Did your lavender only just limp through last summer while your geraniums lacked lustre?

Isabelle Palmer can help.

Since 2010 she has designed container gardens in courtyards and on balconies and roof terraces all over London with her company, The Balcony Gardener.

A potted plant pro, she is used to people telling her: “I kill everything I plant” — and it’s almost always because they forget to water.

Palmer’s container displays are more than pots, they are glorious mini gardens with height, colour and texture.

And anyone can do it, she says in her new book Modern Container Gardening — How to Create a Stylish Small Space Garden Anywhere. “People think it’s magic, but it’s quite simple really,” she says.


Colour inspiration can be found from interior colours and trends (Nassima Rothacker)

Take inspiration from colour

Palmer gets inspiration from interior colours and trends, taking them outside in planting, furnishings and pots.

Treat your outside space just like an extra room, she says. “What will you use it for? What will make it enjoyable? What kind of colours and textures do you want?”

Pots can be painted to match interiors or outdoor cushions and to contrast with plants. “I’m loving dark heucheras, purples, peaches and reds in planting at the moment, it’s so seductive.”

Try local nurseries

The best way to work out which plants and pots will look good together is to take your pot with you down to your neighbourhood nursery and try out some combinations, says Palmer.

“You wouldn’t buy an outfit unless you can see how it all looks together. The same goes with plants and pots.” For your pot to have a really full, bountiful look the plants need to be close together. Cram them in and include evergreens such as heucheras and skimmia.

Small city nurseries tend to be experts in container gardening, so you’ll get good advice.


Always take your pot top your local nursery to find the perfect plant (Ali Allen)

Container gardening

Palmer sources larger statement containers from Europe where the container gardening scene is much bigger than in the UK.

Contemporary concrete and Corten steel pots and large dolly tub-style planters can be found at Danish brands House Doctor and Tine K Home and at Bloomingville and Garden Trading.

How to paint your pots

One easy and inexpensive way to update your pots is to paint them. “You can pick up a cheap terracotta pot in B&Q and make it look like it cost £200.”

Bauwerk lime-based paints (bauwerkcolour.co.uk; also available at home stores) are ideal. You can match the colour to anything in your interiors, they give a painterly finish and let the pot breathe while still being waterproof.

As well as being an easy way to harmonise your exterior colour scheme and keep it contemporary, painting pots lets you create dramatic contrasts with plants. Deep purple Black Star morning glory, for example, looks all the more sultry in a pot painted in Bauwerk’s peachy Malibu.

Metal pots can be spruced up with spray paints (try Montana from graff-city.com). You can even make a fibreglass planter look like classy weathered Corten steel with Craig & Rose Artisan Copper Effect.

Trees can work in containers too

Trees and large shrubs can work well in pots. Their roots are naturally restricted so they never get too big. Palmer grows purple beech, eucalyptus and has a large potted fatsia by her front door underplanted with ferns.

Hydrangeas and globe artichokes are surprisingly good in pots, too.


The trick is to get get containers you can so you don’t have to water as often (Nassima Rothacker)

How you should water your plants

“You can’t avoid watering containers,” says Palmer. “That pot is relying on you for everything.” Get the biggest containers you can so you don’t have to water as often.

And if you don’t have an outside tap, use a connector to your kitchen tap. But watering doesn’t always have to be a chore.

You can notice the buds coming out and keep an eye on pests before they get out of hand. “I find watering for 15 minutes quite therapeutic after getting home on the Tube.”

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