Fanciful and Fun Container Gardening

Used shoe of galoshes as container of succulents
Used shoes of galoshes make very cute containers for flowers and succulents. (image by Maureen Gilmer)

Gardening, no matter what or where you plant, should be fun. Container gardening has an overwhelming fun quota because experimentation, creativity, and even mobility are part of the experience. Planting in pots is also a great equalizer. The smallest children can start seeds in paper cups, as can seniors, the disabled and just about anyone else. The idea that some people are born with a green thumb is a myth. The contagious fun of growing flowers or edible crops in interesting containers has been known to turn even lifelong black thumbs bright green.

Find It

Interesting containers, like interesting people and ideas, are everywhere. Look around the house, apartment or garage. Are you harboring an out-of-commission tea kettle? Fill it with boiling-hot-colored portulacas. Up to your eyeballs in plastic detergent containers? Cut them off to form bright-colored oval planters and pot up some of the currently fashionable succulent plants like hens and chicks (Sempervivum). Put a miniature African violet in an orphaned teacup from the local antique shop. In some parts of the country, people have been making “crown tire” planters out of bald tires since rubber began hitting the road. The tires can be decorated to suit your fancy. If your neighbors will be offended by a front-yard tire display, put it in the rear.

Shell container with pink Kalanchoe blossfeldiana
A pink Kalanchoe blossfeldiana looks seaside-ready in a turquoise shell container.

Avid container gardeners are always on the prowl for unique planters. Yard sales are a good source, as are dollar stores. Check out local curbsides on bulk pick-up days. People discard an amazing number of plant-worthy containers.

Repurpose existing receptacles. A picnic caddy, designed to hold plates and cutlery for outdoor dining, also makes an interesting, portable herb planter. Make an ultra-fashionable statement by making a container garden in an old purse or insulated lunch sack. Plant a gaudy croton in an old wastebasket. Once your mosquito-repelling citronella candle has burned down, take out the leftover wax and use the candleholder as a plant pot.

Doing It Right

Picnic caddy with ornamental herbs
This old picnic caddy is filled with fragrant, ornamental herbs.

Once you have found your planter, get your supplies. Create simple temporary plantings by sinking nursery-potted specimens into imaginative containers lined with plastic. Disguise unsightly edges with sphagnum moss. For more permanent plantings, check the bottom of the chosen container. If it already has drainage holes, you are all set. If not, and the vessel can withstand being pierced, create holes in the bottom. If making drainage holes would ruin the container, create drainage room by covering the container’s bottom with a one-inch layer of fine gravel before adding the potting medium and plants.

Good potting mix is essential. Most plants benefit from an excellent all-purpose medium like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with extended feed with Resilience™. Depending on the types of plants in your containers, you may need specialist planting media, like Fafard® African Violet Potting Mix or Fafard® Cactus & Succulent Potting Mix. Differences among the various potting mixes are determined by the amount of drainage material incorporated into the mix, as well as the addition of nutrients specific to different plant types.

Picking Plants

Cactus fountain
An old fountain is repurposed as a beautiful succulent container garden. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

Pick plants for containers the same way you select garden plants—right plant, right place. Container specimens in small to medium-size vessels are easy to transport, so it is sometimes easier to match light requirements to plant types. Sun-loving plants, including most flowering varieties and many edibles, require full sun, which means at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Shade lovers, like begonias, can get by with as little as a couple of hours of dappled sunlight.

No matter whether you plant a miniature blueberry bush in an old spackle bucket or an entire small vegetable garden in a leaky wheelbarrow, be sure to water regularly. Container plants tend to be more thirsty than those grown in-ground. Fertilize regularly as well, especially if your plantings are nutrient-hungry annuals.

About Elisabeth Ginsburg

Born into a gardening family, Elisabeth Ginsburg grew her first plants as a young child. Her hands-on experiences range from container gardening on a Missouri balcony to mixed borders in the New Jersey suburbs and vacation gardening in Central New York State. She has studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere and has also written about gardens, landscape history and ecology for years in traditional and online publications including The New York Times Sunday “Cuttings” column, the Times Regional Weeklies, Horticulture, Garden Design, Flower & Garden, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. Her “Gardener’s Apprentice” weekly column appears in papers belonging to the Worrall chain of suburban northern and central New Jersey weekly newspapers and online at She and her feline “garden supervisors” live in northern New Jersey.

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