Finding Perfect Companions Balancing Form, Color and Texture in Container Gardens

Finding Perfect Companions
  • Posted May 6, 2014

Container gardens are living landscapes in miniature—no less worthy of thoughtful design than a park or botanical garden. To fill every niche with the perfect plant, look for complimentary combinations that fit together like the elements of a Monet painting.

Focus on Form

In design, form refers to the use of space. A rose trained to a single trunk leaves room under the canopy for sprawling groundcovers, like prostrate rosemary. The vertical lines of iris beckon for drifts of phlox or sweet woodruff to soften their angular form.

Trailing Vinca and Dwarf Fountain Grass
Trailing Vinca (Catharanthus roseus) & Dwarf Fountain Grass

Ceramic pots with a bulbous shape look great crowned with the pendulous stems of bunch grasses or the weeping branches of a Japanese maple. Match the strong vertical and horizontal lines of wood planters with the erect stems of horsetail or canna lilies.

Canna Lily Cannova Yellow
Canna Lily 'Cannova Yellow'

Color Theory 101

The primary colors—red, blue and yellow—each have a corresponding complimentary color—green, orange and purple, respectively—that our eyes are programmed to enjoy. Pick a combination and go for it, being sure to consider the color of the backdrop (such as the exterior wall of the house), as well as the container. It's hard to go wrong with scarlet begonias in an emerald green pot, for example.

Syngenta Kwik Kombo Fire & Ice
Syngenta's Kwik Kombo Fire & Ice

It is also wise to make a divide between light and airy pastel-colored flowers (salmon, sky blue and pale yellow) and their bold, saturated counterparts (burgundy, indigo and golden yellow). Choose which works best with the surrounding aesthetic and stick with it. Yellow daisies with purple lobelia look great as a potted cottage garden in front of a craftsman bungalow, while deep green sedges and red-flowered salvias are a better compliment for a white stucco exterior.

Syngenta Kwik Kombo Desert Sunset
Syngenta's Kwik Kombo Desert Sunset

Talking in Textures

Texture conveys ambiance to the setting of a container garden. Spiky plants feel strong and austere, yet exude serenity like the desert at dusk. Combine them with lobe-leaf succulents for a complimentary contrast. Plants with low water needs usually have compatible textural traits, like cacti and bougainvillea. Likewise, water-loving elephant ear and wild ginger are reminiscent of a moist grotto.

Succulents come in varying textures.

Be sure to consider the textural feel of containers, too—unglazed terra-cotta goes well with a Mediterranean theme, while glazed vessels with a glossy sheen give a sleek, modern look. There are no strict rules to creating the perfect container combinations. Instead, trust your initial impressions of each plants' character and ask yourself which ones feel like the best match.

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Brian Barth
About the Author

After 15 years as a professional landscape designer and horticulturalist, Brian Barth embarked on a second career to share his passion—and the knowledge he's accrued—through writing. His love of plants is all-encompassing, but he has a particular soft spot for culinary crops.

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Finding Perfect Companions
Photo Gallery

Plants with Form, Color & Texture

  • Golden Hakone Grass
  • Blue Agave
  • Purple Fountain Grass
  • Silver Licorice Vine
  • Bronze Fennel
  • 'Illustris' Colocasia