Ideas and Recipes for Summer Flowering Containers


A Moveable Feast Of Summer Color

Flowering containers are like a feast of color, a concentrated burst of plants. They draw the eye and give an appetizing presentation of foliage and blooms to delight the viewer.

Unless the flowering containers are so large and ungainly to make moving improbable, most can be transported to other parts of the garden. Blooming plants in pots have become my favorite way to brighten up the garden with annuals. This is much easier than planting beds of one season flowers, or filling in perennial borders.

Benefits of Pots

With plants in pots, one doesn’t worry about the sun exposure or time of year, not in the sense of some permanent way. We can move the whole planting into more or less sun, start our seeds later than usual for flowering fresh in the middle of summer (when most annuals look a little tatty), and bend the rules a bit because we can. It is a very flexible way to garden.

You can never do that with a fixed flower bed.

With flowering containers, small failures are easily filled in. Hot weather may result in cool-loving annuals melting out, but replacing them with new plants is not only easy, it may make an improvement on the whole plant arrangement. Consider giving a flowering pot an entirely new look with common houseplants… draceanas, asparagus fern, airplane plants (Chlorophytum comosum), to name a few.  

Annuals in Large Containers

Ilona’s Garden’s pin on Pinterest.

The combination possibilities are endless. If you have need of recipe ideas for your containers I have many pages. Pinterest has turned out to be a treasure trove of creative and artistic ideas for gardening.

Basket filled with flowering plants

Osteospermum, Asparagus fern,Verbena, Pelargonium fill this basket topped with a bow.

Container How-to Pages:


Although many types of plants can be included in a flowering container, annuals are the top choice for summer. They bloom over the whole season. This is, if they are chosen right, kept watered and fed, and prevented from going to seed.

How To Keep Annuals Blooming?

Annuals sometimes get straggly and seem spent by mid-July. Follow these gardening tips to keep them looking fresh and put on new bloom.

  • Choose annuals that will take the heat of summer, some cool season types fizzle out as soon as summer heats up
  • Water daily, fast draining soil mixes should not be allowed to dry and stress the plants.
  • As blooms are spent, snip off the heads. In July, when the entire plant looks a bit ragged, give it a haircut to refresh blooming.

How-to: Putting a Planting Design Together


Lilac petunias, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’

You have most likely heard of the “thriller, spiller, filler” concept.

Thriller= big, bold, and dramatic looking plant

Spiller= a vining or loose plant the foams or drips over the edges

Filler= filling in the mid-ground of a pot with a full looking bloomer that is covered with flowers.

Recipes: Combine the Three Component Plants

Of course, each of those can vary from my shorthand description, but that is the idea in a nutshell. To reduce the idea into an even easier way to use it, think of it as a play on contrast.

Thrillers take Center Stage

Big, spiky, strong color contrasts with rounded, less powerful color, and softer texture. Create drama and interest with “difference”. In other words, you don’t have to follow the “formula” -have fun with your containers and create new ones each season.

The same design elements are used on the large scale in all garden design, but this is a concentrated space, planted for visual impact.

Choose plants according to light requirements, first. Then think about moisture needs, and finally consider color scheme.

Many beautiful plantings are created with only the foliage as the source of color and design. These seem most effective in shady places.

Many of the “thriller” or centerpiece plants are made up of spiky tropical plants, of the tender perennial types, even houseplants, but I like other plants Just as well.

Summer flowering bulbs such as Dahlias certainly fill the bill when we are looking for drama and effect. Those would be the larger varieties with full blooms. Dahlias are also bred in dwarf sizes and those could be used for lower in the composition as filler material.

I really like Nicotiana,a wonderful center and filling the air with fragrance. Choose between types that are tall and stately or others which are shorter. In a range of colors from rose red to soft white, with bicolors and even a green hue.

My Favorite Container Recipe Ideas:

summer flower container

Centered with great big splash of Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff, with coleus, rubber plant, Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart’, Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’

I love Geraniums (actually Pelargoniums), tender annuals with bright flowers and sometimes gorgeous variegated foliage. The vining ones are natural “spillers”, and the others are wonderful centers to the arrangement of plants, billowing up in levels of artful leaf with prongs of flower clusters in red, pink, white, or even purple.

If you have a plant of Heliotrope, and a sunny spot for it, place this deep purple flower with corrugated foliage and fragrance in the thriller space. This year I added blue petunias and nemesias for a harmonious mix of primarily blue to violet colors in a cool jade green ceramic pot. Monochromatic combinations like this are easy. The plants are often found in harmonizing or contrasting pink and white, also.

Petunia Shapes

Calibrachoa and wave petunias both have smaller flowers but lots of impact and exciting colors, I love to mix them in with bolder plants. Especially the sunset colors which seem to blend well with other shades, even though you wouldn’t expect that from orange shades.

Daisy Shapes

Osteospermums are another love for a sunny container, and putting together ‘Lemon Symphony’ with Bronze Carex Ornamental Grass, or a pretty lilac like ‘Soprano Purple’ with a Purple fountaingrass (Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’) could start off some really striking combos. Fill in with Calibrachoa or Angelonia and Bacopa. The Osteospermums are the familiar daisy shape, but with unusual color contrast.

Every year new varieties of this African daisy are introduced, and that makes it hard to exactly duplicate recipes. The trick is to look for new introductions that are close to old favorites in color and habit. Mixing up the colors a bit can bring a fresh accent to a tried and true favorite container recipe, too.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.