Brighten Your Holidays With Festive, Fuss-Free Containers -

Many gardeners fill containers with winter flowers such as pansies, violas, ornamental kale, stock, and other hardy bloomers. Who doesn’t love the sweet faces and bright colors of pansies and violas? However, containers of living plants can be damaged by harsh weather and they do require maintenance through the season — watering, fertilizing, and deadheading.

On the other hand, if we are expecting a busy season or just don’t want to garden in winter, we can pack containers with evergreen branches, decorative ornaments, and other recycled materials once the summer flowers have faded. In this case, the container displays may be more likely to withstand the weather and will require little to no maintenance, depending on the materials the gardener includes in the containers.

You can set a festive mood and brighten up an entryway or patio with holiday container displays. As with any container design, the selection of materials should include a thriller, lots of filler, and a spiller. A thriller is something tall and upright, such as topiary, a collection of decorative sticks or poles, or a garden trellis or cage. Fillers can include pinecones, moss, ornaments, and recycled materials to occupy the spaces. If you decide to include spillers, look for evergreen swags, grapevine garlands, or add whatever catches your fancy — maybe reindeer bells, ribbons, or icicles. Don’t forget to add an accent piece from the garden, such as bird or animal sculptures or other whimsical decorations. I think everything looks more magical with twinkle lights, whether they are white, one color, or a mix of colors. It gets dark so early at this time of year, and it’s nice to have some light at the entry or on the patio.

Re-use containers from spring and summer or select others that reflect the season, such as a sleigh, Santa bag, or other seasonal motif. Choose containers in a single color or style or create an eclectic mix. Consider a wide range of materials, such as galvanized metal, plastics, or sturdy glazed pots in blue, green, or red. Perhaps wooden tubs, buckets, or natural baskets reflect your design style better. For whimsy, try a red wagon or wheelbarrow.

As you collect materials for your containers, keep in mind scale, texture, and color. To maintain scale, consider the size of your container and select items that neither dwarf a small container nor disappear in a large one. Plan to have a range of items in different sizes for most designs. Add combinations of branches with fluffy seed pods, smooth or twisted sticks, and shiny, smooth balls or textured vine or moss balls. Take this opportunity to showcase some recycled materials, such as packing material for snow, colorful bottles for highlights, or bits of tile, broken porcelain, or even rocks. Use garden supplies you have on hand, such as plastic pots and chicken wire to fill spaces and support the materials. Use garden wire, twine, or tape to bundle and attach decorations to stakes.

Play with color combinations! For a traditional or Victorian feel, mix up red and green, perhaps with some plaid ribbon. For a contemporary look, keep the design simple and choose a single jewel tone, such as turquoise, purple, or cerise. Go for a woodsy look with lots of browns and neutrals combined with natural objects such as pinecones and feathers. My favorite holiday combo over the years was a display of peacock feathers with accents in colors that repeated the iridescence of the feathers. Aim for serenity with an all gray, white, and silver combination. Then light up your container with candles in hurricanes or clear glass vases filled with colored balls or garland, lanterns, or twinkle lights.

Budget and time will be your only concerns as you create your holiday designs. Once your container designs are completed, sit back with your hot cocoa and take in the view — and enjoy not having to water, fertilize, or deadhead. (Of course, if you simply must add some living plants to your container, that’s up to you!)

Materials for containers

  • Moss
  • Sticks and twigs in white, red, natural, or dyed colors
  • Evergreens — dried rosemary, cypress, holly, or pyracantha
  • Pinecones
  • Fruits and dried fruits (such as slices of dried oranges or lemons)
  • Grapevine or moss balls
  • Dried seed heads, such as yarrow, dried baby’s breath, pampas, or other grass plumes
  • Feathers or similar plumes
  • Search the garage/shed for garden art and garden critters to add to the display
  • Faux birds wired to branches or clipped on
  • Messages on small banners looped between support posts with cheery messages
  • Wire supports, fans, and tomato cages


Written and photography by Jackye Meincke

Originally published in Neighbors Magazine

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