Container gardens add personality to patios, decks and balconies. They pack color and interest in a small, focused area and reflect the character of the homeowner. Like interior design, container gardens have specific elements: varying heights, colors and textures. Work these elements into a theme and have a conversation piece on your patio.
Bring the mountains down to your patio with a woodland theme. Plant a dwarf or slow-growing conifer, such as dwarf Alberta spruce or 'Little Gem' Norway spruce, to provide height. Surround the conifer with hardy ferns, such as sword fern (Polystichum munitum) or wood hyacinth (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus), if the container is in shade and add a pot or two of windflower (Anenome blanda) at the front for color. Trailing sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas), especially the luminous yellow cultivar 'Marguerite,' complete the effect. In sunnier areas, substitute the shade-loving plants for a trailing variegated periwinkle (Vinca minor), compact salvias and dwarf penstemon. As a bonus, the evergreen adds color to the patio in winter. Decorate it during the holidays for extra cheer.
Ornamental Vegetable Garden
Tomatoes, according to the book "Small and Container Gardening," are one of the best crops for large containers. Cucumbers, lettuces, peppers and carrots also work well. The trick to planning a vegetable garden in a container is selecting the plant variety; choose compact plants or dwarf varieties. The cultivar names often hint at their use. For example, 'Little Finger' carrots are short, 'Patio' tomatoes are compact and 'Spacemaker' cucumbers won't take over the container. Plant the taller plants in the center or against the north side of the container to prevent shading. Trailing vegetables, like many cherry tomatoes and miniature pumpkins, cascade over the edge, and the feathery tops of carrots add texture. Don't plant lettuce varieties that are harvested as a whole head; this leaves an unattractive bare area. Instead, plant leafy, "cut-and-come-again" lettuces, tinged with striking reds like 'Red Sails,' that you harvest as needed. Tuck strawberries into empty spaces for a sweet treat.
Whether or not you incorporate a fountain, the motion and reflection of a water garden add movement and life to the outdoors. Aquatic plants have separate, submersible pots with clay soil that make designing a snap; arrange and re-arrange the pots until the structure satisfies you. Stack the pots on underwater bricks or empty, upside-down pots to create a staggered effect. The Colorado State University Extension suggests using sweet-flag (Acorus calamus) or yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) for height and surrounding them with broad-leafed plants such as giant arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia). Allow water mint (Mentha aquatica) to trail over the edge. Add water lilies or even floating baubles, such as round Christmas ornaments or antique fishing-net floats, for extra color. Avoid water hyacinth (Eichhomia crassipes) and other invasive plants. Add mosquito fish or earth-friendly controls such as "Mosquito Dunks" if this pest is a problem.