A to Z of Container Garden Plants for Gardening Containers

A to Z of Container Garden Plants for any Garden Containers

It would be impossible to list all the plants, of many kinds, which will adapt happily to growing in gardening containers of one sort or another. But here are some which I have found especially useful and attractive:

container garden plants for gardening containers

Ajuga (Bugle)

Perennial creeping rosettes, mostly producing intense blue flower spikes of about six inches from May to July. Ajuga atropurpurea has bronze-purple leaves. Ajuga Burgundy Glow has lovely bronze-purple variegated foliage, while A. Pink Elf is a free-flowering pink form of about four inches. Likes sun or partial shade.

Alchemilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle)

Alchemilla mollis is easy to grow, this favourite with flower arrangers makes a refreshingly light and airy effect in a reasonably sized box and is pretty in a basket. Pale green pleated leaves catch and hold drops of water after a shower of rain or overhead watering, and make a lovely setting for the froth of dainty lime-green flowers that go up to about 18 inches. Flowers and leaves are an excellent foil to any colour you put with them. For sun or shade.


Alyssum saxatile Citrinum is a very attractive pale yellow form of the ever-popular alyssum. A. Flore Pleno is a double form, and A. Compactum is a bright gold form. Try alyssum for an unusual springtime hanging flower basket. Will grow in sun or partial shade.

Anthemis (Camomile)

I have particularly liked anthemis cupaniana, which makes ferny mounds of silver-grey foliage and carries for months on end large white ‘daisies’, from May. Cut out stems after they flower and the plant will bloom again in late summer. It strikes easily from cuttings, and is happy in full sun or semi-shade. It is a perennial which stays attractive all winter with its grey foliage.


Arabis Flore Pleno is a ‘must’ for hanging flower baskets and window boxes, carrying double white stock-like flowers April–May. A. variegata has handsome variegated rosettes all winter, and white flowers in spring. Suitable for sunny or semi-shaded positions.

Arenaria Balearica

Arenaria balearica are small, moss-like plants which have tiny white star-like flowers in summer. They are plants which I have found make excellent linings for hanging flower baskets. They are evergreen.  Arenaria purpurascens has purple foliage.

Armeria (Thrift)

Armeria is a tussocky plant which I have used as a basket liner and it makes an attractive edging to a box also. It is evergreen, covered in summer with drumsticks of pink. A. Corsica has brick-red flowers. A. maritima splendens Alba has white flowers.


The smaller kinds make charming earth-coverers. A. lanata is a prostrate one with silver filigree leaves, and A. schmidtii Nana is also attractive through which crocus and other bulbs will push their way.


Arum italicum marmoratum makes a fascinating subject for a window box or patio planter. Its winter leaves are marbled green and white. The leaves die down in summer but striking spiky seed-heads of green ripening to orange begin to form in late July. Fresh foliage appears for the winter. The seedheads are poisonous, so plant out of children’s reach.

Aubrieta (often spelled aubretia)

There are many named varieties of this popular spring flower, which I have even used for lining hanging flower baskets. A. Bressingham Red is a good large-flowered form. A. Bressingham Pink is a good double. A. Dr. Mules is a fine purple, and A. marginata variegata has green foliage prettily edged with white, and blue flowers.

Aucuba (Spotted Laurel)

Planted in a sunny position, the yellow colour of the heavily splashed and spotted evergreen leaves makes this a suitable and popular shrub for a winter box while the plants are still small.


Dwarf varieties are delightful shrubs for window boxes, which can be easily filled with the lime-free soil they require. The evergreen kinds are a distinct advantage. There are many colours of flowers available, to fit in with most colour schemes. Never allow them to dry out; peat used as a mulch is of benefit. The larger azaleas can be accommodated in suitably sized patio planters, etc.


Richly-coloured tuberous begonias flower freely and make excellent subjects for container gardening. Pendulous sorts are ideal for hanging flower baskets. There are varieties that are frilled and crested. Begonias are mostly bought as dry tubers, although they can be raised from seed. Start tubers off indoors in a warm room in pots in mid-March; by the middle of May they should be hardened off ready to plant in gardening containers. Fibrous-rooted begonias (semperflorens) I have found best grown from pelleted seed, but they are readily available as plants. Some have very attractively coloured foliage. Begonias like a partially shady place and should not go outdoors until all danger of frost is past. The compost must not become too dry or buds will fall.

Bellis (Daisy)

This plant is charming in springtime containers. Dresden China is a popular double pink button daisy of miniature size, and Rob Roy is a little taller (about 6 inches) Ind a red button. Remove all spent flowers immediately so that the plants do not set seed; divide the plants regularly. A delightful perennial. Bergenia. These valuable evergreen foliage Plants are useful all the year round in boxes and tubs for their splendid leaf shapes. Some have eaves which redden in late summer, and all have good branching heads of flowers in the spring. Try B. Ballawley in a big planter; it has large green summer foliage, and rosy pink flowers in spring (and possibly a few in early autumn). B. Silberlicht, with white flowers, and B. beesiana purpurascens, whose leaves colour very well in winter, are both attractive. Likes sun or shade.

Calendula (Marigold)

A hardy annual. Geisha Girl has large orange flowers. C. Art Shades has a wonderful range of colours, with creams, apricots, oranges.

Campanula (Bell Flower)

There is a wide /variety of small campanulas, mostly bought for colour in the rock garden during the summer, put I use many of them in my hanging flower baskets, planting them in the sides, where they quickly form a neat covering. C. Blue Clips is a dwarf blue with flowers on 4-inch stems, and C. White Clips is white. C. E.H. Frost is an enchanter with pure white bells and a trailing habit. C. isophylla has for many years been a favourite for summer hanging baskets indoors but the plant, which is in fact hardy in many parts of Britain, makes a very good outdoor display in every kind of gardening; it can be allowed to trail or be staked and grown as an upright. Both white and blue forms are available and white is lovely with blue trailing lobelia in a basket.


Pendulous carnations can be raised from seed to flower within five months of sowing. They come mainly in pinks and reds. All carnations and pinks bought in as plants will trail if you do not stake them, however.


For indoor hanging flower baskets all the year round, or outdoors in summer, this is the very popular green-and-white-striped foliage plant. It throws out new little plants on long stems as runners, giving a waterfall effect.

Cobaea scandens (Cathedral Bells)

This is a frost-tender graceful climber, flowering from July onwards in a sunny position. The flowers are green-violet bells. Sow seed indoors in early spring. Normally grown as an annual out of doors, but in a cool greenhouse or conservatory will be perennial.


Often mistakenly called autumn crocus, these are large corms with big crocus-like flowers. C. Water Lily has huge many-petalled blooms of pale purple. C. autumnale (meadow saffron) is pale rose or white. C. byzantinum has up to 20 lilac-rose flowers in a spathe. Colchicum are sometimes offered for sale to grow on window ledges out of soil, which shows how easy they are. After flowering they should be removed from window boxes, but may be left in larger planters, as they produce very large leaves in spring which must be left on until they die down naturally in June or July. Likes sun or shade.


Foliage plants from seed in a fantastic range of colours. They require sufficient sunlight if the colours are to stay bright. Pieces will root easily in water. All flowers, which are not very attractive, should be pinched out. C. Carefree is a good compact and bushy variety, and those called Dragon Coleus have bright scarlet leaves edged with gold. They grow well in tubs and window boxes from early summer; take cuttings, or bring plants indoors before the frosts.


Prettily-coloured daisy flowers held above dainty foliage. Normally grown in a border, but they do make delightful subjects for tubs. Raise from seed, and plant out in May. If not allowed to dry out they will give a long period of bloom.


These cheap and cheerful friends of early spring are great value for money. They hug boxes and baskets like a coverlet only inches high. The winter-flowering group bloom as early as February. Choose from such species as C. chrysanthus Lady Killer (violet-blue with milky white), C. Golden Bunch (which gives i8 to 24 flowers from a single bulb), C. Cloth of Gold (yellow with dark purple feathering), and C. vernus Vanguard (a lovely shade of pale mauve with flowers in profusion a fortnight before the ordinary large crocus). There are also autumn-flowering crocus available, attractive but with smaller flowers than colchicum.

Daffodils and Narcissi

If your window box or other gardening container is very much exposed to the wind, go for miniatures or the shorter-stemmed kinds. The fine trumpet daffodil called Youth has large deep golden yellow flowers, and goes up to about 12 inches tall. The double flowered daffodil Van Sion goes to about 13 inches. For large tubs and more sheltered sites, a collection of Mount Hood makes a magnificent show; the flowerheads are white, on 20-inch stems.

Dicentra Spectabilis

There are a number of dicentras grown as hardy border plants but my favourite for a big terrace planter is D. spectabilis (sometimes known as Bleeding Heart, Dutchman’s Breeches, and Lady in the Bath). The flower stems carrying the little hearts arch above the fine ferny foliage, with remarkable effect. Goes up to 2 feet high, and needs a deep rich soil.

Eccremocarpus (Chilean Glory Flower)

I have found this to be a much-admired plant in hanging flower baskets. The vivid orange tubular flowers are produced on long trailing stems and are well set off by bright green leaves. After the flowers, interesting green, then black, seedpods appear. The stems are cut back to the base in late autumn. Not hardy – needs frost-free conditions in winter. Normally grown as a climber. Requires lots of water in the growing season. Can be raised from seed.

Epimedium (Bishop’s Hat)

These lovely foliage plants produce flowers in spring. The foliage is long-lasting and in a gardening container makes a setting for other subjects. Perfectly hardy. There are a number of different kinds. E. rubrum, for example, is particularly effective when the new leaves emerge with their bronze-red colours. Epimedium Youngianum niveum has smaller leaves which come soft brown when new, and white flowers.

Erica (Heather)

There are many fine kinds, with colourful year-round foliage, including copper yellow and grey as well as green. Ericas are very valuable for the top of hanging flower baskets, window boxes, and any other small raised gardens. Ideal for permanent plantings. Clip back after flowering, to keep compact in shape. Most need a lime-free soil. E. carnea Springwood White and Springwood Pink are not fussy as to a little lime, and have the added virtue of flowering in the winter no matter how hard the weather.


A number of good euonymus can be found, and with their likeable evergreen foliage they are all to be recommended for gardening container cultivation. E. fortunei Gracilis has small green leaves edged with white and takes on a pleasing pink tinge in winter. The kind called Emerald’n’Gold is well described by its name, and like all euonymus is effective planted with dwarf conifers and shrubs or as the backing for flowering subjects. Striking when used as a trailing plant in a hanging flower basket. E. Silver Queen and E. Golden Prince (the latter a better colour in a sunny position) are both worth having.

Fatsia japonica (Castor Oil Plant)

Young plants will supply window boxes or large planters with a handsome evergreen foliage shrub which will do well in any aspect. The glossy green leaves are something between a fig leaf and an ivy leaf in shape.


Great favourites which provide a long period of colour. There are miniature sorts, trailers, and ones which may be grown as standards on single stems. Two hardy ones I can recommend are F. Empress of Prussia, which has a semi-prostrate habit, a dwarf which has large flowers of red and purple, and F. Eva Borg, which is cream and magenta. In the worst of the winter I always bring these under some cover, such as my porch. The majority of fuchsias are not hardy enough to survive winter outside everywhere, and must be wintered in a frost-free place. In spring prune the plants back to one or two buds per shoot, and plant one to each hanging flower basket, or in tubs or boxes. To keep the plants shapely, ‘summer pruning’ can be undertaken by pinching back side shoots to produce a bushy plant. If given plenty of root room they remain much longer in flower. F. magellanica gracilis variegata is a dainty cream pink and green variegated leaf fuchsia which is very hardy.

Geraniums (hardy) (See also pelargoniums)

The true geranium is a hardy border plant, some of the smaller kinds of which can be invaluable for baskets, window boxes, and pots. The larger make fine subjects for tubs. G. Claridge Druce (18 inches) has lilac-pink flowers and fresh green foliage. G. Endressii A.T. Johnson (about 12 inches) has silvery-pink flowers. G. Russell Prichard (6 inches) has a creeping habit and reddish flowers, while G. Renardii (9 inches) has pleasantly marked white blooms and unusual grey-green foliage which can make a quiet feature with other flowers. G. macrorrhizum variegatum (12 inches) has frilly leaves prettily variegated cream and green. All are happy in sun or shade, except for the variegated one, which will colour better in good light.


It may seem a little odd to suggest planting grasses in a gardening container but there are some highly colourful ones available which make excellent foils for flowers or foliage plants. Festuca amethystina (glauca) is a good-looking really blue grass when grown in full sun and dry soil. It makes about 8 inches in height. Acorus gramineus variegatus presents neat little evergreen hummocks. Milium effusum Aureum, often called Bowles’ Golden Grass, has bright lime-yellow foliage in spring and summer even in shade, and clouds of matching flowers. Pennisetum orientale has memorable lavender-pink fluffy seed-heads. In a box, these grasses are easily managed and may be divided into small clumps each spring. All make an unusual top to a hanging flower basket, with or without other plants.

Hedera (Ivy)

These relatively pest-free plants are ideal for container gardening. They may take a little time to settle in, but once established they gallop away and need a fairly fierce pruning out every year, pruning out in the sense that it is often necessary to take out whole trails right back to base in spring. A gentle clip over may also become necessary. The effect should be that of a neat, controlled (long or short) hair-do rather than a shaggy, unkempt mop. An urn or similar gardening container achieves a very romantic look if an ivy is allowed to cascade over the rim. An interesting effect can be made for a roof or terrace garden by planting ivies in tubs and training them up tall stakes and then along loops of cord or fine chain swung between the stakes.

On the whole it will be the smaller-foliaged types which will prove most useful for gardening containers. There are many lovely variegated kinds, easily available, and a very pleasant idea is to group several in a mixed planting. H. Helix Buttercup is a slow-growing ivy with good gold leaves. H. Helix Goldheart (Jubilee) has a gold heart displayed in the centre of each triangular green leaf. H. Glacier has grey and white variegation; H. Green Ripple has dark green jagged foliage which gives the effect of rippling movement.


Helleborus corsicus I have found invaluable in a large planter, and have even seen it growing in a big window box. It is tough all the year round, with evergreen foliage from which in early spring pale apple-green ‘flowers’ appear; these stand for many months.


Buy one colour or two at most for great impact. The colour range is good, and pleasant schemes to go with every kind of house decoration are possible. In the slight protection of my glazed porch, which has a door, I find they make a delicious display in long boxes and a hanging flower basket from as early as January. I plant up two boxes, one a month later than the other, so that I have months of continuity of blooming, removing the first box when it finally goes out of flower. Hyacinths can be planted in August, September, and October. I keep them in the dark, or outside on a bed of ashes and covered with ashes. If you don’t have ashes use black polythene and a few slug pellets. Bring them out when they are well rooted and the flower spikes begin to show, and gradually introduce them to the light. I put mine in the porch and cover them with a double thickness of newspaper for a few days.

Impatiens (Busy Lizzie)

These frost-tender subjects, normally seen indoors as pot plants, make wonderful items for hanging flower baskets, window boxes, and other gardening containers, growing much larger than usual when in a large gardening container. They have a very long period in bloom and I cannot speak too highly of them. There are many dazzling colours, but one of my own favourite boxes is always made up of white petunias and white Busy Lizzies, seen against a sea-green house wall. You can either buy the plants or they can be raised from seed sown early in the year.

Lamium (Deadnettle)

Lamium maculatum Beacon Silver is a quick-growing, outstanding plant with silver-white creeping foliage. L. maculatum aureum is a good golden leaf form and a useful plant for cool conditions, as indeed all the lamiums are very easy to please. L. maculatum Shell Pink has green and white variegated leaves and shell-pink flowers.


Liriope muscari has dark evergreen foliage in clumps, but it is in the autumn when its grape-hyacinth-like violet-coloured flowers appear that it really becomes a quiet eye-catcher. Hardy. Likes sun or shade.


Lithospermum Heavenly Blue is a delightful plant with vivid blue trailing flowers in spring. A lime-hater, it likes a sandy soil with peat or leaf-mould, and a position in full sunshine. It is hardy.


There are many annual sorts to grow other than the trailing and compact blues. L. Red Cascade is a trailer with purple-red flowers which have a white eye. L. Crystal Palace, which although it has deep royal blue flowers has bronze foliage that is interesting. L. Pumila Snowball is pure white. Buy L. String of Pearls and you get a mixture of colours.


Although the general run of honeysuckles can be grown in large tubs, I commend Lonicera nitida Baggesens Gold. This little shrubby species has yellow-green foliage which is evergreen and can be clipped into almost any shape and size. I even grow it on a single stem as a standard, clipped to a ball shape at the top. A pair of these can be a feature in tubs either side of a door if kept regularly clipped in the growing season. You can also get a little clipped-hedge effect in a window box. Grows easily from cuttings.

Nasturtium (called Tropaeolum in catalogues)

There are trailing kinds available, and others of more compact growth. T. Alaska Mixed is a super selection of assorted nasturtium colours, sold as seed, with the added attraction of green and white marbled foliage, making it pleasing from the moment the first leaves appear. T. Whirlybird Mixed make excellent gardening container plants, with more flowers than foliage; the blooms are held well above the leaves, and there is a bright, country look.

Pansy (Viola in catalogues)

Every kind of gardening container looks better for a few cheerful pansies. I grow them even in hanging flower baskets and wall pots. V. cornuta, in either the purple-blue or white form, is normally grown as a border plant but makes an excellent subject for a hanging flower basket. Grow V. Blue Heaven if you want a good blue pansy; V. Lavender Lass for soft lavender; V. Paper White, pure white; and V. Floral Dance mixed seed, which is very early flowering and will even bloom in mild spells during the winter.

Pelargonium (usually called geraniums)

Look out for the miniature, dwarf, trailing, variegated-foliaged, and coloured-leaf pelargoniums, some with single flowers, some with double. Plants which have been show-stoppers all summer must at the end of the season either be left for the first frosts to whisk them from us or have some provision made for their winter comfort. On lifting them from gardening containers they may be found too big for the space you have available indoors; however, you can trim back the roots so that they will fit into a reasonably-sized pot of compost. Cut the plant back to about 5 inches above soil level, though it will be too late to take cuttings (which should be done August—September). Keep the over-wintering plants just moist and frost-free in a light window and they will begin to shoot in late winter.

The first feed of the year can be a general fertiliser. After this, a good geranium feed high in potash is valuable, and the feed used for tomatoes is excellent, making the plants sturdy and also intensifies the colours of leaves and flowers. It is really well worth while feeding pelargoniums. The following are among my favourites, Silver Kewense, which is cream and green; Sunrocket (golden foliage); Chelsea Gem (pink flowers); and Irene (crimson blooms). There are very many kinds — it is worthwhile visiting a good pelargonium nursery to make your choice. Worth searching for are Sussex Lace (Crocodile), an ivy-leaf pelargonium whose green foliage is dappled with cream, and pink flowers, excellent for a basket; Gigi, which is the Swiss window box favourite; Show Girl, a sharp rich pink which is very floriferous right through the year; and Mrs. Henry Cox, a gay red, gold, and cream tricolour leaf with salmon blooms. Some Fr hybrids can be raised quickly from seed.


I always grow petunias and find them invaluable for a long period of flower. They often bloom better in gardening containers than in the open garden. They are grown from seed, or young plants can be bought. Although petunias are frost-tender and normally grown as annuals, I have managed to keep them for up to three years in my glazed porch. There are hundreds of varieties on the market, doubles and singles, and although a hanging petunia is offered in at least one catalogue I find that most petunias will in fact hang when sufficiently well-grown, if not staked.


Normally grown as a house plant, plectranthus makes an excellent subject for a hanging flower basket. P. fruticosus is one of the easiest. Grown for its foliage, one plant in a hanging flower basket has been known to grow as much as 10 feet in a season. Excellent for a sunroom, conservatory, or sheltered balcony, as is P. coleoides marginatus, which produces rich green leaves with white veining, and pink flowers. Plants can be cut back if they become too large, and cuttings will root very easily in water. Plectranthus will put up with quite a lot of neglect, but not tolerate frost.

Ruta (Rue, the ‘Herb of Grace’)

R. graveolens Jackman’s Blue makes a pungent but shapely little bush with glaucus blue leaves which are almost evergreen. Can be clipped over in early spring to keep it compact, and for the same reason the small, insignificant yellow flowers which appear in summer can be removed. There is a variegated sort with blue-green foliage streaked with creamy white. Both do well in a sunny position.

Sedum (Stonecrops)

The sedum family includes both alpine and hardy perennial kinds. All cannot be bettered for our purpose. S. spectabile, the most commonly grown, is an ever-interesting container plant, with its glaucous leaves, even manner of growth, bright pink, red, or white flowers, and brown seed-heads which, if left on all winter, continue the pleasing picture. Sedum spectabile Autumn Joy is superb. The small carpeting stonecrops can be useful for lining baskets or carpeting other gardening containers. S. maximum atropurpureum has deep purple foliage, while S. Bressingham Purple has fine fleshy purple leaves and is perhaps even better than the former.

Sempervivum (Houseleeks)

These have a special place in the container garden and I think it is not generally realised what a very large selection of coloured rosettes is to be had, from ones with silver cobwebs to big mahogany-red ones. All have the added bonus of not only being hardy and keeping their foliage through the winter but also producing very attractive summer flowers.


S. lanata Silver Carpet (lamb’s ear) is a good ‘lamb’s lug’ for those who do not want the flowers to spoil the neat effect of the foliage, for this stachys hardly ever blooms. Good in a dry, sunny position as an under-planting to brightly-coloured geraniums etc. Stachys byzantinus has larger woolly foliage than Silver Carpet.


Tan acetum densum amanurn (this used to be called chrysanthemum haradjani) is an enchanter, making a low covering of silver-white leaves like tiny feathers. Ever-grey and hardy, and particularly pleasing when planted in a terracotta gardening container.


Tellima grandiflora purpurea is a good foliage plant for the whole year, which colours to bronze and reddish shades in winter. The green flowers in summer are rather insignificant but interesting. In big gardening containers, can be used in association with slightly taller and differently coloured evergreens such as dwarf conifers.


I have used some of the smaller dense mat-forming thymes as liners for hanging flower baskets, but the coloured foliage ones are most attractive hanging over the edge of any gardening container. Thymus Doone Valley is a very striking thyme, having rich green foliage spangled with gold. T. citriodorus Aureus is an upright-growing sort with golden leaves. Thyme likes a dry, sunny position, and all will flower.

Tradescantia (Wandering Jew)

These easily grown indoor pot plants have both silver and golden striped forms, and if a plant is grown in a light position the leaves will be tinged with pink or lavender. They grow away very strongly, and are thus useful for summer baskets though it should be remembered that they like plenty of water. Ideal for porches, sheltered terraces, sunrooms etc, in summer.

Vinca (Periwinkle)

The periwinkle is not used sufficiently, it seems to me, in gardening containers, where it will thrive even in shade, producing trails of light leafage all year round, with flowers into the bargain in spring and summer. V. major variegata has variegated foliage splashed with cream and gold. V. minor alba aurea variegata has leaves which are yellow, and white flowers, and is actually said to be best in a north or east facing situation.


There are a number of yuccas, all of which I find the most tolerant plants imaginable for providing magnificent spikey heads of classic shape for the centre of a large urn or garden pot. They look particularly well planted in a raised position on a plinth or base, with the plant surrounded by trailing ivies. Hot and dry, they really do not seem to mind, and they will stand the winter, though they flower only rarely when confined to a gardening container.


A plant which is sometimes confused with tradescantia, but it is larger and its leaves are more colourful. It has the same trailing habit but is rather slower-growing. The leaves have vivid purple underneath, making this a superb plant for a hanging flower basket. The top side of the leaves is purple and silver. Frost-tender and normally seen as an indoor pot plant, but easy to propagate by rooting stems.

Zygocactus (Christmas Cactus)

Z. truncatus has flat leaf-life stems which resemble crab claws. It makes an excellent winter basket subject in a frost-free environment. It flowers lavishly, producing many cyclamen-pink blooms around Christmas and onwards. My experience is that it flowers most freely if watered only moderately during the summer and more freely during the flowering period.

31. August 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Annuals, Biennials, Container Gardening, Gardening Ideas, Hanging Baskets, Perennials, Window Boxes | Tags: , | Comments Off on A to Z of Container Garden Plants for Gardening Containers


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