Less is More: 2010 Container Design Challenge Results

When we asked you to downsize, you delivered

Fine Gardening - Issue 139
Last year, we challenged you to design a container that embodied the theme “less is more.” At the time, the economy was in rough shape, and we thought this would be a nice way to demonstrate that downsizing doesn’t have to mean giving up beauty or style. The concept is just as applicable today, and we’re happy that dozens of our readers took up the challenge and designed some amazing containers. But “less” doesn’t just mean fewer plants. We told you to interpret “less is more” any way you’d like, and you got creative. Here are the entries that came out on top.


The Winner: Sheila Schultz, Denver, Colorado

Fewer colors, more flair

We love this container for its simple yet effective look, its small plant and color palette, and its fashionable flair. Sheila envisions the phormium as a mop of hair and the tillandsia as a jaunty beret. The tillandsia is an air plant, which doesn’t even need soil. Sheila’s face planter was made by Campania International (

1. ‘Thumbelina’ phormium (Phormium ‘Thumbelina’, USDA Hardiness Zones 8–11)

2. Tillandsia (Tillandsia xerographica, Zone 11)

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Congratulations, Sheila! You win a $250 gift certificate from Bluestone Perennials ( and a beautiful container made out of recycled materials from Pot, Inc. (

The Finalists

Cheryl Hopkins, Tipp City, Ohio

One plant, lots of style

Cheryl sent in two designs, and both were selected as finalists. Here, she knew she wanted to design a water container, but when she potted up her container with this architectural horsetail rush, something was missing. Adding some rocks helped, but it wasn’t until she started creating a design with the rocks that it all came together. She simply has to top off the water in the container throughout the season to keep the plant going strong.

1. Horsetail rush (Equisetum sp., Zones 5–11)

Conditions: Full sun; consistently wet soil


Rebecca Gmucs, Orangeburg, New York

Rethinking a yearly design

Rebecca usually fills this 30-inch-diameter pot in her entryway with an abundance of flowers and foliage, but last year, she toned it down a bit and settled on three striking foliage plants. The result is a strong, simple design that is nonetheless stunning. All three plants are low fuss. The palm overwinters as a houseplant, as does the paddle plant, which can be divided to be used in other designs next year.

1. Needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix, Zones 8–10)

2. Paddle plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, Zone 11)

3. ‘Blackie’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’, Zone 11)

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Nancy Lowry Moitrier, Annapolis, Maryland

A one-time investment

The beauty of this design, besides its sheer dramatic impact, is that the plants can be used year after year. The huge elephant’s ear and the splashy caladium can be lifted and stored in the basement until spring, and the jasmine can be brought indoors as a houseplant when the weather begins to cool. Nancy says that this container needed minimal care—just cutting an occasional faded leaf from the elephant’s ear and watering twice a week.

1. ‘Maki’ elephant’s ear (Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Maki’, Zone 11)

2. Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac*, Zones 10–11)

3. Caladium (Caladium bicolor cv., Zones 10–11)

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Amy Riggs, Wilsonville, Oregon

Three, two, one…

When Amy submitted this container for the challenge, her description said it all: “THREE vibrant colors, TWO beautiful plants, ONE gorgeous container.” This container might not be huge, but this planting has huge presence. It’s a great warming accent planting for spring and an unusual combo for the ubiquitous pansy.

1. ‘Blackbird’ spurge (Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’, Zones 6–9)

2. Pansy (Viola × wittrockiana cv., Zones 8–11)

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Cheryl Hopkins, Tipp City, Ohio

A layered approach

For her second container, Cheryl kept the color palette simple. Green, deep burgundy, and white combine in layers to create a dramatic combo in a dark pot. Fewer colors and a layered arrangement mean more focus on the beauty of the individual plants and their effect on each other.

1. ‘Red Star’ cordyline (Cordyline australis ‘Red Star’, Zones 10–11)

2. ‘Butterfly White’ pentas (Pentas lanceolata ‘Butterfly White’, annual)

3. ‘Zwartkop’ aeonium (Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’, Zones 9–11)

4. Creeping wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris, Zones 8–10)

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil


Michelle Gervais is an associate editor.

To see more finalists, visit

Photos: courtesy of the contestants

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