Color Inspiration for Container Gardens

This is an exciting time of year for container garden designers. I was asked recently if I ever ran out of ideas. Well it hasn't happened yet thanks in no small part to my clients themselves who like to keep me on my gardening toes! Here are a couple of this year’s requests and my interpretation. Bear in mind that these are all very new plantings and will grow considerably during the season.

'Happy' colors; the feathery foliage is Zagreb tickseed and will soon be covered in golden daisies


Happy Colors – this must be my favorite description! What does this conjure up to you?  Perhaps another way of saying the same thing – but not nearly so much fun would be 'bold, bright and colorful'. Think hot pink/ purple/ chartreuse or red/ yellow/ white or perhaps orange/ blue/ lime. I use both foliage and flowers to provide the color as either one alone wouldn’t quite hit the mark.

Red and yellow make for fun combinations especially when foliage such as crotons and coleus are incorporated





I also make sure that there are plenty of bold shapes such as the large leaves and flowers of non-stop begonias and sweet potato vines for impact. Colorful coleus are invaluable in these schemes with many sun tolerant varieties now being available. Golden Zagreb tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata) mingling with the darker leaved Gartenmeister fuchsia or boldly variegated Tropicana canna adds summer long color while brightly colored million bells, verbena and geraniums are all reliable performers.



Breathe…….jasmine and lilies (still in bud) perfume the air. This container is by a window and seating area where it can be enjoyed

Romantic and feminine – at first I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to meet this clients expectations but I needn't have worried and it has been a fun challenge to always give her the wow factor each season.  This lovely lady has a very specific wish list; silver, white, pink and soft green was THE color palette. No exceptions! And it was all about the flowers and fragrance – the headier the perfume the better.  So I began to look for long blooming annuals and perennials with an airy look and delicate variegated foliage that was also fragrant (I had to get a good backbone of foliage in there somehow)!



Whirling butterflies bloom all summer and provide the airy quality essential to a romantic design,


Winners have included star jasmine, lilies, gardenias, white heliotrope and ‘Gourmet popcorn’ rose for intoxicating fragrance. Pale pink yarrow (Achillea sp.), pink and white whirling butterflies (Gaura sp.) and annual cosmos provide months of color while having a feminine appeal.

I searched for a rose with fragrance, disease resistance, easy care and an old fashioned 'blowsy' attitude. 'Gourmet popcorn' fit the bill. It is underplanted with variegated marjoram






Variegated marjoram and ‘Silver edge’ lavender bring sparkle to the foliage line up and a sneaky ‘Kent beauty’ oregano, featured recently in my blog brings the softest shades of pink and green plus a light herbal fragrance. This one looks pretty unassuming right now but after a month’s growth I'm anticipating an excited email !


Watch for future posts on more creative color inspiration including a contemporary theme and examples of how I translated my sunset color scheme to this year’s container designs.




  1. Stacy on June 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Karen, I'm trying to imagine just how much fun it must be to go plant shopping for happy colors. I'll try it myself next spring! I love the gaura/yarrow combination in the romantic containers, and what a good idea to use lilies and jasmine together. I still overlook perennials for containers, but they aren't really that much more expensive than annuals, except for the 6-packs of tried-and-true bedding annuals. They could be a way to "stretch" the climate a little here — as long as I'm watering plants in containers every day anyway, why not grow perennials in them that need more water than I'm willing to give the garden?

    • Karen Chapman on June 19, 2012 at 6:17 pm

      I find that typically a 1g perennial is the same price as a 1g annual and it's also a good way for me to try something out. In your case it's a useful way to coral plants with slightly higher watering needs that might otherwise get forgotten in the main garden, or just not enjoyed at all. Give yourself permission to try something different!!

  2. debsgarden on June 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Great combinations! How much fun your job must be! Happy colors, indeed! I also identify with the lady who wanted romantic. Fragrance is so important to me. I have just this year discovered heliotrope. I have to stick my nose in it every time I pass by!

  3. Containers – Sassy or Classy? on June 24, 2012 at 11:05 am

    […] the mad professor look it does help to have a plan before you hit the nurseries, however. In my last post we looked at ‘happy’ colors and a romantic theme. Here are another couple of options my clients […]