Un-Flower Pots: Modern Ideas for Low Maintenance Container Gardens…

Sempervivum ‘Purple Beauty’ (Hens and Chicks) and Haworthia in a Glazed Pot with River Stone Accents, Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Although I have an unabashed love of colorful, fragrant blossoms, flowering plants aren’t ideal in all garden situations and circumstances. At times, I reach for the color, texture, form and/or movement of other plants -such as ornamental grasses and succulents- when designing a garden. Container gardens, particularly in dry, windy locations, can be very high maintenance unless the right plants are chosen for these challenging locations. Often, before I plant containers for my clients, I experiment with the design’s durability in my own garden first. This is an outrageously fun process of course, and a fine excuse to purchase annual plants for the steel deck outside my studio…

Stipa tenuissima (Mexican Feather Grass), Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Ucinia egmontiana (Orange Hook Sedge), Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ and Stipa tenuissima in a Modern Deck Arrangement, Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

The hot, dry, windy conditions on this sunny deck make it the perfect test-lab for low-maintenance container garden experiments. Over the years, two of the more successful annual combinations on my deck have been ornamental grass arrangements, and the succulent containers pictured here. This year, after reviewing Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens for Barnes and Noble’s Garden Variety blog (“Sweet Succulent Sensation – Ready for Some Outrageously Beautiful Container Inspiration”) I was inspired to take my easy-care succulent containers to a whole new level. But do I miss the flowers? Hardly. I find the jewel-like colors and textures so fascinating that I think adding flowering plants to these dramatic containers would be gilding the lily. Many succulent plants do in fact blossom, of course, and an number, such as Sempervivum and Echeveria, produce sensationally beautiful flower-like rosettes. Their shocking beauty is more than enough for me…

Sempervivum hybrid ‘Kalinda’. Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Sempervivum in a Pot with Stone Accents, (this frost-proof container is left outdoors year round). Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Close up of Sempervivum hybrid ‘Kalinda’. Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Sempervivum – The Rock Rose – Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Sempervivum in a permanent, frost-proof outdoor container. Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Sempervivum and Stone-Accent Mulch. Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Over the winter, you may recall my experiments with indoor container gardening, including dry-terraria arrangements, such as the one pictured below, (featuring three different plant forms: tall and spiked, mounded and trailing), and cactus bowls. Now that the warmer months have arrived, I have relocated these plants to larger-scale pots -accented with natural river stone- to my rusty steel deck. So far, the transition has been quite successful, with only one minor loss due to the well-known, ‘rambunctious labrador retriever effect’. If you too have a hot, sunny deck or terrace to landscape, and little time for maintenance, consider adding some easy-care pots to your seasonal arrangement. A large vessel, filled with tall ornamental grass works well as a backdrop for smaller containers filled with herbs or flowers. And small clusters of pots in a uniform color, such as the oxblood containers shown here, combine beautifully when grouped on terraces or arranged along the edges of steps. I will feature more container gardening ideas in the coming weeks, but if you are serious about creating a succulent oasis of your own, I suggest checking out the two fantastic books linked below…

Plants from an indoor succulent bowl, (read article here), can be moved outdoors to fill containers in warmer months. Pictured here: Echeveria ‘Pearl’, Sanseveria trifasiata ‘Laurentii’ and Portulacaria afra variegata from The Old School House Plantery. Container Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE…

In summer, the indoor cactus bowl goes on summer-deck-ation…

Order Thomas Hobbs’  The Jewel Box Garden from Amazon online…

Order Succulent Container Gardens from B&N or Amazon online.


Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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4 Replies to “Un-Flower Pots: Modern Ideas for Low Maintenance Container Gardens…”

  1. Drought Smart Plants

    I love Sempervivum – they appeal to me even more than Echeveria, another favorite. I think the Semps are even more beautiful, and also, a big bonus in my eyes, hardy! They survive the winters here easily (Zone 5a) and never need water. I have over 100 named varieties, and countless other un-named ones, and I have yet to see any that look the same. Amazing.

  2. Emma McMahon

    I love succulents and grow hens and chicks in my garden. After I read this post, I stopped and bought some for my pots. I like the rock mulch too. Thanks. Emma M.

  3. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Gorgeous combinations! What is it about succulents that’s almost like staring into a fire? They seem to draw you in, as if they’re from another planet or something – totally mesmerizing.
    AND I love, love, love that oxblood glaze! Are they all the same colour, the ones with the sedge grasses and your succulent combo pot? Beautiful!
    Hmm m. Maybe I’ll have to lean on my teacher about making some for the studio… ; )
    So, was it the pot only that succumbed to the Lab Effect (“tail only” or “full-body” enthusiasm?), or was it a total wipeout? Please tell me the plants toughed it out, ’cause I have a pair of the big dummies here and I’m about at my wits end… xo

  4. Michaela

    Hello Deb, I am so excited to hear that you make pottery. That’s something I would love to try my hand at. Succulents look very much like flames – what a great analogy! The oxblood glazed containers on my deck are all the same color. The other deck has a variety of teal-blue-turquoise glazed pots, (though some years I mix them all up).
    My yellow lab, Oli, smashed one of the larger hens and chicks in a small pot. I actually patched up the pot, but the sempervivum didn’t make it. I think it would have been fine in a larger container… or when it was properly positioned on the deck. My meter-reader came while I was planting though, and the small pot came between Oli and a cookie, (nothing can survive that).
    Good luck. As you know, gardening with labs is a unique-challenge, (sticks, big paws, rowdy-spazz-outs, rolling, etc).
    xo Michaela

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