Whether inside or outside, garden urns make a design statement. We will present the best plants for urns in either of two cases: 1. Making the urn the star, or 2. Making the plants the star.
If you are considering using urns for plant containers, I’ll bet you a nickel you’re looking to make a design statement. Design statements don’t have to be huge.
When I first got interested in gardening I casually dismiss the possibility of using urns. The image that was immediately brought to my mind where these huge concrete or cast stone garden fixtures about 4 feet tall. I cannot see that working my small space at all.
You must ask and answer a few questions and take into consideration some special points before you get to plant selection.
- You must take into consideration the growing conditions. Sun exposure etc.
- If using multiple plants in a single urn make sure that their growing conditions are similar.
- Will the urns be used inside or outside?
- Does your design scheme call for a formal look, or less formal look?
- If using a pair of urns, the plants should look identical. IF design statement will become off-balance.
- The plant should be easily replaceable if one, or both falter.
Taking into account the above consideration should help direct you to plants recommended below.
It is interesting to discover that both concrete pots and terra-cotta pots share some ‘pros’, similarities and strengths.
Both type of plant pots also share a number of ‘cons’.
Lastly, both concrete pots and terra-cotta pots are different in some key areas.
So which is the clear winner on which is better?
The answer is that different pots will serve different people’s needs under different circumstances.
Our job is to weigh out the pros and cons of each to help you make an educated decision and pick the type of pot that will best suit your individual needs.
PLANT IDEAS FOR FORMAL URNS – THE URN IS THE STAR
The boxwood is the classic plant for topiaries. It is slow-growing and dense, and can be shaped into some amazing figures. For a more formal earn per taps a simple sphere or box would be best.
2. ARTIFICIAL BOXWOOD
This might be controversy all and go against the grain of most gardeners. However, it is a simple solution to keeping a consistent shape that will show off your urn. High quality artificial boxwood’s can be quite striking and very difficult to tell apart from normal ones. Don’t cheap out or it will look like just another plastic plant.
3. AMERICAN ARBORVITAE (THUJA OCCIDENTALIS)
These plants are evergreens and had the advantage of keeping their color year-round. It is an excellent plant for adding some vertical height to your display. It can quite easily stand on its own, but foliage texture and shape enable it to blend well with other plants.
4. BOSTON FERN (NEPHROLEPIS EXALTA)
The Boston fern is a classic fern and what most people think of when they think of houseplant ferns. It actually works a little bit better outdoors than indoors. It has long deep green arching fronds in leaves. It is a very lush looking plant.
PLANT IDEAS FOR LESS FORMAL URNS – THE PLANT IS THE STAR
Did you know that there is a formula for putting together plants in a container that will almost guarantee a visually appealing display?
I am a beginner, weekend gardener, (trying to improve my skills). I stumbled across a formula that is used by experienced gardeners, florists and landscapers. It is as easy to remember as 1,2,3.
The thrill, fill and spill.
- Thrill (height)
- Fill (medium, filler plants)
- Spill (cascading plants)
This should be the tallest plant will go in the pot. It is placed to the rear. Ideally, this should be a real dowser, and eye-catcher and show-stopper. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a flower. You can select your plant based on texture, color, or foliage.
Some suggestions for a ‘thriller’ plant are:
- Banana plant
- Caladium Fountain grass
There is no mystery as to the function of a ‘fill’ plant. It is planted in front of the tall thrill plant and is used to cover the majority of the top of the urn. These plants should be short to medium so they are not competing with the thrill plant.
Don’t be shy adding some color in this stage of the game. It will make your garden urn all that much more interesting. There are many, many plants that can be used as fills.
Some examples of ‘fill’ plants:
- Coral bells
- Lemon drops
Again, there should be no mystery about the function of the ‘spill’ plant. It should provide a gentle cascade right in the forefront of the urn. This is a good opportunity to use a vining plant if you like.
The colors of your spill plant are entirely up to you. They may complement or contrast to your throw plants. They can also be neutral and provide more interest in their texture and droopy nature.
Some examples of ‘spill’ plants are:
I visited several for shops and nurseries with the specific intent to see how they practiced thrill, fill, and spill. I noticed that the vast majority were following this rule for their design. Employees I talked to new exactly what that rule was and offered suggestions for each level of the plant
You’ll notice in the image below that the thrill plants are placed to the rear of the pot, the fill plants are filling the spaces in front of and below the thrill plants. In the spill plants are toward the front providing the cascade effect.
Urns typically have a wide mouth and a lot of space which gives you room to employ the thrill, fill and spill rule of design.
The trick to successfully employing an urn based on these design principles is to make sure that all the plants are carefully selected and can be grown in similar soil and light conditions.
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR URN PLANT CONTAINER DESIGN
- Make sure you are aware of proper care practices of your ‘spill’ plants. They may need to be pruned or pinched back on a regular basis.
- Make sure that your plants all have similar needs in terms of growing conditions.
- For fancy urns you may want to use a cachepot system, so the plants and soil are not in contact with the urn itself.
- Take into account the urn itself when selecting your plant color scheme. Remember, it is your choice if you want to make the urn the star, the plants the star, or have a harmonious blend in one picture.
- If you are planning directly into an urn check to see it has adequate drainage. Many urns are designed for decoration not the practicality of planting. You may have to add some holes.
- If you suspect your urn is valuable or an antique get an expert’s opinion. Do not put holes in it or damage it. Even planting in it could radically decrease the value.
- If you want your urn planter to show well year-round, make sure all temperature extremes in each season have been taken into account.
- As with any container garden make sure your growing medium is top-notch. This is not the place to cheap out.
- Make sure you purchase enough ‘fill’ plants to fill all spaces really well. Fill all the voids.
- Some plants are listed as ‘good companions’ to one another you might want to think about planting pairs of these.
- Don’t forget the fertilizer.
- If you have kids or grandkids, why not get them involved in the process? Creating a beautiful urn or container can definitely be a family affair.
Hopefully, this post provided some food for thought for you. The important questions you need to ask about utilizing your urn are basically:
Formal or informal?
Inside or outside?
Who was the star, the urn, the plants, or the two together providing a coherent picture.
In the researching of this post I was excited to learn about the design principle of thrill, fill, and spill. It just made so much sense to me.
It is definitely going to be at the forefront of my mind as I design future containers.
We wish you the best in your adventures and gardening.