Curb appeal is important to realtors, landscapers and the homeowners who hire them, as well as to potential customers. To that end, container plantings have been used for years to dress up entries to vacation and country homes. They are also an easy way to improve the looks of a home quickly. Done well, they help a home stand out from the pack of properties that many home buyers see while shopping.
The use of containers in any landscaping adds flexibility to landscape design, allowing frequent changes so that the display is always at its peak. Container plantings can cover flaws and liven up exteriors. Portable planters also allow the use of plants that are not hardy to the zone in which they are being used; containers can be brought indoors in cold weather.
Styles and Design
Both containers and plant material should reflect the general style and level of formality of the building they "front." Tall, linear plants in even arrangements are more formal and cascading or shrubby plants emphasize a cottage or informal style. Unlike patio or garden groupings, these containers should help define the focal point of the house---usually its front door. They may mask plain areas but should never appear to have been put there for that purpose. They should obviously accent or reinforce another design element like house or shutter color, window heights and opening shapes or a foliage or flower border.
Containers should be of complementary shapes and sizes. Elevation can be provided by sculptural elements or by the size of the pots themselves. Containers should have a common theme such as a decoration, shape, material or coloring that unifies them so they don't look like a haphazard collection. Plants should fill the containers and stand one and one-half times as tall as the pot to look mature. Centerpiece shrubs and trees should be planted in as large a container as possible and should look like they belong. A diminutive Japanese maple grows easily in a large pot but a Sugar Maple "looks" wrong because this tall tree obviously belongs in the yard.
Plant for the Long View
Choice of plant material can be crucial in establishing curb appeal. Although flowering kale and ornamental cabbage make stunning autumn container companions for chrysanthemums, most vegetables belong out back in the garden. Flowers should grow in a mass or be individually large enough to be easily recognized from the street. The viewer for this garden is not a casual stroller; he or she is a shopper who is looking at it from a distance. Avoid cluttered bunches of containers; use a few containers in an odd-numbered group for a lively effect, even in formal arrangements.
In order to present a mature, season-appropriate display at all times, grow plants---except for permanent trees and shrubs---in liners. Tend your liners in containers on the patio or in the garden and move them in and out of containers to avoid transplant shock or other growth interruption. Use out-of-season perennials to fill in borders and garden spaces.