Colorful Containing

Hooray! Happy Spring Equinox! As much as we truly adore winter (toasty sweaters, hot cocoa, skiing, sledding, cozy family time, comfort foods, etc., etc., etc.)…once spring arrives & the weather starts to change, it is so exciting to see the little baby plants sprout up with promises of a new, colorful season!


Colorful Containing |


I’m no longer squeamish about getting my hands in the dirt (though I had better call it “soil” or one of my sisters-in-law will likely correct me). 🙂 In fact, I truly do love getting out there and planting new things — it’s relaxing and peaceful. Growing something from seed or even from a baby starter plant from the garden center and watching it thrive is quite cool & there’s a great sense of accomplishment when you sit out on your patio surrounded by pretty plants.

My first gardening project involved creating colorful containers when we moved into our house about 12 years ago. Containers seemed much less intimidating and fell into the “instant gratification” category for me — I was NOT a gardener in any way, shape or form back then.

At first we grew a lot of annuals — they were easy & having their showy flowers on our front porch reminded me of the gorgeous flower carts in New York City or at the farmer’s markets in Europe. Over the years, we started taking advantage of the southern exposure our front porch receives to grow herbs with a few full-sun flowers tucked in for a bit of color. As we expanded our garden, we started keeping various containers of herbs & veggies, mixed with flowers, surrounding our raised bed in the backyard near our patio.

TIP: Try repeating elements throughout your yard or in a couple of containers. Though we tend to gravitate toward a cottage garden atmosphere where we mix and match plants in a slightly whimsical fashion, it’s fun seeing the same red (or yellow or pink) flowers popping up in a few different spots throughout the yard to tie things together for a sense of cohesiveness.

As for herbs — oh how we love them! Nothing beats clipping some fresh herbs you’ve grown yourself for whatever culinary delight you happen to be making for dinner! We’ve tried lots of different herbs — most work really well for us — though for some weird reason, we haven’t ever had much luck with growing cilantro. Other than that, we have some favorites that we end up growing each year. Some have even survived our harsh winters & surprise us when they appear again the next spring — love when that happens since it means fewer new plants to buy or start over from seed.

We keep our chives in a container that can remain outdoors over the winter & every year, it is one of the first plants to start popping up in the spring. The other one we’ve actually had survive is rosemary. That one really surprises us since it shouldn’t be able to withstand our bitter Chicago winters. We have had luck with some rosemary plants that survive two or three years before we need to buy a new one.

After trying out many different herbs, the favorites we seem to grow each and every year include:

  • Basil, basil & more basil so we can make tons of pesto
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Thyme
  • Chives
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Mint (different varieties)
  • Lavender

TIP: When filling a container with different plants & herbs, make sure that the required soil conditions are similar for each of the plants…you don’t want to plant something that prefers dry soil with something that needs lots of watering. Thankfully, containers are quite easy to re-do if you find that you need to move things around a bit by mid-season if it seems one plant is struggling a bit. The key is to pay attention to your little plant babies each day to see how they’re doing — that way you can fine-tune things if necessary.

TIP: Mint is a tricky one — in most locations, mint can quickly take over your yard or garden since many varieties are quite aggressive. Keeping mint in containers are a wonderful way to enjoy it without worry. We love growing different types to put in our iced tea in the summertime!


Bi-colored sage, a lovely variety of rosemary and some pretty annuals tucked in for color.
Bi-colored sage, a lovely variety of rosemary and some pretty annuals tucked in for color.


Quite possibly my favorites, gerbera daisies are such happy little flowers! We’ve had great success planting these in containers – they’re a great element to repeat in other parts of the garden as well.


Another fun thing we’ve done for the last few years is to help our little one plant a fairy garden. You can find miniature versions of different plants at your local garden center as well as little decorative items. Though we call ours a “fairy” garden as they do in the garden centers, ours is quite light on the fairy aspect…our little one isn’t into fairies & princesses, but she adores animals so she usually finds a few new animals and miniature items at the start of each season. We give her a budget on what she can spend & she picks the plants she’d like to try & decides where to place them in her special containers before we help her plant them. This last year she picked up some new birds, a raccoon, a frog & a koi pond as well as a couple of pretty stones with little painted butterflies. She loves to help us water the plants and gets such a kick out of seeing her mini-garden grow throughout the year!

A few of these plants will come back year-to-year in our climate…the stonecrop has been in this container for about four or five years. We divide it and plant it in other containers each spring since it does so well for us.

TIP: If you have small decorative items in your containers & you live in a colder climate, make sure to remove those decorations in the fall…if you gently clean them & store them indoors, they will likely last many years!


Planting a special fairy or animal garden is such a great project for kids – continual learning throughout the season as the plants grow as well as added responsibility for even the littlest ones who can help out by watering & caring for the plants!


Have you ever planted lettuce? We started growing lettuce about six years ago. Perfect for spring & fall planting, you’ll get an abundance of gorgeous, tasty greens while the weather is cooler. Different varieties have worked well for us in containers or in our raised bed. This is another one our little one really enjoys — it grows very quickly & she loves salad so it’s a great plant that she can help harvest all by herself.

As for mulch, we absolutely adore using cocoa mulch in our containers & in the beds near our patio. It does a great job keeping the weeds at bay and the lovely cocoa scent is fantastic!


Two lettuce varieties we planted last year – both were tender & sweet. The cocoa mulch not only smells wonderful, but is pretty, too!


Our raised bed in May. We keep some of our containers along the raised bed – adds a great spot of color at the edge of our patio.


A few years ago after our patio installation was complete, we added the raised bed as a spot to grow tomatoes & beans. After using it a season or two, we now use it for different lettuces on one side, a determinate cherry tomato plant in the center of the bed (stays compact) and we’re going to continue putting extra basil plants on the other side. We surrounded the raised bed with some of our pretty containers and it’s a lovely, colorful little side area when you’re out on the patio. It is also very easy to access any of the items we wish to harvest.

If you haven’t tried container gardening yet, give it a try this year! You really don’t need much space & containers are the perfect stepping stone into the world of gardening! Just note that while some containers can be kept outdoors all year, if you live in a cooler climate, make sure to clean & store any ceramic pots indoors — they can break if kept outside over the winter.

If you do keep a container garden, what are some of your favorite things to plant or some of your favorite plant combinations? We’d love to hear about it! Drop us a note in the comments below!




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