Mobility. What gardener hasn't wished that a plant grew somewhere else? Plants in pots are easy to move around. Light up a dark corner with pots of white, pink, or yellow flowering shade lovers such as impatiens and Helichrysum. Some plants with a short blooming period, such as lilies or foxglove, look magnificent in containers and grow well in those temporary quarters. Transplant them to the garden when they're finished blooming. Of course, if you are about to move your household, containers allow you to take the garden with you.
Focus. Potted plants -- and pots -- create interest. Grouped in strategic places, they break the monotony of a terrace or a patio and create an ambient scene. Build a simple theme garden around a color or an idea. A collection of yellow and blue bloomers, such as pansies, Calendula, and heliotrope, makes a cheerful display. Pots of sedum and Sempervivum look simple but elegant. Potted herbs are a great winter addition. Find out how to grow them.
Pizzazz. Nestle containers of bright annuals among duller plants in the garden for added color. To keep plants looking good: Water when soil dries, pinch off spent blooms, and fertilize weekly.
Flexibility. Rearrange plantings to suit the season or your mood. Enjoy pots of violets and narcissus in spring; petunias and dusty-miller in summer; and Coleus in fall.
Limitation. Contain thugs that are too invasive to let loose in the garden, such as ribbon grass (Phalaris), blue lyme grass (Elymus glaucus), and mints of all kinds (Mentha sp.). Plant these or other gregarious growers in terra-cotta pots, and then plant the pot in the ground, with the lip of the pot even with the soil surface.
Ambience. Pots set the stage in outdoor rooms or even steal the show. Group sun-loving plants around a large houseplant that's summering outdoors. A jumble of various pots stacked on stands and clustered loosely lends a pleasantly casual look. Containers aligned with precision and planted with trim specimens, such as rosemary standards or ivy topiaries, create instant formality. A trio of large pots makes a garden appear more settled; they suggest the accumulation of years' growth.
Scope. Plants that require a longer growing season than you have to offer can be started indoors to bloom outside in summer and fall. Frost-sensitive plants such as bay laurel and lemon verbena make wonderful houseplants in winter and spend the summer in the garden. Just make sure that in spring they are allowed a transition period from limited sunlight indoors to brighter light outdoors. This technique is the basis of the orangery concept, which includes growing citrus fruits in pots so they can move indoors in fall.
Maximize Cost Savings
Gardening in containers provides a frugal option: getting a big effect for a modest outlay. Better yet, beautiful container plants are easy to achieve without spending a lot of time or effort. Try these tips:
Buy one package of seeds of a quick-growing annual, such as dwarf zinnia, Ageratum, sweet alyssum, Browallia, or candytuft. Split the seeds among several pots. Within weeks, you'll have an attractive mass of colorful blooms for pennies.
In a 12-inch pot, plant a six-pack of marigolds or petunias of a single color or mixed hues. Enjoy the show throughout summer.
Take cuttings of mums as they develop in spring. With a sharp knife, cut 3-inch tips off stems. Press each cut end into a small pot of potting mix and sand. By fall, the new plants should be ready to bloom and take up residence in a larger pot. Transplant them into the garden after they finish blooming.
Recycle divisions of perennials and groundcovers by letting them serve a summer as potted plants. In spring, split mature or overgrown plants into several pieces that will become new plants. Pot hostas, ferns, Pachysandra, Vinca, and Liriope -- all do well in shade. In a cold climate, transplant the divisions into the garden in early fall.
Give new life to old objects by revamping a wooden box, kettle, or garden cart into a home for plants. Place several plants in a large container, or group smaller pots of individual plants for a varied display.