Fine Gardening Project Guides

Container Gardening

Guide Home

Spectacular Summer Container Designs: Part 2

Because garden stores are filled with all sorts of plants, our experts present even more designs

summer container designs

Summer is the season all gardeners await. The bright sun and warm weather signal the start of the showiest time of year, and nowhere is this excitement more evident than with container gardening. Garden stores are overflowing with plants and pots in every color, size, style, and shape. Whether you lean toward tropicals or are smitten by succulents, summer is the season to show off your talents. To get you started, we’ve assembled a few designs by Riz Reyes of Seattle and Julie Chai of San Francisco (for Julie’s designs, see part 1 of this article). We invite you to tap into their creativity—and to expand upon their tips—to make this your best container season yet.

Limited color, high impact

container with various pink foliage plants

Limited color, high impact container illustrated and labeled

Several of the plants in this container have similar textures and shapes, but variegation is what sets them apart. Rather than blending into a bland mass, the plants’ markings separate them enough to make the mix dynamic. A vertical accent and an overall pink theme make the design cohesive.

  1. ‘Cherry Sensation’ cordyline (Cordyline australis ‘Cherry Sen­sation’, Zones 7–11)
  2. ‘Pink Princess’ philodendron (Philodendron erubescens ‘Pink Princess’, Zone 13)
  3. ‘Fishnet Stockings’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Fishnet Stockings’, Zones 12–13)
  4. Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus, Zones 9–11)
  5. Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya cv., Zones 10–11)
  6. ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’, Zones 10–11)


Encourage plants to play well together

container with blue and green succulents

Encourage plants to play well together container illustrated and labeled

Low-growing succulents allow their larger counterparts to take center stage in this simple planting. While a tree aeonium can stand on its own, the eche­veria and blue chalk sticks add extra interest and diversity. The combination is made even more striking by the deep red container that picks up on the tips of the aeonium and contrasts beautifully with blue.

  1. Tree aeonium (Aeonium arboreum var. atropurpureum, Zones 9–11)
  2. Blue chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscae, Zones 10–11)
  3. ‘Topsy Turvy’ echeveria (Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’, Zones 9–11)
  4. Blue rose echeveria (Echeveria imbricata, Zones 9–11)


Make a shady corner pop

container with various red coleus plants and other colorful foliage

Make a shady corner pop container illustrated and labeled

If it weren’t for the plants in this container, the cold white stucco wall would dominate this shady entry with its starkness. Instead, it serves as the perfect backdrop for a dense arrangement of forms and textures. A chartreuse theme weaving through the coleus and a spot of white variegation in the hosta give the area additional pop.

  1. Festival Grass™ cordyline (Cordyline ‘JURred’, Zones 8–11)
  2. Blood banana (Musa acuminata ‘Zebrina’, Zones 10–11)
  3. ‘Dream Queen’ hosta (Hosta ‘Dream Queen’, Zones 3–9)
  4. ‘Saturn’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Saturn’, Zones 12–13)
  5. ‘Defiance’ coleus (S. scutellarioides ‘Defiance’, Zones 12–13)
  6. ‘Odalisque’ coleus (S. scutellarioides ‘Odalisque’, Zones 12–13)


Judicious deadheading of flowers and pruning fast-growing foliage encourage slower growers to catch up, resulting in a cohesive container plant­ing instead of a bedraggled or misshapen one. This is especially true for coleus; nothing will make a container messy faster than forgetting to deadhead coleus flowers.

Silver is center stage

group of three containers with various green foliage plants

Silver is center stage containers illustrated and labeled

The success of this dramatic trio lies in creative color repetition and textural variety. Although the silver honey bush is clearly the star of the show, it shares the spotlight with the shimmering leaves of brunnera and dichondra. The adjacent pots make a terrific supporting cast, picking up on both the colors and textures of the plants at center stage.

  1. ‘Antonow’s Blue’ honey bush (Melianthus major ‘Antonow’s Blue’, Zones 8–11)
  2. ‘Rosevallon’ rhododendron (Rhododendron neriiflorum ‘Rosevallon’, Zones 7–9)
  3. ‘Cha Cha’ cordyline (Cordyline ‘Cha Cha’, Zones 9–11)
  4. Keiskei fetterbush (Leucothoe keiskei, Zones 6–8)
  5. Deer fern (Blechnum spicant, Zones 5–8)
  6. Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’, Zones 7–10)
  7. Dwarf golden sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Minimus Aureus’, Zones 6–9)
  8. ‘Blue Ivory’ hosta (Hosta ‘Blue Ivory’, Zones 3–9)
  9. ‘Sea Heart’ brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Sea Heart’, Zones 3–7)
  10. ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’, Zones 10–11)
  11. ‘Whirligig’ African daisy (Osteospermum ‘Whirligig’, annual)


Simple is stately

large container with bold and fine foliage plants

Simple is stately container illustrated and labeled

The varying shades of green and the starkly contrasting textures of the elephant’s ear and Mexican feather grass are all this planter needs. But by placing the two in a contrasting dark navy planter that picks up on the blue-purple in the leaves of the elephant’s ear, this simple arrangement makes a resounding statement.

  1. ‘Blue Hawaii’ elephant’s ear (Colocasia esculenta* ‘Blue Hawaii’, Zones 8–11)
  2. Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima, Zones 7–11)


Longing for simplicity? Remember that a single plant—such as agave, elephant’s ear, or phormium—is all you need to make a statement if it’s planted in the right pot. When using just one plant, be sure to select a container that complements, rather than competes with, the plant.

One-flower wonder

two containers with chartreuse foliage and red flowers

One-flower wonder containers illustrated and labeled

Chartreuse and black are a striking combination—the spots and variegation in the elephant’s ear echo the black mondo grass—and the sedge and New Zealand flax match the front pot to a tee. But add a jolt of blood red dahlia with dark foliage to the middle and this pairing is instantly transformed into a sumptuous, dynamic display.

  1. Mystic Wonder dahlia (Dahlia ‘Velvet’, Zones 9–11)
  2. ‘Mojito’ elephant’s ear (Colocasia esculenta* ‘Mojito’, Zones 8–11)
  3. ‘Frosted Curls’ sedge (Carex ‘Frosted Curls’, Zones 7–9)
  4. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Zones 6–11)
  5. ‘Yellow Wave’ New Zealand flax (Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’, Zones 8–11)


Every plant has its place

container with purple flowers and foliage

Every plant has its place container illustrated and labeled

The towering castor bean provides a canopy under which a number of plants flourish. The look becomes even more dramatic with the addition of a spiky ‘Tricolor’ New Zealand flax in the center, but it is then subdued by the contrasting flowers and foliage that pick up the colors in the castor bean, creating a full-circle experience.

  1. ‘Carmencita’ castor bean (Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita’, annual)
  2. ‘Intenz’ cockscomb (Celosia ‘Intenz’, annual)
  3. Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus, Zones 9–11)
  4. ‘Tricolor’ New Zealand flax (Phormium cookianum subsp. hookeri ‘Tricolor’, Zones 8–11)
  5. ‘Fishnet Stockings’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Fishnet Stockings’, Zones 12–13)
  6. South African geranium (Pelargonium sidoides, Zones 9–11)
  7. ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’, Zones 10–11)


*These plants are considered invasive in some areas. Please check or your state’s list of invasive plants for more information.


Photos: Lynn Felici-Gallant

Illustrations: Elara Tanguy

Previous: Spectacular Summer Container Designs: Part 1 Next: Cool-Season Containers
View Comments


Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Container Gardening

Container Gardening

Trustworthy advice on all aspects of gardening in pots

View Project Guide

View All Project Guides »

Become a member and get unlimited site access, including the Container Gardening Project Guide.

Start Free Trial