Tips for improving your outdoor space with pots and planters

Posted 17.02.2015

Well-chosen pots and plants can hugely improve the look of your outdoor space, making it smarter, more welcoming and more colourful.

So here are our tips for choosing your garden planters and using them to best effect. 

1. Consider shape and proportion

There are no hard and fast rules for what works and what doesn’t, but in general go for a contrast between the pot and the plant. 

  • Tall plants suit shorter pots, shorter growing plants suit taller pots; so a ‘standard’ or lollipop shape plant looks great in a square or low tapered pot of about half the height of the plant, but looks odd in a tall slim pot. 
  • Rounded or bowl shaped pots set off stiff spiky plants, but don’t work as well with dome-shaped plants. Tall angular planters however work well with dome or round-shaped plants. 

Garden centres will not mind if you take a pot around in your trolley and try different plants in it.  It helps to do this with two people – one to hold the plant at the height it would be planted, and the other to stand back and judge.

2. Choose an appropriate size

Larger planters whether grouped or individually placed, will have more impact than lots of small ones which can easily look rather cluttered and fussy.  A large pot/plant combination can be a great focal point in a small garden, but bear in mind that pots that seem large in the abstract can seem much more insignificant when in a garden.

If you use smaller planters, they benefit from being raised up, for example grouped on a garden table, lining steps or on a low wall.  A single small planter can make an attractive centerpiece on an outdoor dining table.

3. Try grouping

Grouping pots together to create a display is fun and creative, and you can continuously ring the changes.  The best way to ensure your grouping hangs together is to co-ordinate both your pots and your plants – use the same type of planter (e.g. slate) and the same kind of shape(e.g. tapered)  and vary the heights.  Choose a colour palette for your plants – say yellow, orange and bronze - and incorporate both foliage and flowers.  

An alternative to grouping in a cluster is to group in a row of say 3 or 5, using the same plant and pot combination.  This is known as ‘repeat planting’ and is particularly suited to contemporary or formal gardens.

4. Use pots at an entrance

Don’t miss the opportunity to add the welcoming touch of colour to your doorway. Two matching pots look smart, especially if you have a symmetrical entranceway, but a single pot is fine if you only have space one side. To make an impression, the overall height should be not lower than 70cm or so.

Formal-ish planting using evergreens is often best, for example clipped buxus and smart granite pots, as they usually look neat and tidy and don’t need too much attention.  They also tend to stand up to pollution well – a consideration if you live on a busy street. However it is nice to introduce some seasonal variation as well, and the two can be combined by underplanting a tree or shrub with small flowering plants.  In Summer the choice is endless (any plants sold as suitable for hanging baskets will work) and in the depths of winter, it is cheering to underplant with some brightly coloured cyclamen, which can be then be replaced by primroses or Spring bulbs.

At Christmas, nothing looks more festive than a couple of small Christmas trees in pots by the door, lit with tiny twinkling white lights. 

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