Problem Solving With Potted Plants

A spartan entrance transformed by potted plants. Capitol Hill Seattle. Construction and picture by MMGD.

Design is primarily problem solving. The creative process begins with defining solutions in the context of a comprehensive plan. The artifice is making it visually interesting and aesthetically valuable.

As elements of a landscape design, container gardens are much more than decorative accessories. Potted plants and trees can not only solve design problems but create new opportunities.

This post looks at a few ways you can use containers to enhance the appearance of your landscape—and gain access to a wider selection of plants.

Potted plants and trees as problem solvers

Problem: Poor soil quality—rock, clay, or compacted ground filled with roots of surrounding trees or plants

Solution: Containers provide a vessel for a rich planting medium that will not be infiltrated by weeds or roots of surrounding trees. A wide selection of plants will be able to thrive.

Problem: Dry soil. Compacted earth or sloped areas allow water to run off without penetrating the roots of plants. Areas under trees don’t get adequate rain. Fast draining, rocky or sandy soil fails to retain moisture.

Solution: With containers, it becomes easy to control and monitor moisture levels, taking the guesswork out of watering. If the slope is gentle, a group of containers in a level area adds interest when viewed from below. Easy-to-water containers enable a wider plant selection.

Problem: Lack of garden space.

Solution: Container gardens provide planting space for rooftops, balconies, hardscapes, and other spots where you couldn’t otherwise grow plants.

Container gardens as design elements

You can use containers to:

  • Mark an entrance, define a pathway and add a colorful welcome.
  • Create focal points in prominent locations or when placed in sight lines.
  • Provide temporary interest in an area that’s past its prime or hasn’t reached it yet.
  • Make it possible to move semi-hardy or tender plants to a protected area during the winter.

When planning a container gardener or selecting a pre-planted one, determine where your containers will go and how they will be seen. Here are some guidelines:

  • Pots viewed from one side should have larger plants in the back.
  • Pots viewed from all sides should have taller plants in the center.
  • Select a composition of plants that will not rely on flowers alone to stay looking fresh.
  • Vary leaf shape, color and size for textural contrast and interest.
  • When using multiple containers, include unifying features. Use similar pots, a related color scheme or repeat a plant or two to create a cohesive look.

More ideas

With spring coming up, revitalizing your container gardens is a great way to welcome the season!

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of plantings for any spot in your garden.

Big News For Small Gardens

COYALIPINEGARDENGardening in small spaces?

Living with small outdoor spaces is becoming more and more common and designing for them is getting more and more attention from the landscaping industry. At the recent Northwest Green Conference small gardens were a hot topic.

Rest assured that even if your space is limited, a dynamic garden is still possible. In fact, small garden spaces offer great opportunities. (See my landscape design galleries for some examples.)

The keys to success for small gardens are creating visual spaciousness and engaging all the senses.

Here are just a few of the tricks I have learned after many years of designing small gardens:

  • Create balance and contrast. Select appropriate hard surfaces, then use lush plantings to add a sense of abundance.
  • Connect distinctive areas. Create a theme that connects the contrasting elements in your garden. This can be done with color, repetition or garden art. Carefully placed mirrors can add dimension and depth in dark shaded locations. A simple water feature will provide another sensory experience and create a feeling of relaxation.
  • Think big; free yourself from limitations. Lofty, transparent plants and open trelliswork and arbors increase vertical interest. Take advantage of different elevations: plants spilling over low walls or vines climbing up a backdrop add another dimension. Open areas keep the garden from feeling cramped
  • Create a small pathway. Use strategically placed stepping-stones, shiny pebbles or glass to represent an invitation for entry.
  • As you plan, keep in mind how you want to use your small garden. Is it a courtyard to pass through? Is it mostly viewed from indoors?  Or is it going to be an outdoor room large enough for a couple of comfortable chairs or a barbecue and a small table?
  • Choose plantings that won’t overwhelm the space. Use slow-growing plants and select plants with contrasting leave textures and colors. Choose plants that can be cut back and will come back the next season, fresh and lovely. To create a sense of softness, use low ground covers.
  • Update and refine your design with annuals. Annuals are a great way to add color, keep things changing, and fill tiny spaces for an overflowing, abundant presentation.

We provide garden planning and landscape renovation for gardens of all sizes — from tiny urban gardens to new construction and established estate gardens.

Are you ready to remove the guesswork and increase your success rate with your plantings and garden features? Contact us to learn more about garden planning, landscape design, and gardens in small spaces.

We’d love to help!