To save on effort and cost, I prefer those fairly good-sized containers made of some sort of fiberglass or polystyrene material that can stay outdoors all winter with the soil still in them. They are not so heavy if they need to be moved and don't fall apart from frost compared to terra cotta. The plain plastic ones don't last very well, get brittle in winter, and are ugly from the beginning anyway. The downside of these containers if that they need to be watered more often during dry or hot periods than raised beds or regular flower beds. I always add some fresh sterile container potting soil to the top level each spring along with a few of those polymer crystals that hold water in the soil and a time-release fertilizer. That -- and my husband David's faithful watering -- lasts the season.
I usually stick to traditional annuals (or herbs in one container this year) rather than a lot of the dramatic (and expensive!) tropicals that container gardening books and magazines always rave about. Mostly, I include a mix of four or five plants of different kinds in the large containers, matching the two sides of those along the walk. But sometimes, I just put in a lot of one plant for a really bright spot of color.
These vinca did really well this year and are sooo brilliant!
Almost every year, some of the annual dianthus in containers lives over the winter. I always try not to disturb it when I re-do the surface soil and I usually add new dianthus to that same pot for a mix of frilly pinks.
Gazanias are an attractive container annual because of their sunshine colors and striking markings. I try to pair them with something blue, but this time the blue plant hasn't bloomed much so far.
All of the annual salvias are good for containers: the firetruck reds, the deep purples, and the tall blue Victoria types as well.
I guess I'm not afraid to mix bright colors. I'll tuck in red salvia with other reds, pinks, and fuschias fearlessly!
For a long time, I resisted petunias because they were sticky and floppy and reminded me of Ronald Reagan. But the new breed of wave petunias and supertunias are wonderful. They last into the heat very well and just keep right on blooming their heads off!
Just as the supertunias are an improvement over the old petunias, the superbenas are a better verbena that is more heat tolerant than the others.
The brightest annuals show off best when there are also some light-colored or white flowers in the neighborhood as well.
Red supertunias pair nicely with my blue-and-black salvia, the hummingbird attracter.
For red annuals, though, I always have to include at least a few of the old classics: red geraniums (actually, the annual ones are called pelargoniums and they hail from South Africa).
Years ago, I remember huge lantanas growing like weeds in my mother's Tampa Bay garden. Now they are available in wonderful colors for container growing in the summer here in the Midwest. There's even a terrific planting of purple angelonias and yellow and pink lantanas in a long bed in front of the grocery store!
In shadier areas, the plants change and sometimes so do the types of containers. Although many of them have fallen apart over the years, I still have a few of those wooden half-barrells (which have now become prohibitively expensive).
The barrells are nice for various small plants and double impatiens.
The barrells are quite wide and can accomodate a small perennial as well as annuals if I'm careful not to disturb the surface too much. One of them holds crested iris and the others hold dwarf hostas and a dwarf goatsbeard.
Most of the color in the garden right now is in containers, in fact, although there are some bright spots outside the pots, such as the bee balm (Monarda).
There's the vining perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus) too. It's not fragrant like the annual English kinds that die in Illinois as soon as the summer hits, but it is easy and colorful.
The shrubs that are blooming now are primarily the hydrangeas, and they are beauties. Here's a new one just planted this spring called "Incrediball."
One of my favorites is the easy to grow and long-lasting Oak Leaf Hydrangea (quercifolia). The leaves are pretty enough on their own, but the bonus is huge cone-shaped white flowers that turn a soft dusty antique rose pink later on. (And the leaves turn red and rust in the fall as well.)
Small clay pots of houseplants are containers of a sort too. Every year, we take our houseplants outside and let them enjoy the fresh air and rain on a wooden plant table my husband built. They are easy to water with the hose too. The Clivia (a South African plant in the lily family) almost always graces us with clusters of bright orange blooms.
Raised beds aren't exactly containers, but we are continuing the work of re-doing them. You can see the difference easily between one that hasn't been re-done yet and one that was just weeded and had the soil topped up ready for mulching.
I've been using surveyor flags to mark plants that stay as we work on re-doing the beds, removing weeds, adding soil, and planting new plants to fill gaps.
Well, that's it for now for container ... plants. But the cat patio and run that my husband built 15 years ago is still a source of fun, fresh air, and exercise for "containing" some frisky felines.