A Jewel-Box Garden Container for Shade That Shines All Year

This small container can be reworked each season to bring its best qualities forward

spring container with pale purple flowers

Spring Container Design

Pale purple blooms tower over a sweet and simple spring display

Not all containers with trees and shrubs need to be large. The lavender spring flowers of this dwarf rhodie play off of the purple-black sheen of black mondo grass. A bright yellow-green sweetgrass adds color contrast and visual balance to the other side of the container. ‘Cameo’ rue anemone is one of my personal spring favorites with its dainty blue-green foliage and double pinkish white flowers. Toward the back of the container, a heuchera and ‘Winter Glow’ bergenia add height. Bergenia’s shiny, leathery leaves provide an evergreen contrast to finer textures in the composition.

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Centerpiece woody

1. ‘Purple Gem’ rhododendron

(Rhododendron ‘Purple Gem’, Zones 5–8)

2. Irish moss (Sagina subulata, Zones 4–8)

3. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Zones 6–9)

4. ‘Ogon’ sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, Zones 5–9)

5. ‘Winter Glow’ bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winter Glow’ syn. ‘Winterglut’, Zones 4–8)

6. ‘Apple Crisp’ heuchera (Heuchera ‘Apple Crisp’, Zones 4–9)

7. ‘Cameo’ rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides ‘Cameo’, Zones 4–8)

8. Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa forbesii, Zones 3–8)

Summer Container Update

Bright pink contrasts with soothing greens

summer container with bright pink flowers and lots of green foliage

As summer arrived, ‘Cameo’ rue anemone was swapped out for aquamarine. The circular, pale green leaves cascade over the side of the container and echo its pock-marked texture that looks a bit like water rushing over stones. A mini hosta in full bloom peeks out from underneath a bold ‘Plum Crazy’ wood sorrel, which becomes the instant focal point of the container with its pink leaves and little yellow flowers. The greens and pinks contrast well with the turquoise and brown container.

– RemovedThese spring ephemerals start to fade once summer arrives.

  • ‘Cameo’ rue anemone
  • Glory-of-the-snow



✓ KeptMost of the elements in this container will go strong throughout the growing season.

  1. ‘Purple Gem’ rhododendron
  2. Irish moss
  3. Black mondo grass
  4. ‘Ogon’ sweet flag
  5. ‘Winter Glow’ bergenia
  6. Apple Crisp’ heuchera

+ Added:

7. Aquamarine (Pilea glauca, Zones 9–11)

8. ‘Plum Crazy’ wood sorrel (Oxalis spiralis subsp. vulcanicola ‘Plum Crazy’, Zones 8–11)

9. ‘School Mouse’ hosta (Hosta ‘School Mouse’, Zones 3–9)


Fall Container Updates

Changing foliage colors add new interest

fall container with foliage changing color

Fall brings the addition of an autumn fern, which turns red late in the season and maintains semi-evergreen foliage over winter. A variegated October daphne sports yellow, pink, and green foliage along with dainty pink flowers. It complements the still-burgundy wood sorrel well. ‘Winter Glow’ bergenia is starting to turn red, and ‘Ogon’ sweet flag is fading to white, adding renewed interest from the plants that remained from past seasons.

– Removed: These plants would have looked good in fall but were removed to make way for new introductions.

  • ‘Apple Crisp’ heuchera
  • Aquamarine
  • ‘School Mouse’ hosta



✓ Kept: Many of these players are performing even better than they did before, with more robust growth or changing leaf colors.

  1. ‘Purple Gem’ rhododendron
  2. Irish moss
  3. Black mondo grass
  4. ‘Ogon’ sweet flag‘
  5. ‘Winter Glow’ bergenia
  6. ‘Plum Crazy’ wood sorrel
+ Added:

7. ‘Brilliance’ autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’, Zones 5–8)

8. Variegated October daphne (Hylotelephium sieboldii ‘Mediovariegatum’, Zones 3–9)



For festive flair, add birds and berries

winter container with decorative bird ornaments and berries

With its brilliant red berries, English holly brings holiday cheer. Japanese cedar and paper birch branches add height and fill in gaps from the faded perennials that were taken out. To add extra interest, a pair of decorative chickadees and a small nest were added. Throughout the four seasons, ‘Purple Gem’ rhododendron, black mondo grass, and ‘Winter Glow’ bergenia have grown and played different supporting roles while maintaining interesting foliage and structure.

– Removed: These plants were removed to make way for the bird’s nest.

  • ‘Plum Crazy’ wood sorrel
  • Variegated October daphne



✓ Kept: The rhododendron and most of the accompanying perennials won’t melt over winter and will continue to provide interest.

  1. ‘Purple Gem’ rhododendron
  2. Irish moss
  3. Black mondo grass
  4. ‘Ogon’ sweet flag
  5. ‘Winter Glow’ bergenia
  6. ‘Brilliance’ autumn fern
+ Added:

7. Japanese cedar branches (Cryptomeria japonica, Zones 5–9)

8. Paper birch branches

9. English holly branches** (Ilex aquifolium*, Zones 6–9)


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*Invasive Alert:

English holly (Ilex aquifolium)

This plant is considered invasive in AK, CA, and OR.

Please visit for more information.

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