Pots are favoured tool of garden designers everywhere–and for good reason. Not only are they practical, allowing one to add greenery to tricky places where soil is poor or non-existent (patios, balconies and rooftops), but they also act like jewellery on a designer outfit, completing an ensemble to perfection.
As a general rule of thumb, big is best – and will create a cleaner look, helping to avoid that fussy, messy look that you sometimes get with a hodge-podge of little pots. Big pots are not just for big gardens; smaller gardens benefit from larger features, which form focal points and actually make the garden appear larger. On a practical level, big pots also offer a greater choice of plants to pop in it, with small trees enjoying the extra space to spread their roots. (A quick note on this point though: when filled with soil, plant and water, a big pot will weigh an enormous amount, so beware of the weight capacity of your balcony or rooftop, if that’s where it will live.)
Be guided by your home’s interiors – these are likely already a good reflection of your personal style, and continuing this outdoors will ensure a seamless flow. So, if your interiors are modern and starkly minimal, go for streamlined shapes and a muted monochrome palette, whereas a more layered scheme indoors or an older house heavy on period features might be an excuse to whip out the terracotta and ornate pots outside.
A potted display
Interior stylists will talk about the ‘rule of three’ and the same guidelines are a good starting point for decorating with pots outdoors. Begin with a big pot and arrange a couple of smaller mates around it. You can go for more than three pots, of course, but for whatever reason, odd numbers tend to look better.
The best thing about planting in pots is the flexibility, with the ability to play around with your display for the best effect. Cluster pots together, then space them out a bit as the plants grow; move a blooming beauty to centrestage while its good looks last; or try raising up shorter plants to pair better with a taller neighbour.
What to plant
Visually, there should be at least as much pot as there is plant, so if you’re potting a bushy shrub, the pot should be an equal or greater volume – this is a good rule for visual balance while also, generally, making for happy plants with plenty of room to grow.
There’s no shortage of plant varieties that will grow well in pots, but as with a garden bed, the decision comes down to what will work in the conditions (sunny, shady, windy) and what looks best in the space, from bushy and bold, like a strappy imperial bromeliad, to something that adds height and formality to a small space, like a pencil pine.
Finally, don’t forget to pamper your potted plants. They will lose moisture much more quickly than those in a garden bed, so monitor closely and water them regularly. Use the best potting mix you can, mulch well and feed as needed for a gorgeous green display.