A Guide to Planting Eye-catching Containers

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Planting up a container is a bit like designing a garden bed in miniature and the same design principles apply.

Planting up eye-catching containers from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner


Get the colour scheme right. Nature’s soothing greens often make even unlikely plant groupings work, but don’t rely on that if you want your containers to sing. Decide whether you want harmonising or contrasting colours, pastels or rich hues.

Spring pansies in harmonising colours from Weatherstaff garden design software
Spring pansies

A group of pansies in varying hues of purple-blue make a soothing combination. The bright yellow eyes and different flower sizes maintain interest.

Tulips and grape hyacinths in a vibrant planting combination from Weatherstaff garden design software
Vibrant tulips and grape hyacinths

Vibrant clashes can work well – like this glorious combination of tulips and grape hyacinths.

But take care! When my new display of red summer pelargoniums suddenly took off, they clashed horribly with a pot of purple petunias. It’s an easy job to move one of the pots to join up with a new group of friends, but harder to separate shudder-inducing combinations if they’re sharing the same container.

Size and shape

You can plant up containers of any shape and style, whether your taste is traditional, contemporary or rustic.

Metal pots from the Weatherstaff garden design software
A row of metal pots is perfect for succulents

A row of small, matching pots looks great when planted up with similar plants.

A collection of terracotta planting containers
A welcoming collection of terracotta pots

This medley of sizes, shapes and planting combinations works well because the containers are all terracotta.

A collection of charming daisies and forget me nots
A shallow bowl of charming daisies and forget me nots

Small or shallow pots can dry out quickly so are best used for displays of small plants.

A larger container gives more space for compost and roots, as well as needing less frequent watering. Pots big enough to house a collection of plants provide endless scope for experimenting with combinations – just as a larger garden border gives plenty of opportunity for playing with layers and textures.


The ‘Thriller, Filler, Spiller’ technique is a useful reminder of the types of plants to include.

The thriller plant is the one to fulfil the architectural role in your pot. It should add vertical height and drama to the display.

Phormium Pink Panther for colourful pots Weahterstaff PlantingPlanner
Phormium Pink Panther

Stunning phormiums, with their colourful strappy foliage, are perfect ‘thriller’ plants and continue to provide structure in the winter months.

Gaura Whirling Butterflies for summer containers.
Gaura Whirling Butterflies

A tall, summer flowering star-performer, like Gaura, will fit the bill too. If the display is to go the distance, though, you will need to consider what will replace this drama queen in its declining days.


You need mounds to contrast with spires. These are the fillers, the second storey of planting in the container, planted around or in front of the thrillers. They can be billowy, adding a contrasting texture and filling out the scheme. Long-flowering geraniums are perfect for this.

Geranium himalayense 'Gravetye' - ideas for summer flowering pots
Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’

Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’ has violet-blue, summer flowers. It flowers in summer, but often flowers again intermittently into the autumn.

Heuchera Green Spice - a great container plant choice
Heuchera Green Spice

Evergreen heuchera, with variegated foliage in colours to match every scheme, also works well to fill out the planting. ‘Green Spice’ has silver-green foliage with plum markings around the veins. Wiry stems of tiny, white flowers appear in summer.

Trailing plants

In the garden border, the little ground covers knit the plants together as they weave their way through the planting. In container planting, the spillers have the same role, tying the elements together and anchoring the container to the garden. The spillers are the trailing plants which, when squeezed in around the edge of the planting, will tumble over the sides and soften the boundaries.

Trailing ivy - a spiller plant for containers
Trailing ivy

One season dazzler or all year-round interest?

If you have a collection of pots, with space to move them around, you may want to create a stunning display for just one season.

Tulips in a spring container display
Bright candy-coloured tulips in a spring display

A massed planting of spring bulbs looks fantastic early in the year. And when they die down, you can move the pot to a quiet corner or plant the bulbs in the garden.

Red and white pelargonium for summer containers
Red and white pelargonium

Summer bedding, either annuals or frost-tender perennials, will flower prolifically for months before needing to be replaced.

On the other hand, because of time or space constrictions, you may want to plant up a pot which is more enduring. In this case, you will need to choose plants which will provide interest at different times of the year and with at least one evergreen for winter colour.

A guide to planting eye-catching containers - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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The Weatherstaff Team