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How to Design Summer Outdoor Container Gardens

Container garden envy is real! Who among us hasn’t passed by an expertly crafted container arrangement and wished we had thought of it first? Fortunately, becoming the trendsetter on your block only requires a little bit of know-how and a dash of creativity. Here are our container gardening tips for creating head-turning outdoor arrangements every time!

Outdoor Container Gardening: Design Principles

The core design principle behind all beautiful outdoor container arrangements is the premise of “thrillers, fillers, and spillers,” terms that refer to a combination of three different plant growth habits (shapes).

are plants that act as the focal point of the arrangement; they draw the eye by being a little taller and often more dramatic than the other plants in the pot.

are plants that tend to grow in a bushier, more rounded shape that fills up the spaces between the thrillers and spillers. Container arrangements may have more than one filler, and some filler plants can also double as spillers.

are trailing plants that are planted on the outer edges of the pot, which allows their pretty tendrils to cascade romantically over the sides. This gives the overall container the appearance of “overflowing” with lush flowers and/or foliage.

In addition to these three basics of container gardening, there are a few other principles to consider when creating your outdoor arrangements.

Color is always crucial when it comes to any kind of design. Creating a cohesive color scheme can be simple or complex, depending on how ambitious you want to get, but there are a few tricks you can follow to ensure the colors in your design work well together:

  • Pick a temperature:
    ‘Cool’ tones (purples, silvers, and blues) tend to work well together no matter what, as do ‘warm’ tones (reds, oranges, and yellows). Sticking with cool or warm colors is a surefire way to keep your color scheme cohesive.
  • Go monochrome:
    Do you adore yellow flowers? Choosing blooms in three or more different shades of the same color creates a dimensional look that anyone can put together!
  • Look at the color wheel:
    For something a little more challenging, seek inspiration from the color wheel to try out a complementary or analogous color palette. Complementary palettes use colors from opposite sides of the wheel (such as orange and blue), making both shades look extra vibrant. Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel (such as blue, purple, and pink) and create a calming, harmonious look when paired together.


Balance refers to the relationship between each element of your outdoor container arrangement, but it’s also a handy design principle to use in other forms of gardening. A balanced design considers texture (is there a pleasing mixture of finer and bolder foliage?), height (do the different plants form neat tiers, or is there an awkward disparity between the shorter and taller specimens?), and quantity (is the number of plants well-suited to the container or is there “just too much going on?”).

Perfect Plants for Outdoor Summer Container Gardens

Once you’ve mastered the design principles of outdoor container gardening, it’s time to pick your plants. Make sure to select plants that share similar needs—they’ll be sharing a tiny space, after all! Here are a few to try in your summer arrangements:

Thriller Plants:

  • Fountain Grass
  • Salvia
  • Verbena lilacina ‘De la Mina’
  • Canna

Filler Plants:

  • Pentas
  • Cuphea
  • Portulaca
  • Lantana
  • Coleus

Spiller Plants:

  • Monkeyflower
  • Evolvulus

Mixtures of succulents plants and cacti can also make excellent container arrangements as they have similar soil, sun, and watering requirements.

Advanced Design for Outdoor Container Gardens

If you’ve fallen completely in love with container gardening, make sure to join us for our in-store seminar or live stream on September 18th! We’ll demonstrate the design secrets our in-house team uses to create living works of art and offer lots of great tips for designing gorgeous outdoor container arrangements through the seasons. Keep an eye on our events page or subscribe to our Preferred Customer Program to find out when registration for this highly-anticipated event is open!

For more information and inspiration, view:

Summer Outdoor Planted Containers Ideas with Onita Castillo
How to Create a Hummingbird Front Porch with Catherine Smith
How to Design A Mediterranean Style Front Porch with Catherine Smith
How to Design Your Outdoor Space with Planted Container Gardens with Christopher Nichols

Ready to start designing? Visit our garden center in Newport Beach for more container gardening inspiration today.