in them than the sometimes pathetic choices we have made. This is part one of two posts about the containers here, beginning with the concrete like materials.
Above, one of our favorites, the
in the tree stump is making the ‘O’ face as the squirrel disappears inside. The size of the opening that can house a plant is shallow,but it does have a drainage hole, so the hens and chicks have survived there. Another consideration is the ability of the container to endure a long season of freeze and thaw, the death knell of many a pot. We don’t empty the containers as the season turns cold, but rather want to use them for winter interest of some kind. This guy was sold as frost proof, and has held up so far after several years of those conditions.

A sentimental favorite container, this pot is kept under cover on the front porch. That means that it does not get watered with rainfall, so remembering to add water at least weekly even through the winter is an important task. The plantings have been in there for a number of years, japanese painted fern, variegated ivy and some fall blooming crocus. This was the diversionary birthday gift mentioned in the linked post.

A close up of the face on the front. The detail is good, other similar pots have been seen with lesser definition of the ornament on the outside.

Swans are also sentimental here. My childhood home, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was near a place called Swan Lake. Many a happy hour was spent hanging around that lovely place, and swans hold a dear spot in memory. There is a second swan on the opposite side of the step that leads to the knot garden at the top of the hill.There is a muhlenbergia capillaris planted in each of these.

This large concrete pot has been moved several times with a bobcat as the renovations have required a change of venue for it. There have been trees, a corylus contorta, died, a green leafed weeping japanese maple, moved into the garden and killed by the late freeze last year, planted in it. Now there are dark pink hyacinths under these violas. The cracking around the edge probably mean its days are numbered.

This is a container that was made last summer using the hypertufa recipe. It was unmolded too quickly,before it was set, causing it to break apart. What was left intact was the very shallow bottom portion. We added a stone face and planted the now dead looking agave, silver thyme and some annuals that are long gone. Only the thyme looks alive, this will have to be replanted with something more durable. Maybe all sorts of thymes would work. It is under the overhang behind the glass shower door, trying to allow the agave to live, but I would rather it sat out in the garden to cheer us on the cold dreary days of winter.

A rather odd shaped trough also made last summer embedded with colored marbles left over from a failed fish vase. The photo of Mrs. Bongo Congo featured on the sidebar of this blog shows this same batch of hypertufa mixture used with the red colorant. Three types of ferns, possibly hardy, we shall soon see about that, were planted in it last fall. The violas were added for color and the black rocks were to keep the pesky squirrels from burying walnuts in the soft soil.

Two troughs like this were made a few years ago. This is the second one and looks mainly to be a home for various mosses. A large erica that took up most of the space died last year, the mini marbles heucheras are still growing plus some sedums and thyme. The moss look is fine, maybe we will let this just be a moss garden.

Trough number one is planted with some ferns, ajuga, erodium and another erica, this one still seems to be alive. Columbines have seeded themselves from the plantings along the wall, we shall decide if they are too big to be allowed in this pot, when they have grown a little more.

Moving to a new catagory of pot material, metal. No worry of frost damage there. This one has worked out well with edibles planted, chives, parsley, which will have to be replaced, and thyme. Situated right out the back door for easy herb snipping, this one can be considered a success. Dill, basil and cilantro were all tried in here but didn’t survive or grew too large. The little pots below hold sedums and heuchera.

The window trough on the shed adds to its cottage look and is planted with japanese painted fern, acorus, japanese blood grass and sweet william. Alyssum and lobelia look pretty cascading over the edge but usually succumb to our hot summers. The fern really fills the whole space and is one of the tried and true plants used all over here, it makes babies like crazy, giving us lots of free plants. On the ground beneath this planter the ferns have dropped their spores and are scattered among the foxgloves, a good combo.

This old rusted out wheelbarrow was found under some brush when we bought the property, a real treasure! Sedums and more japanese blood grass keep the copper praying mantis company. It looks like it needs some more soil added, put that on the job list.

Another rusty item, this old toolbox had holes drilled in the bottom and has been home to the pink scullcap and this little blue grass for several years. I think the tag called it miniature bear grass, does anyone recognize it? It’s leaves are thicker than the blue fescue.

Our policy calls for mostly perennials to be planted in the containers, a tall order to be able to winter over without protection and summer over through the heat and drought. Grasses, sedums and the ever present japanese painted fern are the survivors of this difficult test. Containers have a rough life here.



Containers-Part Two will show the more flowery glazed pottery.

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34 Responses to Containers-Part One

  1. karen says:

    I love the face in the tree stump!

    I think you may have hit on a great truth–that the thing to concentrate on is the container itself since the plantings are almost never up to snuff. I too am concentrating on succulents and other drought-tolerant stuff that will survive in containers without much care.

  2. Robin's Nesting Place says:

    You definitely have the concrete thing figured out. I love the trough containers you’ve made.

  3. GardenJoy4Me says:

    Love this post !
    I think you can tell a lot about a gardener through containers ..
    I love seeing the “greenman” face or Celtic designs on containers .. I found quite a few , unglazed terra cotta rectangle ones last year and fell in love with them !
    It is amazing to see so many different kinds ..

  4. Frances, says:

    Karen…Thanks. I agree about using the easy to care for sedums in special containers, those sedums are tough!

    Robin’sNestingPlace…Thanks. We do have lots of fun with concrete around here. Remember, concrete is your friend!

    GardenJoy4Me…Thanks and welcome. We are drawn to the celtic faces and sometimes cannot resist purchasing them even though we have so much here. ;->

  5. Gail says:


    Love the troughs…just can’t ever pronounce the name! I think sedums and moss are up to snuff in your troughs.

    You call it an old toolbox but I see a treasure chest…


  6. Wurzerl says:

    Great, great, great!!! I take them all!! It’ s a big fun to look for extravagant containers to plant my Sempervivum. Your ideas are really wonderful.
    Have a good time

  7. Frances, says:

    Gail…You are so funny, and thanks. I think of trough like soft without the ‘t’, whether that is correct is unknown and the spelling always looks wrong! I hated to throw out that toolbox, but the stray cats had really caused it to smell, the tools inside were tossed. Why they thought that looked like a good place to leave their calling cards, who knows? It makes a good planter, winter hardy.

    Wurzerl…Thanks. Sempervivums will grow in just about anything, even old shoes!

  8. Nan Ondra says:

    Oh, brilliant, Frances! Once again, you’ve come up with a delightfully different spin on the theme. Looking at some of your planted containers (especially the troughs) makes me think that I’ve been attempting too much: that using special containers to showcase one or a few gems may be a better way to go than trying to stuff a whole garden’s-worth of plants into one pot. I like all of your containers, but that toolbox is my favorite, too!

  9. Frances, says:

    Nan…Thanks. It’s funny, I almost didn’t include the tool box, it is so ratty looking, even the plants are nothing to write home about. Do you know the dwarf bear grass? There were originally planted along with what is there now a calibrachoa and another scullcap, both succumbed to cold. I spread the grass around to fill in the space until something better comes along.

  10. jodi says:

    Wow, you’re a container Queen, aren’t you Frances! I’d so love to visit your garden for real one day…but meanwhile, I simply love this–lots of whimsy as well as being attractive, and we know how much I appreciate whimsy. I’m especially impressed that you use mostly perennials in your containers. I’m just the opposite except for one full of alpine type plants.

  11. Sherry at the Zoo says:

    You’ve inspired me to think outside of the box for containers. I especially like the old wheelbarrow.

  12. Frances, says:

    Jodi…I would love for you to visit my garden for real, anytime you want! The first thought for the troughs was alpine plants, but our summers are too hot and humid for them. The magazine pictures that have been saved in my wish book all show alpine type plants, I think the erodium may be one, but it was Lewisia that was coveted, it died immediately. Ever on the lookout for something else.

    Sherry…It is fun to look around for old items that could be used for plantings, old shoes, old pots and pans, anything that will hold soil and has drainage. Thanks about the wheelbarrow, they don’t make them like that anymore, all metal, even the handles.

  13. gintoino says:

    Very nice containers! I love the first one, the face in the tree stump. Beautiful! Those hypertufa containers are just what I need for my sempervivum collection. I think I might try and do one (I’m not very handy, but we’ll see…)

  14. Frances, says:

    gintoino…Thanks. Do try your hand at the troughs, but be very patient before you unmold them, follow the directions carefully, or they will break apart like mine did!

  15. lintys says:

    Frances, your containers are fabulous! They have so much personality. Linda

  16. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Frances you aren’t the only one that has trouble with planters. Gee, I try and try with planters and end up disappointed. I usually use annuals in my planters. I like the wow of the blooms. I do have some bamboo in a planter though. I have threatened to try a bush or tree in a planter here or there. I just love your post. It gives me hope that I can get some moss going in a planter too. I still use my rusty old wheelbarrow. I have a new model but it seems that the wheel is always flat when I want to use it. I have also wanted to try tofa troughs. Maybe yet this year I will be able to. I don’t know why I keep putting it off. I love the look of them.

  17. Frances, says:

    Lintys…Linda, thanks and welcome to Faire Garden.

    Lisa…Thanks, I know what you mean about the wheelbarrow tire, our two both have flats when I need to use them. You would enjoy making a trough, you are handy and creative, they are fun.

  18. Mr. McGregor's Daughter says:

    You’re right, when you have such interesting containers, it really doesn’t matter what (if anything) you put in them. Thanks for the idea about using river rocks to thwart the squirrels. The containers are their favorite place to plant their peanuts, the little pests.

  19. Frances, says:

    MMD…Thanks, those squirrels are a constant problem but really are at their worst in the fall.

  20. jodi says:

    Ms. Frances….congratulations to you…you were the winner of a copy of my book for your entry in the Garden Blogger’s Geography Project. I thought I had your email somewhere in my computer, but I can’t find it. So if you could please email me at jodi at bloomingwriter dot ca, with your address and such, I’ll put it in the mail right away.

  21. Pam/Digging says:

    You have a lot of fun containers, Frances. My favorite is the toolbox.

  22. Piondröm says:

    Hi Frances!
    You realy shown all the ways you can plant in:)
    A exelent contrubution and a lot of fine picks and tips for us.
    I cant say that I have the right tutsh for pots and containers beacouse I dont remember to watering them so often that they like.I have big broblems whith my Brugmansia in my pots.

  23. Ewa says:

    Frances, I love this post. All these pots are great! I have similar container policy – planting resistant perennials.

  24. Frances, says:

    Jodi…Now that is the best comment ever received! Thanks for hosting the geography project, and for leaving the list up so we can catch up with any entries that we may have missed. Your writing is superb and your book will be gobbled up and treasured. Thanks.

  25. Frances, says:

    Pam…Thanks. There is another post coming with more traditional containers. That toolbox is very popular.

    Ken…Thanks and welcome. A brugmansia in a container is a huge thing to deal with! Have you posted a photo of it? I will check it out.

    Ewa…Thanks. There is a lot of in the ground gardening around here so the container policy is ‘fend for yourselves’!

  26. semi says:

    I love your pots. I think my fav is the ones you make. I want to try one this year. love semi

  27. Frances, says:

    semi…Thanks. Yes, let’s do one together this summer. The weather needs to be warm for the cement to set properly. love.

  28. Yolanda Elizabet says:

    First off: congrats on winning Jodi’s book!!! You lucky woman, you! 🙂

    Secondly: I loved this container tour of yours. The first one cracked me up, such a fun thing!

    Love the troughs you’ve made, they look great. That old tool box has got a great second life as a plant container!

    You are right about frost proof being very important. Just noticed today that one of my terra cotta containers has cracked from side to side and is a goner.

  29. Frances, says:

    YE…Thanks, that container always makes me smile. We have lost many pots to the frost starting with cracks like you say. Then the plants within have to find new homes, bad all around. Stay tuned for part two on the containers tomorrow.

  30. brokenbeat says:

    you’ve given plenty of food for thought. luckily i have a high metabolism. keep it coming.

  31. Frances, says:

    brokenbeat…Thanks. More food coming with containers-part

  32. Annie in Austin says:

    What a fun look at your containers, Frances – as to pronunciation, just try to say ‘hypertufa trough’ without sounding like you have fake teeth in your mouth ;-]

    Even more amazing is that you’ve promised us a Part 2!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  33. Frances, says:

    Annie…HA! I can see those fake teeth in their mouths now, a group of gardening ladies with white gloves, hose, heels, matching bags, and hats with veils all with the teeth, pinkies up, trying to say ‘hypertufa trough’. Maybe that could be us at Spring Fling! Better dig out those white gloves, of course I garden in that attire. ;->

  34. Pingback: Planting a Winter Container « Fairegarden

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