My Summer Containers for Sun: Meh.

The good news is that I continue to gain useful experience on how to put together summer containers for sun. The not-so -good news is that this year’s containers are pretty unsatisfying.

Containers on the steps to the front door, with Salvia 'Evolution' at the top.
Containers on the steps to the front door, with Salvia ‘Evolution’ at the top.

One lesson from last year that I tried to remember in 2015 is that when you have a whole bunch of containers, not every one of them needs a tall, attention-grabbing plant (the thriller of the thriller-filler-spiller formula).

Cigar Plant at the top of the steps on the other side.
Cigar Plant at the top of the steps on the other side.

There are about a dozen containers lined up on the walk to the front door. Initially I put some tallish ‘Evolution’ Mealycup Sage (Salvia farinacea) in a couple of containers at the top of the steps on the right, then one Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea) on the left.

Pentas, Nasturtium, and Sweet Alyssum.
Pentas, Nasturtium, and Sweet Alyssum.

The other plants I used were mounding (with one exception): Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), Pentas ‘Butterfly Red’ (Pentas lanceolata), and French Marigold ‘Disco Red’ (Tagetes patula).

Nasturtium 'Empress of India'
Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’

The one exception was a compact Nasturtium, ‘Empress of India’ (Tropaeolum majus), which I think of as having more of a weeping habit.

I allowed Violets to grow around the pots in the little triangle of soil between walk and the driveway.
I allowed Violets to grow around the pots in the little triangle of soil between walk and the driveway. This picture was taken back in July. I’m afraid you can barely make out the ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ in the middle pot. 

So it turns out that a row of mounding plants in containers does not always make much of a visual impact, so I added two ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ Flowering Tobacco (Nicotania x sanderae). At first I was really pleased with the results, but this plant just would not keep blooming once the weather turned really hot. Next year I will go with more annual Salvia, but something taller than ‘Evolution’ – maybe ‘Mystic Spires’.

Marigold 'Disco Red'
Marigold ‘Disco Red’

I’m fairly happy with the ‘Disco Red’ Marigolds, though they were a little slow to fill in and bloom vigorously. They have single flowers, opening red and fading to orange.


It’s odd that many “serious” gardeners avoid Marigolds. They are too easy, too common, too much associated with free little seed packets given to children. I think this attitude is silly.

I do wonder, though, about the cultivar name ‘Disco Red’. Was it inspired by some ginger-haired dancing queen? Or by some revolutionary agitator with a weakness for the BeeGees? We may never know.

Also, why are the tall Marigolds called African Marigolds (Tagetes erecta) and the short ones French Marigolds? They all come from Mexico, not France or Africa. Another mystery.

These Nasturtiums chose to climb rather than spill.
These Nasturtiums chose to climb rather than spill.

The results with the ‘Empress of India’ Nasturtiums were very uneven. The ones in pots at the top of the steps, partly shaded by the house, grew nice and full and flowered adequately. Those in pots in full sun along the walk sulked. I would have expected the opposite.

The Sweet Alyssum, though, have really been outstanding this year. No matter what the weather, they refuse to stop flowering and perfuming the air. It was the Sweet Alyssum in shade, and not in sun, that had to take a breather and was in need of a shearing – the opposite of what I would expect.

The pot on the stump.
The pot on the stump.

The Cigar Plant in the pot on the stump in the Lamppost Bed has done pretty well, though it’s companions may need more regular watering than I’ve been giving them.

Are you happy with your containers in sun this year?

53 Comments on “My Summer Containers for Sun: Meh.”

  1. My flower pots are dreadful! I always do a terrible job of mixing and matching the plants and this year it rained so much that the water drowned several plants. Wish I knew how to do this effectively.

  2. Your pots are all looking healthy and colorful, which is 1/2 the ‘battle’. I used nasturtiums in my kitchen window box and they look like crap! Yours look great.
    I tried a couple of new things this year. One was to use perennial grasses as a center; the plan is to move them into the garden beds end of season. They are doing well and I like the look. The other thing I tried was using houseplants like crotons, ivy, and a couple other things I bought on the $1 rack (in good condition) at a big box store. I’m liking the results. And, for the 2nd year, I’ve done a big shallow pot full of succulents/sedums and the like. They grow like crazy and don’t need much attention.

  3. We fill our containers with with herbs: one devoted to catnip; another full of parsley, basil, lemon thyme; a third one with sage, English thyme, tarragon, and rosemary. They are in full sun, get water when I remember, and tall until we snip some for cooking. Planted in the ground neighbors are zinnias, a glorious citronella, marigolds, lavender, and dianthus. The pots are pots lead to the steps and a picnic basket of annuals. I like to think they are a warm greeting to those who enter our home.

  4. I think you are doing a commendable job with your containers and it’s great that you continue to experiment with new and unusual plant combinations. Even with the “thriller, filler, spiller” formula, I generally suck at mixed containers and have opted for smaller containers featuring one plant, well-grown. I can group the containers as I wish. Works for me…

  5. Just discovered your blog via your recent comment on Danger Garden. Your garden is spectacular. I live in Madison, WI so am always interested to see what folks in the Upper Midwest are doing. My green is less colorful and more green at this season with very little grass. Very few containers; typically a single perennial per pot. Daylilies also almost over except for Steeple Jackie, very late, very tall but small flowered yellow one. Looking forward to reading lots of posts on your lovely website.

  6. Happy? Yes. Every year I have new containers mixing both perennial (stuff I dig out over winter and put into containers like hosta, hydrangea and phlox) and annual plants that I purchase new. I do get many different combinations, but still have the the standard full-look of typical annuals too. It is good to experiment like you have done. I plant for pollinators and for ease of care. It looks like you may have done that too. As for a comment above, it is not true by any stretch that a good variety of annuals need more water. All the ones from Mexico, S. America and Africa (like your Marigolds) are the most drought tolerant blooms in the garden, even more so than my native plants. Of course if annuals (and the perennials too) are in a container, they need daily watering, but in the garden they do well baked in the sun.

  7. I like the look of your summer pots – I always struggle to keep up with the watering of pot pants, so everything then ends up as a pot in which to strike cuttings! I’m with you on marigolds – they are an easy plant and a great companion plant for so many other things (as they encourage so many beneficial insects which feed on other pests in the garden)

  8. I love most of my containers so much this year I’m planning on using the same combinations next year. I have my tithonia in a giant pot and it’s a massive water hog. But that’s the only spot available so I just water it daily. Variegated pennisetum ‘Fireworks’ would be great in a pot by the driveway. Gomphrena would be cool, too.

  9. Um. I wish my containers looked like yours do. haha. I don’t have sun so I can’t report on that aspect. I do have one nice container in the shade that I am happy with. It is a yellow abutilon with Pachystachys lutea. The abutilon bloomed for the early part of summer and stopped just in time for the shrimp plant to take over. They are both perennials (sort of. not exactly frost hardy) so if all goes well I won’t have to replace that container next year. After many years of trying, the thriller spiller thing and I have decided to go our separate ways.

  10. Hi Jason and Judy! It was so nice to meet you 🙂 Your containers look much better than mine, Jason –I had one large one that is a success, but my nasturtiums got quite leggy and while they continue to produce a flower or two, the foliage just keep curling up and dying. Maybe I’ll try nasturtium in a pot with more shade next summer.

  11. My cluster of pots out front was gratifying last year (its first) but this year, not so much. Beginner’s luck? A smaller cluster outside my studio is looking pretty good and the Brugmansias are about to bloom. Others’ Brugs have been blooming for ages. I hear they are heavy feeders, so I may need to up the fish fertilizer applications. Love the orange Zinnias around the stump pot.

  12. I think you’re too hard on yourself, Jason. The pots look great! I know it’s hard to see when you look at them every day with a critical eye (I do the same thing), but they’re beautiful. I like the way you’ve lined the sides of the steps with them. The arrangements look very professional.

  13. I also think the pots look much better than you’re giving them credit for. The bright colors are great and I think they have to be in order to stand up to the flower-power of the clematis. Maybe a few stronger uprights would break things up a bit but I think you’re doing alright with that.
    I have to say I don’t much like sweet alyssum, so when I say dropping that from next years containers…. well you can take that suggestion with a grain of salt.
    My planters are looking nice this year, I’m surprised!

  14. Your containers look so much better than mine, Jason! This is the time of year when I really pay attention to what is doing well and can take the heat and the humidity. I love heliotrope, but I might as well cross it off my list, because once again, it shriveled up and died by the end of July. I’m one of those who ignores marigolds, other than in the vegetable garden. Yours look so good, I need to re-think my ideas about them next year. Besides, who wouldn’t want a Disco queen in her garden?:)

  15. Your pots don’t look so bad to me Jason. I can understand that you might not have the look your were going for. Maybe you should try one type of flower in each pot and group them as fill, spill and thrill. That way each plant will have plenty of growing room and will hold up through the entire growing year. I love marigolds. They take heat, humidity, lack of moisture and still sit there looking prissy until Jack Frost does a number on them a couple of times. In my pots I have not had luck with petunias Super or not. I have a few begonias that do well in pots. Maybe I will do a post about my pots. Several I have had tropical ferns or succulents. Several have small shrubs. Fairies have taken up summer residence in several. Nothing to really write home about but they please me.

  16. I’ve never been very good at containers. Even when they look good at the beginning of summer, they tend to be pretty bedraggled by this point in the season. Last week, I went to a talk by Fergus Garrett and was fascinated by his description of the way they use containers in the courtyard at Great Dixter — as a way to experiment with new and different combinations of plants. Gives me something to think about when I plan containers for next year.

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