Containers of mixed company

No rule that says a container should hold only a single plant, so feel free to tuck in several types, in effect making a mini garden. Remember, when planting, don't crowd — the plants will fill in and grow upward and outward, and you want the show to last a while and not require constant editing (in other words, you want to avoid a lot pruning, trimming, even the necessity of taking out an entire plant that's too jammed). Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

i Combine plants of similar needs.

i Include both foliage and flowering plants.

i Include plants of different forms: spiky or strappy-leaved, rounded or mounded, and low and trailing. This sort of variety works well out in the regular garden and translates easily to container compositions, just on a smaller scale.

i Position taller plants in the middle (or to the back if you plan to display the container against a vertical surface so people can't view the plants from behind); put shorter plants at the taller plants' feet.

i Place plants with trailing or cascading stems at the very edge so they can get where they want to go unimpeded.

Mixing colors in a containerized display is an art, and done well, it makes a wonderful impression — something you're really proud of and delighted with. Remember, the color can come from foliage as well as flowers, and often the colorful foliage delivers a longer-lasting show. Here are some color combinations you can try:

i Bold, primary colors: Mix one or two plants each of blue, yellow, and red. Look for ones of similar "strength" or intensity.

i Compatible combos: Colors that fall between the primary colors (called secondary colors) tend to be harmonious companions. Try yellow-orange with violet-blue or red-orange with blue-green.

i Pastel hues: Stick to selections of softer hues (pink, pale yellow, soft blue, light purple, cream rather than white, and so on). If you're including foliage plants, complement with gentler ones such as those with gray, silver, or sage-green leaves.

i Single-color shows: Combine several different plants that share the same flower color. Sure, you may end up with slight variations in tone, but you actually want that; it makes a more diverse and interesting display (firm matches or all the same plant can end up looking like a dense color blob).

i Opposites attract: Contrasting colors always look fabulous together, particularly if they're of similar strength or intensity. Try blue with orange or purple with yellow.

i Color boosts: Favor one hue, say, purple, and then tuck in a close-by hue for subtle contrast, such as a blue companion. Try an all-red show with a dash of orange or yellow, or an all-pink display with a jolt of red, and so on — you get the idea!

i An all-foliage display: Green is a color, too! If you're putting a pot in a shady spot, consider filling it with a variety of leafy plants of different forms and slightly different shades of green. This setup makes for great texture and complexity.

Gardeners grow plenty of plants mainly for their colorful or patterned leaves. Examples include hostas, coleus, ferns, ornamental grasses, cannas, and all sorts of houseplants, just to name a few.

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