Archives for container gardening

Like many gardeners, I love container gardens. Although I’m not afraid to go wild with the color of a container, it took me a while to realize the containers themselves could be their own standalone design element. As in, why does a container have to be a pot or a planter at all? Why not think outside the pot?

Repurpose and Recycle

In my first book, Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, my co-author Rebecca and I shared garden inspiration from Emily, a twenty-something apartment dweller hoping to bring some edible magic to her complex’s shared courtyard. Not only passionate about growing her own food, she is also a firm believer in repurposing and recycling. With a knack for ingenuity and some modest carpentry skills, she successfully transformed an old filing cabinet destined for the landfill into a wall-mounted herb planter!

Make it Personal

When I’m working with a client to transform her garden, I look for ways to marry my professional expertise with her own personal taste and history. To make her garden feel like a relaxing retreat, my client Deb wanted her tiny courtyard to remind her of Hawaii, her favorite vacation getaway. While working on the design, I came across an old bird feeder in her storage area and voila! A charming accessory helps transform this container garden into a personal space.

Add a touch of whimsy

I spotted this clever way to showcase shallow-rooted lettuces while visiting Orchard Nursery, one of my favorite local garden centers. No worries if you’ve run out of space in your vegetable garden—just grab a chair from the dining table, plop down a toolbox full of arugula and you’re good to go!

If a non-traditional container isn’t your cup of tea…

you can always get creative with what goes inside. After all, plants aren’t the only things that appreciate a cozy home.


If you’ve been to one of my presentations, you may have noticed the gardens are almost always photographed in spring, summer or fall. But that doesn’t mean I ignore winter when I design a garden!

In fact, a garden should honor every season by including at least one plant that captures its unique beauty. In warmer climates, the characteristics I look for in a great winter specimen are berries, blooms or fragrance.

Sweet Box

That’s why I love Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia). With blooms, berries AND fragrance it’s a winter standout. Sweetly-scented, small white flowers appear in late fall and are followed by shiny blue berries. To top it off, it is low water and evergreen, so it not only looks good year round, but thrives in drought-adapted landscapes.

Now let’s talk design!

Incorporating Sweet Box into your garden is easy. Its evergreen leaves and manageable size (4-6’) make it an excellent foundation plant around the front or back of the house. Be aware that its growth pattern tends to be a little untamed. Sweet Box can develop a few long branches that shoot out in all directions ahead of the pack, so be patient while this plant grows up and expect to do some shaping.

It prefers a spot that is at least partly shady, and makes a gorgeous, evergreen backdrop along a fence in a shade garden. Bonus pick if you like Sweet Box but want something smaller – its little cousin Sarcococca hookeriana makes a great, low mounding ground cover.

But my absolute FAVORITE spot for this workhorse shrub is by the front door. What better way to get a jolt of happiness every time you walk in and out of the house than to admire its delicate flowers and small that heavenly fragrance? Sweet Box is welcome bright spot during the greyest months of the year.

Bonus Plant! Berberis darwinii

If you’ve got more space, consider Darwin’s Barberry. I snapped this photo at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in February, where it really lit up the winter landscape. Visit their site for more photos and information.

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