The Dirt

2014 Container Challenge Results

Containers of Tomorrow Finalists: What will become of container gardening in years to come?

Last spring, when we announced the theme of the newest Container Design Challenge, we asked you to predict the future of container design. We imagine there was a bit of head-scratching going on, but while it might have stymied you all for a while, in the end your predictions made for some highly attractive and entertaining entires! Here are the winner and a number of clever finalists.

The Winner!

A design that both evokes and saves water
By Nancy Lowry Moitrier from Annapolis, Maryland

“Each new year in the garden brings unexpected challenges, oftentimes with fabulous results. Knowing that the future of our water supply is in question, we all need to be designing with and planting xeric plants. With this thought in mind, I created this towering, 12-foot-tall planting. The combination of succulents resembles living coral at the bottom of our oceans and the ageratum surrounding them is homage to the seas where beautiful corals live. This container receives only a light misting of water twice a week when we have no rain.”

  1. ‘Sticks on Fire’ pencil tree (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’, Zones 12-13)
  2. Paddle plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, Zone 11)
  3. ‘Fred Ives’ graptoveria (X Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’, Zones 10-11)
  4. Pazazz™ moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora cv., annual)
  5. Agave (Agave sp., Zones 7-11)
  6. Aloe (Aloe vera, Zones 10-11)
  7. ‘Blue Horizon’ ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’, annual)

Congratulations, Nancy! We love both your vision and your design. You win $200 gift certificates to both Lee Valley Tools and Bluestone Perennials. Have fun on your shopping sprees!


The Finalists:

Making a big splash with fewer resources
By Jane Horn from Prior Lake, Minnesota

“When we have a shortage of water in the future, we can still use container plantings to make a big impact by combining them with sculpture. It would no doubt take at least seven containers grouped together to make the same impact as this one sculpture combined with one container. The bonus with this sculpture is that it collects and directs rain water into the container.”

  1. King Tut® Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus ‘King Tut’, USDA Hardiness Zones 10-11)
  2. ‘Red Sister’ ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa ‘Red Sister’, Zones 11)
  3. ‘White Queen’ caladium (Caladium bicolor ‘White Queen’, Zone 13)
  4. ‘Heart of the Jungle’ elephant’s ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Heart of the Jungle’, Zones 8- 11)
  5. Variegated basket grass (Oplismenus hirtellus ‘Variegatus’, Zone 11)
  6. Fiber optic grass (Isolepsis cernuus, Zones 8-10)

Preparing to blast off into space
By Penny Pollock-Barnes from Fort Scott, Kansas

“With the advent of commercial space flight, it’s just a matter of time before we are all rocketing off to our vacations on Europa. It may be a while before normal people can actually afford a trip to space but there is a decent chance our children might break orbit. This container symbolizes our future in space. The red canna flower represents the flames lifting the rocket, made by my seven year old daughter and me, into the sky and beyond. The greens and browns below represent the plants and soil of the Earth.”

  1. Tropicanna® Black canna (Canna indica ‘Lon01’, Zones 7-11)
  2. Tropicanna® Gold canna (Canna indica ‘Mactro’, Zones 7-11)
  3. ‘Defiance’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Defiance’, Zones 12-13)
  4. Caribbean Sunset™ Mexican heather (Cuphea cyanea ‘Caribbean Sunset’, Zones 9-11)
  5. ‘Sweet Caroline Red’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Sweet Caroline Red’, Zone 11)
  6. Million Kisses™ Amour begonia (Begonia ‘Yamour’, Zone 11)

Rediscovering the origins of food
By JoAnn Boyer from Riverbank, California

“In the future, automation has removed the human touch from food production. The art of gardening is disappearing. But we will need that skill to survive someday. Making a tub vegetable garden gives you the opportunity to feel the soil, to choose the plants you grow, and to experience the simple joy and superb flavor of your first home-grown tomato. Now you’re an urban farmer!”

  1. ‘Verde a Costa Bianca’ Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ‘Verde a Costa Bianca’, annual)
  2. ‘Gigante di Napoli’ parsley (Petroselinum crispum ‘Gigante di Napoli’, Zones 5-9)
  3. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris, Zones 4-9)
  4. ‘Italiano Classico’ basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Italiano Classico’, annual)
  5. ‘Whitney’ Hungarian stuffing pepper (Capsicum annuum ‘Whitney’, annual)
  6. 'Super Marzano’ tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Super Marzano’, annual)
  7. ‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplant (Solanum melongena ‘Rosa Bianca’, annual)


A grim view of the future from a sci-fi master

By Nancy Haynes from Woodstock, Vermont

“My container is based on Ray Bradbury's book "Fahrenheit 451" and his futuristic world where books and reading are banned. My planter is a pile of books with flames of red and yellow celosia above and blue flames of lobelia below, all in a fire grate.”

1. Celosia (Celosia argentea cvs., annual)

2. Lobelia (Lobelia erinus cv., annual)


Finding beauty amidst choas

By Jeff Carlton from Kingsport, Tennessee

“My vision of the future in gardening, what with climate change, difficult economic situations, and global hunger and suffering, is all represented here in this container. Gardeners will always find a way to express and demonstrate beauty no matter the situation. I used an old discarded fire pit as the container, filling it with drought tolerant plants that are able to withstand harsh dry conditions. This container was not watered even once all season after the initial planting and watering. The deer skull was another found object. I hope this container adequately conveys the hope and resilience of human nature to make the most of and to conquer any situation.”

  1. Variegated heartleaf ice plant (Aptenia cordifolia ‘Variegata’, Zones 10-11)
  2. ‘Kiwi’ aeonium (Aeonium ‘Kiwi, Zones 10-11)
  3. ‘Dwarf Apache’ crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii ‘Dwarf Apache’, Zone 11)
  4. Blue chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscae, Zones 10-11)
  5. African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona, Zones 10-11)
  6. Pachyphytum (Pachyphytum sp., Zone 11)

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