Hot Pots, Creative Expression

If you’d like to spice up your outdoor spaces, containers add color and character to the backyard and beyond.
Container gardens are visually striking, versatile and can be repositioned easily.
Container gardens are visually striking, versatile and can be repositioned easily.

If you’d like to spice up your outdoor spaces, containers add color and character to the backyard and beyond. Whether you highlight the pot or the plantings, these special gems lend visual interest wherever they land.

At her Royal Oak residence, journalist and blogger Cindy La Ferle takes a whimsical approach to her containers. She accessorizes some of the face planters she calls “potheads,” like Aphrodite and Apollo, who may don a hat or sunglasses with succulents to simulate hair on his head.

At her other home, a Frank Lloyd Wright house in St. Joseph, the avid gardener had wood planters on rollers rebuilt to replace the originals that started to warp. “Having them in full sun can be a challenge, especially when you’re not always there,” La Ferle said. “Ornamental grasses can tolerate periods of drought, and they go with the modern feel and the rusty tones of the home.”

Plants that work in rock gardens should tolerate drought and sun, explained La Ferle, who incorporates ornamental grasses to add height to containers, giving them a fountain-like effect. Pedestals and plant stands also add height to containers that can shift as the sun changes in the summer.

“You can push your pots around your patio,” said La Ferle, who might fill some with coleus and impatiens, adding vines to balance the two. She also has potted tomatoes and herbs that are hard to grow in soil.

“I love to get outside and work in the garden,” she said. “As you get older, you don’t want to bend down in the soil as much. There’s instant gratification with containers, and it’s an easier way to garden because you’re not weeding all the time.”

The “potheads” remain her favorites. “I change them every year to look like they have hairdo’s with vines and evergreen in the winter,” she said. “They add a human touch to the garden because they have faces. When I look outside, there’s always something in there to see.”

Plant based

Kim Milewski, general manager of English Gardens in Plymouth (, suggests that containers can be used to beautify a porch, patio or yard. Colorful glazed ceramic pots can be combined with contrasting plant material. For spring planters, pussy willow, yellow twig dogwood or forsythia branches work well. Come summer, an obelisk or small trellis for mandevilla or black-eyed Susan vines add height to arrangements.

Tried and true terracotta pots can be combined with sleeker styles, while lightweight pottery also has been popular. “They have a very modern look, they’re easy to move and they hold up well through the seasons,” Milewski said.

Edible container gardening continues to be a hot trend. “What’s better than going out to your patio and munching on a fresh cucumber or a handful of sweet cherry tomatoes?” she asked. With citrus, you can pluck a fresh lime for your margarita.

Containers also add pops of continual color in perennial gardens. When planning a container garden, consider the sun exposure in your preferred location, along with the pots and colors you’d like to feature.

Milewski enjoys spending time with her daughters planting containers in the spring and watching them grow throughout the season. “My ladies love to help water, fertilize and deadhead as needed,” she said. “I also find it very relaxing to go out and water in the evening after a long day at work.”

Some of her favorite container combos feature tropical plants that do well in the summer and can be taken inside in the fall (after proper preparation with a systemic insecticide). Others include canna lilies and lemon coral sedum. You also can use perennials like coral bells, coneflower and sedum in containers.

“When you start with a self-watering pot, your plant combinations are endless,” Milewski said. Adding slow-release fertilizer to the soil when you plant and using water-soluble fertilizer every week will ensure your containers look good well into fall.

Jeanine Matlow lives in Farmington Hills where she enjoys writing about homes and home décor.

*Photography courtesy English Gardens & Cindy La Ferle 

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