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Designing a container garden

Designing a container garden

It’s not just gardens that can be ‘designed’ – you can be just as creative with your
balcony or patio. Container gardening pro Isabelle Palmer explains how to create a considered space

Where to start

I always approach the design of a blank patio or balcony as I would any room in the house. Consider what you want to get out of your space and work backwards from there. Begin with a quick outline – draw the space and position everything, including your furniture. Look for inspiration from interior design colours and trends, and use them outside in planting, furnishings and pots. 


With small urban balconies and patios, the key principle is to use the entire space: make walls areas for hanging planters, buy folding furniture, and use the vertical space by planting trees. Trees work well in pots and their roots are naturally restricted so they never get too big, and they also add depth and richness.


If you already have lots of pots that don’t hang well together, try updating them with paint – use unifying shades on old or new terracotta or concrete pots. You can also try adding a top dressing such as pebbles, slate pieces, wood bark chips or agricultural grit (for fruit and vegetables). It will bring the display together, but also prevent water from evaporating too quickly.


It’s really important to have at least one or two evergreen plants within your display – that way you’ll always have something bold and green going on. It’s a strong foundation that you can then enhance with seasonal additions of seeds, bulbs and annual plants. Try not to clash colours too much – be considerate with your colour choices by using no more than three and your displays will naturally come together. 

How to dream big

If there’s a beautiful garden you really admire, try emulating that. Don’t let space put you off. Use troughs and window boxes to make borders, trees to emulate a lush and thick landscape and create focal points with colour.


Use the biggest planting pots you can find, which will stop you from having to water constantly. Then overload your pots – more rather than less. I always advise ignoring spacing suggestions and plant densely. Place four or five plants in a 25-30cm planter, six or seven in a 30-40cm planter and eight or nine in a
40-50cm planter. 


Top combo

In one container plant salvia, cosmos, antirrhinum, Nigella damascena and cerinthe or poppies.

City garden designer |

Images taken from Isabelle Palmer’s book, Modern Container Gardening


Hit the button for more great advice…

This article was adapted from issue 7

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