Garden Photo of the Day

Containers in the Landscape

By Kim Charles

I love the open look of the petunia escaping from the birdcage. The boxwoods pull us down the path tos see a 4' tall container to the left.

Kevin Kelly has found that careful positioning of containers in the garden are both useful as textural elements and also a great support for plants.

"Recently, Kim requested additional photos from all of us on GPOD to get through the “lean times” before our gardens begin to kick into gear. At the risk of you getting sick of seeing my garden, I looked through my photos of 2016 for something new to contribute. I found these photos of pots that I have incorporated into my planting designs. Most of them are empty. I have found that adding them adds a textural element similar to hardscaping. The advantage is that they can be easily moved from one season to the next, or even throughout the same season to enhance , or even support, the plants. What do you think? Hope you enjoy the photos. Kevin Kelly."

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The large white pot gives our eye a resting spot in a busy border.

This planted container integrates well with the surrounding groundcovers.

Just enough color in a deeply shaded bed.

This upright glass bottle sparkles in the shade, rising above the groundcovers.

This pot echoes the hosta and brunnera.

View Comments


  1. frankgreenhalgh 03/30/2017

    Hello Kev. - There is no end to your talent! The pots definitely add considerably to the appeal of your magnificent garden. You have obviously given a lot of thought to the placement of the containers. The first photo. with the path is an absolute cracker jack. Your problem now is how to improve on a perfect garden. Nice problem to have I say. All the best Kev. Cheers from Oz

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Frank. As the plants started to fill in. I found the containers essential to stop the eye. They serve to highlight the plants around them.

  2. tennisluv 03/30/2017

    Good morning, Kevin. Thanks for sharing pictures showing how to use pots in the garden to great effect. My favs are the pot at the end of the path (interesting stepping stones) in the first photo and the barnacle encrusted wine jug in the forth one. Frank is right, you are a very talented man. Love your landscaping vision.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Sonya. My new favorite gardening activities are looking for unique containers for the garden, and searching out unique dwarf conifers (as well as reading GPOD every day).

      Containers can serve as a hardscape element (but much easier to move and rearrange)

      1. user-7008042 03/30/2017

        Could you post closer photos of the 4' tall container and the water feature (?) at the end of the pathway in the first photo? I am having a wedding in my gardens the end of May (zone 4), and know that any annuals I plant in my perennial gardens (mostly shade) will not have time to develop, so this idea of adding just the beautiful containers might help fill in my gardens! Thank you.

  3. Maggieat11 03/30/2017

    Another great set of photos, Kevin. I totally agree about the use of empty pots. And you use them to great advantage. I also love the birdcage and petunias! What is the stand of trees in the background behind the birdhouse in the 5th photo down?

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      They are some old pines in my neighbors yard across the street. They are at least 60 years old, and predate the houses.

  4. anitaberlanga 03/30/2017

    gorgeous garden! I would've never thought to use EMPTY pots in the landscape but looking at your garden I find it gives the eye something to land on and rest for a moment, before bouncing back to the gorgeous plants! I love using birdcages in my garden as well - love how lush that petunia is!

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Anita. I have about 30 empty containers in the garden, and then I usually fill another 20 with plants. The empty ones are usually unique in shape or texture, and are specifically meant to highlight the plants around them, or slow the eye when moving through the border.

      The petunia only gets about 3 hours of direct light between 11 and 2. Just enough to keep it blooming. The lower light makes it stretch out, which looks great like it is escaping the birdcage-I leave the door open :)

  5. user-7007498 03/30/2017


    1. User avater
      Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 03/30/2017

      That rust color echo between the container and coleus is wonderful. Ceramic? Actually rusted metal?

      1. user-7007498 03/30/2017


      2. user-7007140 03/30/2017

        You would have to store this for winter in Ohio.
        Beautiful with the coleus, though.

        1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

          And that one gets stored in PA, also :)

    2. User avater
      LindaonWhidbey 03/30/2017

      Ooh, this one is great with the copper coleus.

      1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

        Thanks, Linda. I love that coleus and have it multiple places in the garden. When I saw that pot, I knew it would be a great addition.

    3. Maggieat11 03/30/2017

      Glad I checked back to the site today! Great pairing, Kevin! Do you keep any of your coleus over the winter?

      1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

        Hi, Margaret. That is on my list to do, but not yet. I plan to set up a plant station in my basement for overwintering plants and cuttings. This will be my project for next winter.

  6. Jay_Sifford 03/30/2017

    Hi Kevin. I really enjoyed seeing these photos. In my mind, you are using pots to their full advantage, and I'm so glad that you don't plant them all. Not planting a pot raises its importance as a sculptural piece, I've always believed. Great work!

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Jay. You are such a wonderful designer, I appreciate the comments.

  7. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/30/2017

    Uh oh, Kevin, I think you might have unleashed a new Need Monster within my greedy gardener's heart...interesting shaped or textured pots that I don't have to feel compelled to plant in. Your selections go so perfectly in the places you have chosen for them. It's interesting how their contribution to the plant composition really elevates the whole impression. Truly, wonderfully done! What is the name of the warmly hued heuchera in the 2nd bonus picture? Talk about an inspiring vignette!

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Hi Michaele. Container hunting can be quite fun. Thanks for the great comments. The copper plant in the bonus photo on the right is actually a coleus. There is a silver heuchera in front of it called 'Venus'

  8. Sunshine111 03/30/2017


    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Lily. Hope your plants held up after the snow recently. My hellebores bounced back great after being in full bloom and buried under 19 inches of snow.

      1. Sunshine111 03/31/2017

        Hi Kevin! My hellebores are still dormant. We have had alternating snow storms and 50 degree days! Yesterday it was 50 degrees out and I was sitting on my back deck in the sunshine. Today it has started snowing again, and we are expecting another 5 to 10 inches of snow. Heavy wet snow…. Next week is supposed to get up into the 50s for a day or two and then more snow. Very weird weather here this year.

        1. user-7007498 04/01/2017

          Wow, Lily. I am officially over snow. We had about 1.5 inches of rain today, pretty steady, and a high of 40. At least no snow. Wants to stay cool with temps around 50 for the next 2 weeks (but NO SNOW). Good luck up in NH.

  9. Quiltingmamma 03/30/2017

    Ooooo, I see I am going to have a new focus this season - finding interesting pots without breaking the bank. These are great photos from your beautiful garden, and a great inspiration. I was going to reduce pots this year, as I wanted to reduce the potted plants, but maybe I can use them in other ways....
    Still have snow, with more snow due tomorrow, but I think I can tear my mind away from bird migration to thing about movable 'hardscapes'...thanks.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Maria. I hope this post has inspired you. That is how I started this, trying to down size the number of potted containers. Then I found out how they really add to the garden as structural elements and art.

  10. Vespasian 03/30/2017

    Lovely, what a great eye you have and what a spectacular garden you have created. The gorgeous pots add such interest and style. Love it and thanks for sharing so many photos

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks so much for the kind remarks, Ann.

  11. chelleisdiggin 03/30/2017

    Your garden is so gorgeously abundant, Kevin. I love looking at the photos and stopping to look at all of the layers. Do you leave all the containers in the garden year round? I'm thinking that most of them look ceramic or painted terra cotta. Do they hold up in the cold?

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Many of the containers I leave out, making sure the drainage holes are open (I sit them up on stone or pot feet). A few I flip upside down to keep the color in the winter. Any pot I have spent more than $300 on goes into the shed. The ceramics hold up well. With no soil you really don't have to worry about expansion and cracking.

      1. chelleisdiggin 03/31/2017

        Make sense, Kevin, thanks! My pots are all resin, metal, or fiberglass. And I do leave them out, of course. But they are pretty non-descript, I hadn't thought about using them for accent and drawing the eye. That's one of the reasons I love this forum, it keeps opening my mind to different ideas.

  12. Sajco 03/30/2017

    You must have to empty the rainwater out regularly to discourage mosquitoes?

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Sarah, I have most of the pots on feet or a few stones to hold them just off the soil. All have great drainage holes. No water issues.

  13. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 03/30/2017

    I especially like the first photo of the pathway. Very inviting. Pottery doesn't hold up too well here I'm afraid, and hauling large pots in and out of storage isn't my idea of a fun time. For more temperate climes, and in your use of pottery, it's evident pots can be used effectively to enhance even an established garden scheme. Congratulations!

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks. I don't know what zone you are in, but I am in 6b here. Most of the containers stay out, and I use a dolly to move the more delicate or pricey ones into the shed. I found that keeping the containers just off the ground (with stone or pot feet), really adds to their longevity).

  14. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 03/30/2017

    Tire of your gardens, Kevin? I don't think so. It's so jam-packed with cool things that you could photograph every square inch and come up with something different and intriguing for the blog to see. I don't recall seeing the view of the path in the first picture: wonderful.
    I think the white, ribbed container is my favorite; it's color, shape and texture is a real winner.
    I have to say that as much as I love your idea and admire the effects, I just can't implement it..... Oh, I could try, but it wouldn't take much more than a week for me to fill the empty pot with dirt and cram as many plants in it as I could! I admire your restraint! :)

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks so much, Tim. I started using empty containers when I reached my limit (around 20) of planted containers that I could adequately water before leaving for work in the AM. That's when I realized the added beauty they bring.

      You are now the second person that used "restraint" in describing my garden over the past 6 months. I have to show this to my wife, especially when I am about to make a big online purchase, or when I come home with a car jammed full of plants.

      You are definitely helping me out. Thanks.

      1. User avater
        Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 03/31/2017

        I'm happy to help. I mean, I tell my wife that I have exercised amazing self restraint when I only order 9 plants when I really, really wanted 10......

  15. floreyd 03/30/2017

    Kevin, great photos as always. Do you know which oakleaf hydrangea that is in photo 1--love the lime leaves and thinking it would really brighten up a shady spot even without any blooms...

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks. The oakleaf hydrangea is 'Little Honey'. It is one of the smallest and the color is awesome.

      1. User avater
        LindaonWhidbey 03/30/2017

        Thanks for the name of that, Kevin. I guess if I'd read comments first, I would have known this:)

  16. hontell 03/30/2017

    I have to agree with Tim, while I love the pots, every time I have an empty one it mysteriously sprouts plants. Your garden path is great as is the total lushness of your garden. Keep up the great work.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Howard. I pot up about 20 containers, which is about all I can handle. That got me started using them as garden art, which has worked out well.

  17. sheila_schultz 03/30/2017

    As with the rest of the gardens, your thoughtful positioning of the containers gives exactly the response you desire and enhances the view of your already beautiful plantings. I recognize several of your pots as being from Campania, every year it seems as if they up the ante on their new textural pieces. You've attained perfection in your gardens yet once again!

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Sheila. I have started collecting containers in addition to plants. They really calm down the business of some of the borders, and help highlight the nearby plants (which might get lost).

  18. user-4691082 03/30/2017

    Thanks Kevin. Now I'm gonna have to refinance to procure containers that big! And answer my email!

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Hi, Rhonda. I try to spread out my container fix to 1-2 really awesome ones each year.

  19. NCYarden 03/30/2017

    Very pleasant to see your gardens again, Kevin...and certainly a different look than my winter stroll. I'm sure they were there on my visit but I was so taken with the conifers I suppose I just didn't pay enough attention. I'll have to get back during the growing season some time. But I do like the way you artfully place your pots et al. I attempt it at times but it always ends up seeming much more haphazard, and I ultimately seem to stash them away "way in the back" somewhere. Having seen this post I may give it another go now that I have some inspiration and a little guidance - maybe it's an attention deficit thing because I'm always distracted with some plant project. I like the green glass bottle playing with the light in the shade.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks David. It was great to meet you and Christine. I am hoping to get to NC next year. Will have to see your garden as well

      The pots are great because they are so easy to move as the garden texture changes through the season. Easy way to add a little height, or fill in a bare base of a plant, or add a splash of color.

  20. VikkiVA 03/30/2017

    I've gone through these pictures several times. I'm intrigued by your use of the empty pots. You have a beautiful landscape and the color and texture of the pots adds to that beauty. The Oakleaf Hydrangea is stunning! Is that Astilbe between the blue and brown pots in the 4th photo from the bottom? Thanks for sharing your talents. Vikki in VA.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks Vikki. I have been having fun with the empty pots. They really slow the eye down in a large border.

      'Little Honey' is a stunning Oakleaf Hydrangea. Looks great through the entire season. I have heard it sometimes struggles with high humidity.

      The plant in question is Aruncus dioicus. Does great in full shade with lots of root competition.

  21. bsavage 03/30/2017

    Nice! I hadn't thought about using empty containers like that, but I will now! Love the look and texture they bring! Thanks for sharing!

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Brenda. I found they help to slow the eye down in a large border, and can also highlight individual plants, much like a large rock, but infinitely more mobile.

  22. user-7008042 03/30/2017

    Could you post closer photos of the 4' tall container and the
    water feature (?) at the end of the pathway in the first photo? I am
    having a wedding in my gardens the end of May (zone 4), and know that
    any annuals I plant in my perennial gardens (mostly shade) will not have
    time to develop, so this idea of adding just the beautiful containers
    might help fill in my gardens! Thank you.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Will look for some when I get home

    2. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Here are 2 pictures from the other direction of the fountain and the tall container. Best wishes on the upcoming wedding.

      1. user-7008042 03/31/2017


  23. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 03/30/2017

    Kevin, you sure manage to pack a lot into your garden without making it look crowded. Love the way you've used these containers, especially the green glass vase, the 4 ft pot along your trail and the mossy looking urn shaped one near the elderberry (?). As usual, your plantings all look great. Is that a quercifolia hydrangea in the extra photo with the copper pot? The leaf color is beautiful. Thanks for another great post.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks Linda. The glass is in the shade so it doesn't overheat and I don't have to worry about it filling with water. It gets morning sun and sparkles from my breakfast nook.

      The Q. Hydrangea is 'Little Honey'. Not a heavy bloomer, but the leaves are great. It holds that color all season.

      I also love that urn. That is a weeping Japanese maple behind it.

  24. user-6536305 03/30/2017

    Wow, Kevin, great photos, beautiful pots and artistically displaced. Thanks for sharing. It is always a delight to see your garden. I would like to know the purple bloom on the variegated grass like plant in front of the second last photo "This pot echoes the hosta and brunnera." Thanks.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks Lilian. The containers are an excellent way to highlight plants in a larger border.
      That plant is 'Raspberry Dazzle' Crape Myrtle.

    2. user-6536305 03/30/2017

      Kevin, Thanks for the identify on 'Raspberry Dazzle' Crape Myrtle but I am asking the sage like with purple blooms and you have a strip in the front of the boarder. Thanks.

      1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

        Oops, I was answering before on my phone, and didn't read your question well enough. It is variegated Liriope. I know some think it is too common and ordinary, but it is one tough plant that always looks good and only needs a cutback around this time. I have it growing in full sun, part sun and full shade.

        1. user-6536305 03/31/2017

          Thanks so much Kevin!!

  25. schatzi 03/30/2017

    Never fear, Kevin. Get tired of seeing your garden? Not gonna happen! It's so lush and healthy and beautiful, and your creativity knows no bounds. Care to come west and give me a hand? :) Question: how do you improve on perfection?

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks so much Shirley. I had been to Seattle and Victoria about 10 years ago. Now that I have found many great people on GPOD, next time I venture out west, I will need to connect with others and get some great garden tours.

  26. user-7007140 03/30/2017

    You have wowed us all again, Kevin. First, the path winding onward - love it. Then your artistic use of the pots as we wander thru this beautiful garden.
    For those searching for pots - sometimes it is possible to find treasures at recycling center. When folks are moving house they often cannot take everything so charity shops and such are great places to search.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Eddi, thanks for the praise. Great idea about searching for pots. Older ones that have been weathered also look so much better. Thanks for the advice

  27. linnyg. 03/30/2017

    Wow - never thought of putting empty containers on site BUT they fill just they right way!!!

  28. Cenepk10 03/30/2017

    Wow.. grateful for the post... love your pots... just sold 1 that I didn't realize I had a use for... hmmm .. Good inspiration, Kevin !!!

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Great. I was hoping to inspire others to use containers as garden art. They also serve to break up a perennial border and slow the eye down when viewing the plants. Give it a try.

  29. Meelianthus 03/30/2017

    Kevin. I always enjoy your photos and peeks into your garden landscape, and being a 'pot' person myself (and I am speaking metaphorically ;) I love seeing different types of pots and their use. Beautiful displays and your walkway is wonderful, what a fun stroll that would be. Thanks Kevin

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Linda. I had to laugh about the "pot" reference. A year ago, a local garden writer had an article about "Pots in the Landscape " and I had submitted a few photos. He told me his column had the most hits ever, but they were all people looking to get info about growing marijuana We had a good laugh.

      1. Meelianthus 03/30/2017

        That's pretty funny, but coming from the super liberal state of WA, the 'pot' shops are now popping up like coffee houses so I can see how that could happen. Very sad.
        I like your 'pots' so much better :)

      2. digginWA 03/30/2017

        I used to get a raised eyebrow when I talked about my pot supplier.

  30. NWAgardener 03/30/2017

    Hi Kevin - I never considered placing empty containers in my garden until now when I see how lovely and artistic yours look! Thanks for the inspiration. Can you tell me the name of the variegated hosta in front of the clear green glass bottle in the third picture from the bottom?

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks, Sue. I knew you would be the one to ask about a hosta cultivar. I just went outside and found half of a buried tag that has 'Aureomarginata' on it. Obviously that describes the leaf. I am not sure if there is more to it.

      I hope the containers would inspire some of the awesome gardeners here on GPOD. I really just started getting into using them this way about 5 years ago and found the right container can really make the plants around it pop, which is really helpful in a busy perennial border.

      1. NWAgardener 03/31/2017

        Hi Kevin - it's montana 'Aureomarginata'. I knew I had seen it before. It's on my "wish list". Thanks for steering me in the right direction.

  31. user-7007498 03/30/2017

    Thanks, so much Diane. Finding a really cool pot is not something I enjoy looking for.

  32. foxglove12 03/30/2017

    Beautiful and inviting. I would never get tired of seeing photos of your garden. Loving that two handled vessel! Absolutely gorgeous garden.

    1. user-7007498 03/30/2017

      Thanks so much, Lori. That container is also a really favorite of mine.

  33. perenniallycrazy 03/31/2017

    Thanks for digging deep into your 2016 cache of garden photos Kevin. (I love your idea Kim.) Your garden is marvelous in every way! The placement of and combination of the containers with the plants are perfect. The emptiness adds to the drama and their juxtaposition with the colors and textures of your garden. I just love your garden and I hope you are able to continue digging deep into your cache for more... Thank you for making my day!

    1. user-7007498 03/31/2017

      I appreciate your kind comments, Cherry, as you have such a beautiful garden and a great eye for design. I have realized over time, that the containers (empty) draws the eye and holds it for a second, then allows you to explore around the container. Without it, it is easy to quickly move down the border.

  34. Chris_N 03/31/2017

    Wonderful as always, Kevin. Most of my pots are terra cotta and fill up with plants. I am afraid to start getting decorative pots as I collect too many things already.

    1. user-7007498 03/31/2017

      Thanks, Chris. I remember all those wonderful plants you had indoors for the winter. At least decorative pots require no nurturing. Your should take the plunge, or at least dip your toes.

  35. jagardener 04/01/2017

    Love the look of pots empty or otherwise. Here we refer to them as " hold the fort' in lean seasons. Please send me your green bottle!

  36. Christina726 04/02/2017

    Thank you for some great ideas! LOVE your gardens!

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