Container Gardening: 250 Design Ideas & Step-By-Step Techniques

A Book Review

Container Gardening: 250 Design Ideas & Step-By-Step Techniques from the Editors and Contributors of Fine Gardening.

Container Gardening is Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings and pumpkin pie for desert. The book is loaded with luscious color photos that are good enough to eat.  In full color and growing in glorious containers are everything from big and beautiful red banana, fabulous foliage Persian shield, sophisticated silver sage, eye catching Dragon Wing begonia, spectacular succulent echeveria, packing a punch Mandevilla, summer radiance ‘Cherries Jubilee’ Allamanda, incredible edible ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets to bring on the drama – Rex begonia.

Container Gardening Cover

Container Gardening Cover

Container Gardening is filled with imaginative and creative ideas to grow new plant combinations and to accessorize with plants and containers in new ways.  For example, not many gardeners would have thought to use a sweet potato from the grocery store billowing out of a large container with white Million Bells Calibrachoa (annual), Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ (perennial), lemon grass (herb) and Purple Wave petunia (annual), but the combination of textures, shapes and forms is quite attractive. 

The book is full of creative ideas portrayed through pictures. One at the beginning that I like is a wrought Iron table with large openings in a grid pattern on the top. The openings are the perfect size for the 4” terra cotta pots shown slid through part way. A series of succulents are placed around the edge of the table with larger gallon pots in the center. Smaller pots are placed under the mesh table on patio blocks.  Some patio slabs have been removed and squares of attractive plants growing up from below. 

Beside the elegant and formal container displays are a few fun examples of funky pots and funky painted Adirondack chairs for the whimsical at heart (like me!).  And for those that need help to stage containers, there are photos that show how easy it is to create an attractive display using overturning pots to build up a pedestal to the desired height.

Container Gardening is more than just a book of inspiring pictures – it is informative too. Many of the plants are listed with their hardiness zone or category labels: annual, perennial, herb, etc.  The Materials & Techniques section is a particularly good part of the book for do it yourself information. 

A step-by-step propagation section shows how to take tip cuttings and which plants are the best to root.

Lee Reich contributed a chapter on making a good potting soil. He suggests mixing your own soil, which he says he has found produces better results than commercial mixes.  He includes a homemade potting soil recipe which uses 2 gallons each of peat moss, perlite, compost and garden soil. Included with this he adds ½ cup each of dolomitic limestone, soybean meal, greensand, rock phosphate and kelp powder.

Do-it-yourselfers will appreciate the Drip Irrigation 101 chapter with details on setting up a watering system. Also informative is the build your own lined hanging basket and hypertufa container.

The photos are nicely done with good close up details. Including real world situations portrayed by insect eaten leaves. Many nice, lush and full packed pictures of containers fill the pages – some a bit too full, reminding me of how a garden would look after being prepared for an open garden day – warning, selective pruning will be required for some containers in about two weeks to keep the plants in bounds. In any event, the Fabulous Foliage chapter is fabulous.

Throughout the book are numerous design and staging suggestions such as to break up wall space with containers or soften hard edges and corners with containers. 

One of the best design tips in the book is to think of the plants going into your containers as being in one of three categories.   The “Thrillers” are the plants that make a bold and exciting centerpiece – like New Zealand flax. The “Spillers” are the plants that tumble from the container – like sweet potato vine, and  the “Fillers” are the plants that fill up the pot. This last group includes lantana, pentas or wax begonia. Think of using the three basic types of plants, thrillers, spillers and fillers in your next container design.

Container Gardening is full of good solid information about successfully creating more above ground growing areas.  But there are a couple of areas where I wanted the writers to tell or show me more. While many container plant arrangements were identified with a drawn key, there were still some that were not fully identified and this was a bit frustrating. Also, I wanted to read more than just 4 pages about using perennials in containers as I feel that they are underused and could really add a lot to any garden.  An expanded chapter on edible plants in containers would also be justified as interest in food growing is on the increase at present. There are plenty more vegetable plants that are excellent for containers that could have been shown.  Well maybe Taunton Press has plans for a follow up book to cover these areas.  

 Container Gardening: 250 Design Ideas & Step-By-Step Techniques from the Editors and Contributors of Fine Gardening is available in paperback, 240 pages $19.95 ISBN-13: 978-1-60085-080-6
Cover image used with permission of The Taunton Press.

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