Sometimes your outdoor space doesn’t allow for an in-ground garden, and sometimes you just want to have a little fun. That’s where container gardens come in. Whimsical container-garden themes allow the gardener to play around with interests—from pizza to spa treatments—while benefiting from the practical collection of plantings.
For any themed container planting, make sure your containers are generously sized. The container gardens below call for multiple plants, some of which can get fairly large, and it’s important to give your plants enough room to thrive. Large pots can be expensive, so get creative and look for ways to repurpose and reuse containers that fit with your theme. Whatever container you use should have adequate drainage. Almost all plants will die in constantly water-logged soil, so carefully add some drainage holes if they’re not already present.
Container culture can be hard on plants—temperature swings are more extreme, soil moisture content can change rapidly, and roots eventually reach the edge of the container—so start your container garden off right with a soil or soilless mix designed for container planting. Soilless mixes are lighter weight and offer easier root penetration to plants.
Your plants count on you for appropriate feeding and watering. A slow-release organic fertilizer and a top dressing of organic compost as a moisture-retaining mulch will help keep them healthy and thriving.
Theme 1: Pizza Garden
What’s better than family pizza night? Getting the kids excited about gardening! A pizza-themed container garden is just the right scale for children, and it’s so fun and visual that it will keep their interest over the growing season.
A large, round container that’s reminiscent of a pizza tray, such as a galvanized tub, is a good choice for a pizza garden. Make sure your container is at least 16 inches deep so deep-rooted plants have plenty of growing space.
- Patio tomato: Extreme Bush tomatoes are a good choice because they’re dwarfed and produce tasty, mid-sized fruits.
- Bell pepper: Try California Wonder peppers for a classic sweet bell, or one of the adorable baby sweet pepper varieties—kids love these.
- Jalapeño: If you like a little heat on your pie, try Early Jalapeño.
- Basil: No pizza is complete without sweet basil. Try full-flavored Genovese.
- Oregano: An essential flavoring in pizza sauce, Greek oregano is robust and excellent for pizza.
- Parsley: Italian flat-leaf varieties are the most flavorful.
- Onion starts: Pick a sweet variety well-suited to your day length. Walla Walla is an excellent choice for long-day growers.
Divide the container visually into six wedges, like the slices of a pizza. Use the onion starts to line the edge of each "slice.” In the back wedge, plant the dwarf tomato. To each side of that, plant the bell pepper and the jalapeño. Fill in the front wedges with basil, parsley and oregano. Grow your pizza garden in full sun.
Theme 2: Cocktail Garden
The art of the mixed drink is back, and just as with food, the freshest ingredients will give you the best results. If you like playing bartender, grow your own cocktail components and get ready to mix the best drinks in town.
Get the planting party started with your container: An old, halved whisky or wine barrel is perfect for this theme and, who knows, maybe some residual whisky from the wood will keep your plants extra happy. Think about what you like to mix up and drink, and let that dictate your plantings.
- Dwarf lemon or lime tree: Most cocktails worth drinking include some kind of acidic component, and lemons and limes are the most versatile.
- Mint: Mojito mint is the variety preferred for the Cuban drink of the same name, and southerners swear by Kentucky Colonel for their juleps.
- Strawberries: I like Shuksans for their sweet but balanced flavor. Make strawberry daiquiris for a crowd or garnish a flute of champagne with one perfect berry.
- Borage: With a light cucumber flavor, borage is a great addition to Bloody Marys or any gin-based cocktail. Even a classic gin and tonic is more elegant when garnished with borage’s cornflower-blue blossoms.
- Golden Pineapple sage: A delicious herb that really does smell like pineapple, it’s the perfect addition to a fresh pineapple-infused vodka martini.
- Cucumber: Grow Lemon cucumber for a juicy heirloom that you can muddle together with gin, lime and basil for a garden-fresh take on the gimlet.
Plant your citrus tree at the center of your container, with Pineapple sage and borage just in front. Tuck in mint behind the citrus tree (it won’t mind the shade so much), and let the strawberries and cucumber vines tumble over the edge of your container.
Theme 3: Spa Garden
If you think the only thing more relaxing than an afternoon in the garden is an afternoon at the spa, combine your interests by growing a spa garden. A vintage clawfoot tub, no longer serviceable for baths, can be repurposed as the ultimate spa garden planter. Plants should be selected for their health and beauty properties and appealing, relaxing fragrance.
- English lavender: Well-known in aromatherapy for its calming properties, the oils from lavender are also gentle and beneficial for inflamed skin.
- Damask rose: Commonly used in perfume and rosewater manufacturing, Rosa damascena is a high-fragrance, old-fashioned rose perfect for incorporating into your spa day. A few petals strewn into a hot bath are the ultimate DIY luxury.
- Lemon verbena: With a clean, pure citrus scent, lemon verbena is uplifting and cleansing.
- Rosemary: Rosemary makes an excellent astringent for tired skin or rinse for oily hair.
- Peppermint: Invigorating and refreshing, use mint as a toner or infuse in olive oil for the ultimate foot-rub oil. Mint is too strong to use on more delicate skin, however, so don’t use this oil on your face or sensitive areas of the body.
- Chamomile: A strong infusion of chamomile added to bathwater, with a hot cup of chamomile tea alongside, will both relax you and help to smooth skin and clear up any blemishes on your body. (Note: Use with caution if allergic to ragweed, chamomile’s notorious cousin.)
Plant the rose at the back center of your container, with the rosemary, lavender and lemon verbena forming a semicircle around. The peppermint and chamomile should be planted at the front as a ground-cover. A spa garden can provide a hard-working gardener with the ultimate reward: peace and relaxation at the end of a long day of weeding or planting.
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About the Author: Erica Strauss writes Northwest Edible Life, a blog about gardening, food preservation, urban homesteading and living a homemade life in the Pacific Northwest.