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Seven Ways to Use Containers as Focal Points

A carefully placed pot can make your garden come alive

Fine Gardening - Issue 152
container as a focal points

Every scene needs a focal point, whether it’s a painting, a living room, or a garden. A focal point directs the eye and is the element that everything else revolves around. It adds structure and interest to its surroundings and makes the scene complete.

In our quest to fill our gardens with every wonderful plant we could ever want, we often forget that a well-placed trellis, tuteur, or ornament would make the plants look even better. But the easiest and most versatile focal point you can add to a garden is a spectacular container.

A well-placed container can make a ho-hum border settle into perfection. It can give a long pathway an exciting destination, and it can turn a monotonous expanse of patio into the stage for a botanical show. Here are seven ways a container is used to bring out the best in a garden. In each photo, try to imagine what the garden would look like without the container. The results might surprise you.

1. Lift the eye

planter perched on a red column

Columns aren’t just for porches and gates. Here, in the middle of a garden, a colorful column raises an equally colorful container planting off the ground and into the spotlight, where it commands attention and adds excitement to an otherwise all-green eye-level backdrop.


2. Make the best of an eyesore

container plant on a pedestal on top of a stone well cover
Photo: Andrea Jones

Rather than try to pretend this stone well cover doesn’t exist, the gardener had fun with its shape, contrasting it with a square metal stand and echoing it with a big round container. The planting can change with the seasons if a liner is used, making this little island an ever-changing bit of fun.


3. Highlight a plant’s peak season

small tree with pink flowers ina brown pot on a tiny deck
Photo: Andrea Jones

It makes sense to use this potted tree as an accent when it’s out of bloom, but when it blooms and looks this spectacular, it’s time to bring it into the open and let the world enjoy. The dock benefits too. Rather than serving as a simple transitional space, this blank canvas is now a gorgeous destination.


4. Encourage visitors to meander

a tall blue glazed pot in garden
Photo: Danielle Sherry

The splash of blue provided by this tall glazed pot demands attention and jazzes up an otherwise sedate garden. Placed in the middle of a main pathway through the garden, the container forces visitors walking through to slow down and go around, creating time for enjoying the sights. The yellow foliage is just as eye-catching as the pot, acting as a lightbulb to show the way.


5. Fill up a blank wall

tera cotta pot against a wall with grass and heuchera in front

This solid painted wall is attractive on its own, but it’s even more engaging with a striking container planting highlighted against it. The heuchera (Heuchera cv., Zones 3–8) at the pot’s feet echoes its color and adds visual weight, making the vignette even more compelling.


6. Emphasize a sight line

teal colored pot is centered in gateway
Photo: Michelle Gervais

If the container weren’t present, this gateway would look straight onto the side of the house—an awkward sight line with no destination. The container, on its antique millstone base, breaks the sight line and makes the view more satisfying. Matching the color of the shutters, the pot also melds the house and the garden.


7. Create a centerpiece

blue planter pot with red flowers and stones around base

This lush planting was designed to be beautiful from all sides so that it can serve as a focal point in the middle of an expanse of gravel. The stones and partially submerged potted succulents at its base are subtle but effective embellishments that make this vignette look substantial and permanent, rather than as an afterthought.

Ditch the plants

two containers in gardens with no plants in them
Photos: Michelle Gervais (left); (right)

If your container has enough style, it may not need plants to do its job as a spectacular focal point. That means less work for you—no hauling soil, planting, fertilizing, or watering. Here are a couple of examples of containers that successfully go solo. The container on the left is so big and bold that most plants would be dwarfed by it. It does just fine on its own as the grand focal point of this courtyard. The shapely terra-cotta urn on the right instantly spices up its bed, which otherwise would suffer from an overabundance of homogenous green.

Michelle Gervais is a senior editor.

Photos, except where noted: Joshua McCullough/

From Fine Gardening #152

Previous: The Basics of Fertilizing Your Plants Next: How to Stage a Container Plant Display
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  1. User avater
    devinkoblas 05/07/2019

    Very Nice!

  2. User avater
    CynthiaDow 05/14/2019


  3. User avater
    ArmandLewis 06/12/2019

    well done!

  4. User avater
    KevinHuggins 07/16/2019


  5. esr1949 03/25/2022

    Lovely! What is the coral flowered plant in the turquoise pot in this Create a Centerpiece picture please?

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