Containers: In a wide variety of shapes, colors, textures, styles and prices

– Posted in: Garden Design

Who ever thought that we gardeners would be offered such a plethora of choices when it comes to containers for the garden?  I’m not even talking about unusual, one of a kind, types of containers, something you might find at a flea market, like an old kitchen sink, a trough or an antique pedestal. Nope, I’m talking about the newly manufactured ones, the kind you buy at your local garden center, big box store or online. The choices are huge by any standard. And the truth is, selecting a great container to place in your garden, with or without plants, packs alot of punch for a minimal amount of dollars, unless you can’t resist buying an extravagantly expensive one (to be discussed further along in this article).

Last week, I took a stroll through a local garden center, Waterloo Gardens, to see what plants they were marketing for early spring. But it didn’t take long before my eye was pulled over to the container area. It’s hard not to take notice. There is a very large designated area consisting solely of containers, everything from finely chiseled terra cotta pots to the highly polished ceramic pots that come in every color imaginable.

It feels like it was about 5 years ago (could actually have been longer) that I noticed ceramic colored containers from Viet Nam showing up in stores like Smith and Hawken and Home Depot. These first 2 pictures show a couple of varieties of ceramic containers now being imported from Malaysia. I love the petal shape of the second one and can imagine it filled with a striking tall grass such as Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’.

The Marchioro Italian planters in the photo below(www.marchioro.it) evoke a sleeker and more subtle feel which I think is a safe bet for practically any type of garden style.

A huge smile came across my face when my eyes rested upon these striking ceramic containers and birdbaths in all of the ‘hot’ colors that I love…lime green, a robust, creamy blue and a canary yellow. After checking the price points starting at $59.99, I began to imagine placing the eye catching chartreuse container at the entryway of the garden in the back and two of the blue containers at my front door as a welcoming for spring. What a moderately priced way of giving the spring garden some real zestiness and panache!

I haven’t yet made the trek over to Home Depot to see what containers they have in stock but I wouldn’t be surprised if I found some goodies there that prove to be surprisingly low in price. On the other hand, if you’re thinking about ‘Investment Containers’, then start with Gladdng McBean. It’s a true American company that has been in business since 1875. The story goes that at the end of the Gold Rush era in California, ‘potters clay’ was discovered in Lincoln, California. A Mr. Charles Gladding of Chicago, who happened to be visiting California at that time, took samples of the clay and sent them back to Chicago for testing by ceramic experts. Originally, the company manufactured clay sewer pipes and then architectural terra cotta facades. But by the early 1890s, the company got into the business of ornamental garden pottery. Once you’ve seen a Gladding McBean oil jar, you’ll never forget it! Its shape and the colored glazes offered are outstanding! Because each jar is custom made, you can get in volved in the process of designing your own container. The last time I checked, the smallest containers were beginning at $700. Gladding McBean’s website is: www.gladdingmcbean.com

Another great manufacturer of garden containers (and other garden accoutrements) is Haddonstone. It’s a company of English origins that is a well known entity to designers, landscape architects and seekers of beautiful garden ornaments and architecture. The material, Haddonstone, is a special form of reconstructed limestone that is mixed with another product, Tecstone. Due to the nature of this material, Haddonstone can be molded into practically any shape: reproducing new designs that are markedly close in appearance to any original. I was told by one retailer with whom I spoke that one of its more popular containers, the Waterloo urn, with dimensions of 31″W and 30″L, retails for $1150. For more information, click on: http://www.haddonstone.co.uk/shop/index.asp?CS=ROW

One of my favorite companies of high end containers is Seibert and Rice. It is the largest distributor of handmade terra cotta pots from Impruneta, Italy. This company prides itself on working with the finest craftspeople in Impruneta and sells Impruneta terra cotta exclusively. Some of their containers grace such institutions as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Longwood Garden, Biltmore Estate, The New York Botanical Garden and The Boston Public Library. To  learn more about Seibert and Rice, click on: www.seibertandrice.com

If your pockets doesn’t allow for such high end investments, check out more moderately priced brand name containers like Campania: they sell to garden centers throughout the country. The glazed lipstick planters, as shown in the photo below, that they began selling a few years ago in an exclusive partnership with the Eschbach Group, a well known European designer and manufacturer of garden containers, has kept their name in the public as a ‘fashion forward’ company.

The photo below is of a Campania planter that I use indoors as well as outdoors. As you can see, I’ve filled ‘the face’ with primulas to bring some color inside for the remainder of these winter days.

Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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Frances March 9, 2008, 6:03 am

Fran, your presentation of containers made my credit card itch! I too noticed that the colorful glazed containers from Viet Nam entering the market here in TN around then. So far, not wanting to jinx it, they have held soil and plants over the winter without damage. One key seems to be the rim needs to also be glazed, the point of entry for the water that will freeze and crack the pot. But the prices are not too bad so it is worth the risk, also. Love, that face, a soft spot of ours, anything with a face. Thanks for a delightful post.
Frances at Faire Garden

Frances-
Thanks for your input. I didn’t know that ‘little trick’ about the rim needing to be glazed. Good point. And even here in Philadelphia, I have tempted ‘fate’ by leaving them out over the winter months. A few have cracked but not too many so I haven’t taken a big hit over the years. Fran

2greenthumbsup March 9, 2008, 10:46 am

Fran,

What a great post! Sometimes we gardeners are more caught up in what to put in the containers than the containers themselves.

My favorites are the lipstick planters – they would definitely appeal to anyone who’s taste runs towards modern/contemporary style, and the citrus-colored planters and birdbaths – so fresh and bright, I too would smile upon spotting them.

Cathy-
I concur totally….am waiting for it to warm up a bit more here before I return to that garden center to pick up a few of those lively colored ceramic containers….what a treat! fran

Ken from Sweden March 9, 2008, 12:35 pm

You can find so much poots in a lot of different looks, I like to have containers but I´m not so good to full them whith the water they need so much ;7
I rader have perenials in my pots instead of anuals the seams to cope better whith my nursing.
Carina my wife, she takes cement around on some pots that we have been tired on.
We like to work whith cement in all different shapes.
Have a nice weekend Ken

Ken-
I tend to agree with your wife, Carina, that it seems that perennials don’t need the constant watering that annuals do when containerized. Thanks for your comment. Fran

jodi March 9, 2008, 3:45 pm

What fun, Fran! But who on EARTH can afford planters in the hundreds and thousands of dollars? Let me guess, the same people who want to hire writers for one cent a word…;-) Seriously though, I love containers but not that much. Probably the most expensive one I have cost 100.00 (and that was half price from an artist I was writing about). WE bring all of ours indoors for the winter (stored in the greenhouse) except for one that is supposed to be frost resistant. It’s pottery and glazed, but it wasn’t expensive, so I don’t mind testing it to see how it stacks up to a Nova Scotia winter–we just have too many freeze-thaw cycles to leave containers outside unless they’re made of hemlock or cedar.

Jodi-
LOL….well, I keep on going to Saturday morning flea markets in early spring, hoping beyond all hope, that I might come upon an old GladdingMcBean or Haddonstone container. I agree on cost and think that my biggest splurge was $69.99 for a large ceramic one. BUT it is still fun to look. And of course in Nova Scotia, you can’t tempt fate and keep these pots outdoors during the winter. Thanks for your post! Fran

kerri March 9, 2008, 5:02 pm

A very interesting look at containers Fran. Thank you! I love the glazed and ceramic pots, but find the lighter fiberglass and plastic so much easier to move around with my bad back. I know they can be put on little platforms with rollers, but I haven’t progressed that far yet. Also, the less expensive containers let me grow more, and frankly, I’d rather spend my money on plants. Having said all that, if my pocketbook was deeper I’d certainly invest more in beautiful containers. We do try to add one or two each year.
Those colorful birdbaths and pots are certainly eye-catchers :)

Kerri-
I totally agree with you about the lighter fiberglass and plastic ones. Some of them are such good copies, both Campania and Smith and Hawken are selling them, that it is difficult to tell the difference. And believe me, I have picked up plenty of them at Home Depot and even a few of the grocery stores for under $10. a piece for large ones. That is hard to resist. And when you’re a container fanatic, you can never have too many containers AND not all of them need to be ‘superstars’ in the garden. Fran

Melanie March 9, 2008, 8:21 pm

In the past few years the containers available here on Long Island have been amazing. I’ve purchased a number of the Viet nam ones. One nearby nursery sells them potted up for only a few dollars more than the empty ones. It’s cheaper than buying the pot and then the plants (and especially the soil on the big ones)

Melaine-
Impressive that you are charged only a few dollars more to have the containers planted up. What a treat. And some of the Viet Namese ones are stunning. At Waterloo Gardens, where I visited, if you keep your eyes open, a few times a season, they will put their containers on sale for 50% off. So, if a large one was really originally $59.99, you can get it for $30….which I think is a good deal. Fran

Lisa at Greenbow March 9, 2008, 10:06 pm

I do like to look at those expensive pots but to me these are lottery items. If I win the lottery I might buy them. Thanks for introducing us to the other side of the hedge where people purchase these lovely pots.

Lisa-
I love looking at these pots just because I’m drawn to beautiful things. Plus, for me, it’s like perusing through expensive clothing…although I won’t end up buying couture or high end designer pieces…unless marked down drastically…it still can give me some great ideas that perhaps I can ‘echo’ in a less expensive. I do love your term ‘the other side of the hedge’. thanks for your comment. fran

Catherine, My Garden Travels March 10, 2008, 9:59 am

My birthday is in May, and my family knows that a gift for the garden is what makes me the happiest. I’ve been inspired by your pics, and I think this year it will be a lovely flower pot.

Catherine-
I think that’s a great idea to have your family buy you a garden container of your choice for your birthday. Am glad this post helped to inspire you! Fran

Brent March 10, 2008, 10:29 pm

I happen to live near a good source for pots, Pottery MFG & Distributing Inc, near Los Angeles (actually Gardena), CA.

see http://www.potterymfg.com/

Some of their pieces are amazing, and they’ll do custom glazing as well.

However, what’s nice for those of us on a budget is their seconds yard where I was recently able to pick up a lot of pot for not much coin.

dee/reddirtramblings March 11, 2008, 7:39 am

Hi Nan,

I really enjoyed this post. I’m in the market for new containers this year. I won’t be buying the estate ones though. I just need two out front that look good with my log house. Should be easy to find, although I’ve found it isn’t. On another note, I wonder why my blog won’t let you comment. I’m sorry.~~Dee

Kathy March 13, 2008, 10:25 am