10 All-Foliage Container Ideas for Your Summer Garden

  • Megan Douglas
  • 06/18/20
Could your patio, entry or windowsill garden use a bit more lushness? Foliage-forward container gardens add beauty to bare spaces and can make lovely leafy complements for pots of summer flowers. Many foliage plants — like boxwoods, dwarf conifers, Japanese maples, cactuses and more — can live happily in containers for years, adding consistency to gardens without the need for repotting. As we move into summer, it’s best to plant up pots before temperatures soar to allow plants to settle in containers. 
 
For inspiration, take a look at the following 10 ideas for both stand-alone foliage plants and rich combinations of plants with various leaf colors, forms and textures. 
 
Urrutia Design

1. Patio Oasis

Layered foliage pots and an inviting outdoor chair transform this backyard patio in Sausalito, California, into a lush, tropical-feeling retreat. A trio of New Zealand flax (Phormium spp.) potted at different heights add upper and mid-level interest to the design. Smaller pots feature rosettes of cactus and succulents, including silver-blue Parry’s agave (Agave parryi) and golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), alongside delicate maidenhair ferns (Adiantum sp.) and Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum).  
 
Tip: The ferns and cactuses are potted in separate containers, as their water requirements differ.
 
Water requirement: Cactus, succulents, and flax all require low water; maidenhair and Japanese painted ferns require consistently moist, well-drained soil.

Light requirement: Partial to full sun.
 
Cording Landscape Design

2. Fruity Pebbles

Lime- and pink-colored coral bells (Heuchera spp.) and a crush of hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum sp.) succulents make for a playful combination in this concrete urn arranged by Cording Landscape Design in New York. 
 
Like many succulents, hens-and-chicks pick up more pink and reddish tones when exposed to brighter sunlight or cold temperatures or in periods of drought. In this case, the pink tips tie in beautifully with the undersides of the coral bell leaves.
 
Water requirement: Low to moderate.

Light requirement: Partial to full sun; move out of direct sun in hot inland areas.
 
B. Jane Gardens

3. Tropical Trio

The dramatic oversize leaves of elephant’s ear (Alocasia sp.) are the clear stars of this container vignette by B. Jane Gardens beside the front entry of a home in Austin, Texas. The designer used other plants as supporting acts to add foliage variation, including boxwood (Buxus sp.), purple heart (Tradescantiapallida‘Purpurea’) and variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica‘Variegata’).
 
Water requirement: Elephant’s ear requires consistently moist, well-drained soil; other plants shown need moderate water.

Light requirement: Bright, indirect light; elephant’s ear thrives in bright shade and can burn with direct sun; other plants shown can grow in full sun.
 
Penman Interiors

4. Elegant Courtyard

A combination of espaliered trees, climbing jasmine, clipped boxwood (Buxus sp.) and low woodland-style plantings of ferns and coral bells (Heuchera sp.) adds a welcome dose of green to a courtyard outside a London townhouse. 
 
Espaliering — a technique used to train tree branches along a lateral structure — controls for size and enables growing trees in smaller areas that the trees would otherwise quickly outgrow. A few trees that work well trained this way include: bay, hornbeam, linden and holly, as well as fruit trees like apple, pear, cherry and apricot
 
Water requirement: Moderate to high.

Light requirement: Partial to full sun; plants such as coral bells and ferns thrive in bright, indirect light; plant in more shade in hot climates.
 
West Coast Gardens

5. Colorful Coleus

If you’re looking for foliage with color, coleus, like the one in this arrangement by West Coast Gardens, steals the show in summer container arrangements. From vivid fuchsia and electric lime greens to inky purples and deep bronze shades, there’s a coleus hybrid out there for whatever you seek. Coleus are frost-tender; plant them as annuals or bring them into greenhouses or onto windowsills over winter. 
 
Water requirement: Keep soil consistently moist.

Light requirement: Partial shade.
 
McCullough’s Landscape & Nursery

6. Silver Falls

Bring drama to your patio or frame the entrance to a driveway with an eye-catching combination of bold agaves and trailing ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’). In this arrangement by McCullough’s Landscape & Nursery, they’re planted in traditional urns, which would look right at home outside a grand Mediterranean villa. The same monochromatic plant combination in simple, contemporary containers could look chic and modern. Both plants thrive with little water and care.
 
Water requirement: Low.

Light requirement: Full sun.
 
Skyline design studio

7. Magenta Fireworks

The strappy leaves of brightly colored New Zealand flax (Phormium sp.) stand out like a celebratory display of fireworks in this low-water garden by Skyline design studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. The evergreen plants need little water or care and add color to gardens year-round. Many New Zealand flax run on the large size (although they usually grow more slowly in containers). For smaller dwarf varieties, consider coral-colored ‘Jester’, bronze ‘Jack Spratt’ or reddish bronze Sweet Mist.
 
Water requirement: Low.

Light requirement: Full sun.
 
New Eco Landscapes

8. Grasses and Vines

Dozens of potted plants dot this roof terrace designed by New Eco Landscapes in Manhattan, but this combination of wispy dwarf maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis‘Adagio’) and two colors of sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) stands out for its beauty and simplicity. Planting in tall containers boosts the height of the grasses, turning them into a shimmering canopy, and gives plenty of room for the sweet potato vines to tumble down the sides with lush foliage.
 
Water requirement: Moderate to high.

Light requirement: Partial to full sun.
 
Bliss Garden Design, LLC

9. Japanese Maple

Keep it simple with a specimen tree planted in an elegant pot that’s big enough for the tree to grow there for years. (Make sure your pot has drainage holes.) In this container by Bliss Garden Design, a bronze-foliage Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) under-planted with maidenhair vine (Muehlenbeckia complexa) thrives in a waterside garden in the Pacific Northwest.
 
Water requirement: Moderate to high.

Light requirement: Partial sun; in dry, hot climates, find a spot with more shade to prevent leaves from burning.
 
Outdoor Elements Group Inc.

10. Shady Corner

The bright chartreuse foliage of ferns and sweet potato vines brightens up what would otherwise be a shadowy corner alongside this entry garden by Outdoor Elements Group to a Vancouver home. Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) thrives with some sun or in spots with bright shade, while many ferns can tolerate areas with lower light.
 
Water requirement: Moderate to high.

Light requirement: Part shade.
 

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