How to Design Fall Cottage Style Containers

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I was a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
— George Eliot



September is a wonderful time to consider container planting.  The vibrant colors and beautiful textures in a fall container create instant curb appeal-- a refreshing update when your summer flowers start looking tired and worn out.  

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A common mantra gardeners use when designing containers is thrillers, fillers, and spillers.  I use it as a guide when creating my planters, but love adding a few of my own whimsical elements. 

Thrillers are the statement piece.  The excitement.  Literally the center of attention.  My favorite fall thriller is soft grass.  I love how the texture of the ends catch the sunlight and contrast with bold leaves and colors.  Sometimes I use dried branches like curly willow.  If I’m using a big pot I add both soft grass and curly willow.  I often add a second or third level of thrillers, bringing in bright colors that really dazzle like celosia, tall asters, or Rudbeckia.  The taller thriller always goes in the back of the container.  




Once the thrillers are in it’s time for the fillers-- basically the plants that fill up your pot.  They don’t stand out or fight for attention with the thrillers, but simply blend in and tie it all together.  For fall I love using cabbages, kale, pansies, and mums (big mounds of mums won’t do, but small, brightly colored ones will really brighten up your pots).  Remember my general rule of thumb when planting -- buy in odd numbers (3 or 5 for round containers, 4 if square) and definitely don’t mix colors in the same variety. For example, if you are buying mums, buy 3 and buy them in one color.  




Next I go to the rim and plant my spillers.  These are the plants that cascade over the sides and give your pot of touch of elegance.  For fall I love to use ivy or coral bells.  Coral bells come in many colors, but my favorites are the purple and green varieties.  Added bonus-- coral bells are perennials so you can plant them in the ground after, and they’ll be ready to use in next year’s containers.    

The last step, a signature Inspired Garden touch, is adding dried decor.  I love dried lotus as it gives some added texture and really finishes the pot off beautifully.  Check your nursery for other dried flower and decor options.  Pumpkins and gourds can also be incorporated into your design.  

Once your container is complete and set in place, walk away from it.  Planters look different up close than they do from the street.  Check to see if all of the key elements stand out.  Cut off a stem if it throws things off balance; trim back some leaves to show off a bloom. 


And finally… don’t forget to water!  Your container plants have been uprooted and are in shock, so they need to be watered frequently that first week.  If you have pots under an awning you will need to water more often.  If a plant looks wilted, water it slowly a few times a day until it perks up.  Containers usually last a minimum of 6 weeks, depending on the weather.  Colorful annuals will bloom through October, and the cabbages, pansies, and perennials should last well beyond the first frost. 

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Happy fall and happy planting!



Photo credit: Aimee Ryan 

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