August 17th, 2017

A Landscape Designer's Guide to Using Pots

The Chicken v Egg : What comes first - the pot or the plant?

I spent the recent warm Sydney weekend flicking through books in my horticultural library and surfing the net and I came across a few gems of advice that I thought would be of use to The Potters Wheel readers. The advice that follows is really helpful and it answers some of the most commonly asked questions in The Balcony Garden showroom. And- the pot comes first, by the way. Of course! One of the first questions that most people have when choosing pots in The Balcony Garden showroom is 'how big?' Put simply our answer is as big as you can get away with. The larger the vessel the more the plant will like the greater soil volume, and perhaps counter-intuitively, smaller spaces generally benefit from larger focal points by actually making the space look larger.   In Sydney landscape designer Peter Fudge’s book, Trueform, he states 'Always buy big pots even if your space is small, because they will make the area look bigger, and contrast the plants with your home's design. Plants with soft full forms and strong colours complement the clean line of contemporary architecture, whereas bold architectural plants have more impact in a traditional setting.'

Peter Fudge

Once the primary size has been chosen, you then need to think about whether the space needs one feature pot or a cluster. Odd numbers always work best, and a cluster of three is usually a sweet spot, although more numbers can create a beautiful ramshackle effect. If you decide a cluster is best for you, then add smaller sizes to your main size and consider mixing up styles as well. Variety can create some welcoming design relief. Secret Gardens founder and head designer, Matt Cantwell, suggests being guided by the garden’s surrounds in terms of styling for your pots. 'Most importantly, take guidance from your home’s architecture and interiors; if the interior décor is rich with art and artefacts, walking out to an austere garden is too jarring. It’s much better to match the garden to the character of your home – as a rough guide, if your house is modern, think clean lines in simple shades of matt black, white or grey; if more texture is called for, lean towards handmade terracotta.'

 Clovelly project - Secret Gardens of Sydney

Once the pots have been chosen, it’s time to think about the plant (see, the pots come before the plants!). In 'Paul Bangay’s Garden Design Handbook ¹' by acclaimed Melbourne based garden designer Paul Bangay, he recommends considering height ratios of plant and pot. If a voluminous shrub is being potted up, 'the height ratio should be roughly 2/3rds pot to 1/3rd plant '. There you have another reason to go large with your pot. 'If the plant is a tree, the ratio should be ½: ½.'

Paul Bangay's Garden Design Handbook.

If you need any further advice on selecting your pots, send us an email at or give us a call on 02 9975 3800 – we love to talk about pots!   ¹ Paul Bangay’s Garden Design  Handbook by Paul Bangay, 1ed by Lantern, 2008, Reprinted by permission of Penguin Random House Australia Pty Ltd Peter Fudge Gardens Trueform - Peter Fudge Secret Gardens Pots and Planters Blog - by Matt Cantwell Paul Bangay Paul Bangay's Garden Design Handbook     

Continue Reading