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Cool-Season Containers

These charming designs prove you don’t need to go over the top to catch the eye

Fine Gardening - Issue 166
Cool-Season Containers

The end of the growing season is a relaxing time. Cooler temperatures prevail, and plants are slowing down or are preparing to go dormant. This isn’t really a time, then, for over-the-top displays of intensely colored flowers that are either huge or too numerous to count. It is a season for charm. Think Cary Grant, not Fabio.

Of course, Cary Grant was a handsome man, and the container designs that follow are certain to catch the eye. The way they do it, however, is not with bold blooms but with a more subtle use of color and form. These containers will draw you in so you can take a long, leisurely look at the interplay of the elements in the design. And with winter on its way, what better time to truly enjoy your plants?

More can be merry (photo above)

container illustration

The dazzling form of this cordyline is anything but boring, and the sheer variety of plants doesn’t hurt either. The common theme of red and green helps keep the design from feeling like an unconnected jumble of forms and flowers.

  1. ‘Winter Glow’ bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winter Glow’, USDA Hardiness Zones 3–8)
  2. ‘Red Star’ cordyline (Cordyline ‘Red Star’, Zones 9–11)
  3. Cascades mahonia (Mahonia nervosa, Zones 5–7)
  4. ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ fuchsia (Fuchsia ‘Garten­meister Bonstedt’, Zones 9–10)
  5. Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, Zones 8–11)
  6. Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Zones 5–9)
  7. Pansy (Viola × wittrockiana cv., annual)
  8. ‘Ogon’ sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, Zones 6–9)
  9. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Zones 6–11) 
  10. ‘Plum Pudding’ heuchera (Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’, Zones 3–8)


Jazz up an evergreen

group of three containers with matching foliage plants
Photo: David E. Perry

Jazz up an evergreen containers illustrated and labeled

This dwarf hinoki cypress will pull its weight during winter, but before that, you can jazz it up with some strong colors and busy foliage. Any shade of red looks good with that evergreen foliage, and the strappy blades of the sedge and the mondo grass add a wild touch of contrast.

  1. ‘Velvet Night’ heuchera (Heuchera ‘Velvet Night’, Zones 5–9)
  2. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Zones 6–11)
  3. ‘Nana Gracilis’ dwarf hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’, Zones 4–8)
  4. Dwarf drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Nana’, Zones 5–8)
  5. Cabaret Bright Red calibrachoa (Calibrachoa ‘Cabaret Bright Red’, annual)
  6. ‘Rekohu Sunrise’ sedge (Carex trifida ‘Rekohu Sunrise’, Zones 7–11)
  7. Mossy sedum (Sedum lydium, Zones 5–8)

Tip: Consider using a chrysanthemum as an accent plant instead of the main attraction. You’ll be surprised at how versatile and attractive mums can be when combined with more prominent plants.

Orange goes well with blue

blue container with ornamental cabbage and orange mums
Photo: Lynn Felici-Gallant

Orange goes well with blue container illustrated and labeled

Blue and green are cool, calming colors, and the colors of the pot and most of the plants fit that mood. But a pop of seasonal orange at the back and the loose habit of the miscanthus ensure this design isn’t too sedate.

  1. Variegated miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’, Zones 4–9)
  2. ‘Kamome Red’ ornamental cabbage (Brassica oleracea ‘Kamome Red’, annual)
  3. ‘Pigeon Purple’ ornamental cabbage (Brassica oleracea ‘Pigeon Purple’, annual)
  4. Foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’, Zones 9–11)
  5. ‘Burnt Orange’ chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum ‘Burnt Orange’, annual)
  6. ‘Glacier’ English ivy (Hedera helix ‘Glacier’, Zones 5–11)


Take advantage of grasses

tall brown container with lots of ornamental grass
Photo: Lynn Felici-Gallant

Take advantage of grasses container illustrated and labeled

Autumn is the time when ornamental grasses shine, and the miscanthus and curly sedge seem to be shooting out of the container like a fountain. The solid shape of the ornamental cabbage adds enough weight to ground the design.

  1. Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis cv., Zones 4–9)
  2. ‘Fox Red’ curly sedge (Carex buchananii ‘Fox Red’, Zones 5–9)
  3. ‘Osaka Red’ ornamental cabbage (Brassica oleracea ‘Osaka Red’, annual)
  4. Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum cv., annual)
  5. Walkabout Sunset® dense-flowered loosestrife (Lysimachia congestiflora ‘Aurea’, Zones 7–11)


Illustrations: Elara Tanguy

Previous: Ditch Pre-Potted Nursery Containers for Your Own Creations Next: Autumn Pots Minus the Mums
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