Home › Gardening in containers › Choosing plant containers
Which garden plant container you choose depends very much on your needs and budget.
Gardening containers are now available in a wide range of materials and styles so you are bound to find one that is perfect for your own requirements.
The containers you choose need to do two things; they need to look good and be practical. You can either buy ready to use pots and planters, or adapt (or even make!) your own.
Try to match the design and size of your plant pots and containers to the style of your garden.
Minimalist gardens, for example, look great with restrained displays of matching large sleek containers planted with architectural plants.
Cottage gardens, on the other hand, cry out for a more higgledy piggledy display with a variety of pots and troughs overflowing with traditional cottage garden favourites.
Whatever style you are aiming for, it is important to choose the best material. Terracotta is the one that usually springs to mind but there is a wide range of other options to choose from, all with different advantages...
A garden plant container made from terracotta will always look good and age well.
Terracotta pots also protect plant roots from excessive heat in summer.
On the down side they are porous and tend to dry out quickly so you will have to water your plants more often in hot dry spells - or else plant them up with drought resistant plants such as succulents (some great information on this site).
They are also prone to frost damage so look for the ones marketed as 'frost resistant' or better still 'frost proof'.
Large, ornate clay pots and urns are also expensive, and bear in mind that by the time they are filled with plants and compost, they will be heavy and harder to move.
The simpler shapes are more reasonably priced so if you love the look and feel of terracotta but need to keep costs down, choose plain clay flowerpots in a range of sizes then group them together for an effective display.
Glazed ceramic pots and planters are less prone to frost damage and retain moisture better than unglazed terracotta.
They come in strong simple shapes and a range of sizes and colours and are reasonably priced.
Inferior ones are prone to frost damage so check for frost resistance.
A handsome garden plant container made from glazed ceramic looks particularly effective when planted with Japanese Maples or ornamental grasses to achieve an oriental effect.
Choose the colour of the glaze to either complement, or contrast with, your planting. The photo shows how a deep blue glaze can be combined with silver foliage and pink flowers to good effect.
Plastic containers come in a huge range of styles and sizes and the high quality ones are hard to distinguish from their more expensive terracotta cousins.
They retain moisture bettter than terracotta pots.
They are also resistant to frost damage, relatively cheap to buy, and light and easy to handle.
Unlike terracotta they do not give plant roots much protection from excessive heat.
The very cheapest ones fade and crack in UV light and look pretty awful after a time.
You can create an inexpensive and stylish display by buying a selection of plastic pots and planters and painting them all the same colour using oil-based paint.
Of course, if money is no object, you can choose a garden plant container made from natural stone.
These range from simple stone troughs, which look fabulous planted up with alpines, to ornate Italian style urns bursting with lush foliage.
If you are considering a large container as a focal point, it may well be worth investing in a stone planter. They are virtually indestructible and provide an ideal environment for plants.
Over time their surfaces also become host to many species of lichen and moss which adds to their charm.
The small urn in the picture has been planted very simply which allows the beauty of the mossy container itself to take centre stage.
As a less expensive alternative to natural stone you can choose from the wide range of reconstituted or cast stone containers now available.
These look equally good and share the same advantages as natural stone planters. They are often replicas of actual stone originals, many of Italian origin, but at a (slightly!) more affordable price.
The beautiful urn in the photo has been standing in a friend's garden for many years and has gradually been colonized by mosses and lichens making it seem an enduring part of the garden landscape.
Another option is to choose garden plant containers made from fibreglass.
These are available in a range of styles to suit virtually every situation.
The beauty of fibreglass is that it can be moulded, textured and coloured to replicate many different materials including stone, metal, terracotta and even wood, so you are bound to find one that suits your garden perfectly.
They are also reasonably priced, hardwearing and light enough to move easily.
Metal containers are a less obvious choice but the photo on the right of an old copper vat planted with a fabulous leafy hosta shows how good they can look.
If you think about it, the use of ornate, free standing wrought iron baskets and urns was quite typical in Victorian times. The actual planting was done in pots which were then placed inside the metal frame.
Today there are a number of companies supplying similar containers with specially made liners to accommodate the compost and plants.
You can achieve a simpler, more contemporary look by choosing from the many aluminium planters available. These are light, durable and reasonably priced.
If you choose a large simple shape and plant with an attractive evergreen you can produce a dramatic focal point for an urban setting.
If you enjoy a more haphazard cottage garden look, try planting up galvanised buckets or even large tin cans - you will be surprised how effective this can look - just remember to make some drainage holes in the bottom.
You might also like to consider wooden planters. These look stunning when planted up and stained or painted to complement, or contrast with, their surroundings.
Wood is a very sympathetic material and looks superb in all garden settings as you can see from this group of painted wooden half barrels.
A hardwood garden plant container is longlasting, but relatively expensive, whilst one made from softwood is less durable but more affordable.
Having said that, even a softwood container should last several years - the trick is to apply a plant friendly wood preservative inside and out, and use a strong polythene liner to hold the compost. This will deter rot and greatly extend the life of your container.
For more information about container gardening you can get an overview of the subject, together with links to other related pages, at gardening in containers.
Home › Gardening in containers › Choosing plant containers