Swoonworthy container gardens
This is the time of year that containers are top of mind for every gardener. Half the fun of planting them is trying out new combinations or swapping plants out for new looks each season. The other half is seeing what other gardeners have come up with — a little inspiration can really get the creative juices flowing. Last year we put out a call to readers asking them to send in their best container designs in our 2023 Garden Gate Container Challenge. The response was amazing — our readers really know how to put together beautiful containers!
Thanks to everyone who sent in an entry, and congratulations to our winners. The Grand Prize winner and two Runners Up received some beautiful containers from Gardener’s Supply Company. Take a look through the top entries and you’re sure to find one (or several!) that will encourage you to try a new plant or color palette in your containers this year.
1st prize foliage
Container Challenge Grand Prize Winner: Stacey Toomey, PA
Our grand prize winning container by Stacey Toomey is a 60×14-inch windowbox that’s attached to an east-facing window in part shade. The antique shutter she secured to the front provides interest when the plants are still small.
To provide a foundation for the design, Stacey bought three 12-inch preplanted hanging basket combos from the garden center that she fell in love with. They included wing begonia, inch plant and potato vine that were spaced out evenly across the length of the windowbox. That left plenty of room to fill in the gaps with other plants she had found in 4-inch pots.
Keep your windowbox looking good
Maintenance is simple for this windowbox: water, feed and trim. These are vigorous plants, so once the roots have filled in, it will need almost daily watering in summer. And a Liquid plant food at full strength every 12 to 14 days will help keep growth strong and the foliage colorful. Finally, snip any wayward stems back to a leaf joint as needed to keep a balanced look.
A) Caladium Caladium ‘Red Flash’
B) Wing begonia Begonia Dragon Wing® Red
C) Potato vine Solanum jasminoides ‘Variegata’
D) Inch plant Tradescantia zebrina
E) Swedish ivy Plectranthus Guacamole
F) Asparagus fern Asparagus densiflorus
Colorful entry containers
Runner Up: Shirley Schultz, WI
Shirley’s 17-inch-tall and 24-inch-square containers provide a brilliant greeting on either side of the sidewalk that leads to her front door. They’re packed with colorful annuals that bloom from spring to frost.
You can’t miss the large-leaved coleus splashed with pink—it makes an eye-catching thriller for this combo. The globe amaranth and lantana are great for attracting pollinators, are super drought tolerant and don’t need deadheading. They thrive in this south-facing spot, but Shirley still waters daily in the heat of summer. The only deadheading you may need to do is on the petunia, but the blooms aren’t sticky like some older varieties, which makes this task easier. Shirley’s palette of bright, warm colors could easily be swapped for pastels or a monochromatic theme if that fits in better with your garden’s style.
A) Areca palm Dypsis lutescens
B) Coleus Plectranthus scutellarioides
C) Globe amaranth Gomphrena pulchella Truffula™ Pink
D) Petunia Petunia x Calibrachoa Supercal® Premium Caramel Yellow
E) Lantana Lantana Luscious® Bananarama™
Sophisticated color palette
Runner Up: Sandy Butkis, MI
When you’re putting together a container, it helps to have a color theme to get things started. Sandy’s combination uses shades of purple to bring a relaxing vibe to her deck. But sunny yellow from the variegated vinca and bright magenta petunia really adds some pop.
Most of the plants are quite heat and drought tolerant and take summers in stride. But the Swan River daisy is more a fan of cooler temperatures and does great in the Michigan summers where Sandy lives. In hot, humid regions plants can get lanky as hotter weather takes hold. Just cut the stems back by a third for fresh regrowth by fall.
Fertilize for more flowers
A) Angelonia Angelonia angustifolia Carita™ Purple
B) Euphorbia Euphorbia Euphoric™ White
C) Swan River daisy Brachyscome iberidifolia
D) Petunia Petunia Itsy™ Magenta
E) Verbena Glandularia Lanai® Compact Twister™ Purple
F) Vinca Vinca minor ‘Illumination’
Tropical-inspired container garden
Honorable mention: Joyce Hannaford, MA
Joyce put this grouping together with “leftovers” from other containers she’d planted up earlier, and it turned out great! Its bright and bold blooms from lantana and mandevilla bring warmth, excitement and a tropical feel to the patio. The plants don’t need any deadheading and are quite drought tolerant.
To get this look, when you’re shopping for mandevilla, look for varieties with a bushy habit, such as Sun Parasol® Original Red, which grows 18 to 24 inches tall and wide. See More of Joyce's Garden in our Talk & Tour video on YouTube.
A) Lantana Lantana hybrid
B) Mandevilla Mandevilla hybrid
C) Dichondra Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’
Terrific trough planter
Honorable mention: Sophath Toun, RI
When you have a special planter like this 48×18-inch antique stone trough, you want to give it pride of place. What better way to do that than by incorporating it into the foundation planting as Sophath has done? This foliage-rich planting needs little maintenance to keep it looking beautiful. As part of the foundation planting, the trough sits outdoors in this zone 6 garden all year and the contents get swapped out seasonally to keep curb appeal high.
Mounds of begonia, iresine and purple Swedish ivy cover the long stems of the row of elephant ears that provide lots of interest and drama for this group. The elephant ears were started indoors before going into the trough. Regular feeding every couple of weeks with a water-soluble plant food encourages more stems and large leaves.
A) Elephant ear Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’
B) Iresine Iresine herbstii
C) Caladium Caladium hybrid
D) Rex begonia Begonia rex-cultorum
E) Purple Swedish ivy Plectranthus purpuratus
Colorful Shade Container
Honorable mention: Claudia Hagen, PA
A shady out-of-the-way corner can be a challenging place to put a container, but Claudia found a group of plants that thrive on neglect, providing color and texture from spring to frost. She didn’t bother with fertilizer to maintain a full look for this sophisticated container — the plants did just fine without it.
While you may be used to growing snake plant indoors, this versatile old favorite is just as happy outdoors. That rippled leaf pattern makes it a great thriller in part sun or shade. Purple heart is a fast-growing filler that provides depth and a moody look in the center of the planting. Don’t be afraid to trim the stems back once or twice during the growing season if it gets too big. Adding perennials, such as tall sedum and yarrow, extends the seasonal color, and you can move them into the garden once container season is over.
A) Snake plant Sansevieria hybrid
B) Asparagus fern Asparagus densiflorus
C) Tall sedum Hylotelephium ‘Autumn Joy’
D) Purple Heart Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’
E) Lantana Lantana hybrid
F) Dichondra Dichondra argentea
Cottage garden windowbox
Honorable mention: Linda Laine, OH
Linda has been trying different plants over the years to get a cottage garden look for the 8-foot-long windowbox just outside her dining room window. She finally discovered a combination that provides maximum color with minimal effort. This mix of annuals, from the upright angelonia to the bacopa spilling over the front, doesn’t need deadheading and looks great with just an occasional feeding and watering.
Not only does this custom-made composite windowbox frame the view from the dining room, it provides season-long color for the bench in front. Linda’s pups, Whisper and Kokopelli, love to sit there and soak up the sun in this bright spot.
A) Angelonia Angelonia angustifolia
B) Calibrachoa Calibrachoa hybrid
C) Petunia Petunia hybrid
D) Bacopa Sutera cordata
Honorable mention: Leanne James, IL
Adding a windowbox is a great way to integrate the storage shed in with the garden. Leanne’s beautiful design starts with 4½-inch pots that she plants in a custom-made 36 × 10-inch wooden windowbox. Leanne adds a slow-release fertilizer at planting time, then a month later starts using a water-soluble plant food every 10 days. Most of the plants are vigorous growers and need maintenance pruning every 3 weeks to keep this exuberant look full instead of wild looking. Since the shed window is more decorative than functional, the taller plants aren’t blocking anyone’s view.
A) Purple fountain grass Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’
B) Globe amaranth Gomphrena pulchella Truffula™ Pink
C) Heliotrope Heliotropium arborescens
D) Coleus Plectranthus Dipt in Wine
E) Starflower Pentas lanceolata Lucky Star® Violet
F) Fanflower Scaevola Surdiva® Blue Violet
G) Sweet potato vine Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’
H) Coleus Plectranthus ‘Burgundy Wedding Train’
Purple Passion Container
Honorable mention: Charlene Coulson, MI
You can’t tell by looking at it, but this is simply a plastic planter that Charlene slipped into a decorative wrought-iron plant stand. The growing conditions on the west side of the house in full sun can be pretty harsh. But this group of plants did just fine.
At 18 to 30 inches tall, Angelface Blue angelonia makes a great thriller for the 24-inch-long and 8-inch-wide planter. It provides a stately presence and loads of color from late spring to frost. For the most part, these long flower spikes stay upright, but Charlene added the bamboo arch as extra support on windy days.
A) Angelonia Angelonia Angelface® Blue
B) Verbena Glandularia Superbena Sparkling® Amethyst
C) Petunia Petunia Supertunia® Latte
D) Verbena Glandularia Superbena® Imperial Blue