kalanchoe thyrsiflora

This planter started two years ago as a set of three 4″ kalanchoe from the garden center. A variety called Flapjacks, it spends the winter in a west-facing window. In spring, I move it out to a concrete urn.


This agave has become difficult to manage — and dangerous because of its thorny leaves. However, it has bold form and stands out in any planter. Hauling it indoors each winter is worth the effort.

When composing porch and patio planters, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the abundant array of plants at the garden center. Even when you group them by color — as we do at our garden centers here in Vermont — the number of choices can be overwhelming.

When I can’t make a choice, I opt for simplicity.

Instead of trying to find the perfect combination of color and texture, choose a plant that looks fantastic all by itself. The key is to look for plants that have bold forms. Often they are non-flowering, but have striking foliage or shapes. Think sculpture instead of bouquet.

When choosing a planter, consider those that come in bold colors, such as the self-watering pots in our Viva line. Or showcase an unusual planter, such as an antique urn, crock or tub.


Here, repetition adds impact. The distinctive shape of the Puro 50 Planter makes it stand out.

Here are some plants that might work for you:

Agapanthus: Also known as lily of the Nile, these tropicals put out strap-like green foliage and blue-purple flowers. The seed heads age attractively, too. Overwinter them indoors to enjoy in future seasons.

Agave: The stiff, thorny leaves have a strong form — especially if you can get a large one. The blue-hued varieties pair well with metallic planters. Plant in fast-draining soil (add some sand to the mix) and don’t overwater. If you have a sunny location, it’s easy to overwinter an agave as a houseplant. For a more vertical option, consider a large clump of snake plant (sanseveria).

Bamboo: A great way to grow bamboo without fear of it growing everywhere. There are dozens of varieties in varying heights and hues. Well-suited to planters made of aggregates, metals or other non-traditional textures.

Bougainvillea: A tropical showstopper that can be moved indoors for the winter.

Boxwood: Super-classy shrubs that can be sculpted into topiary. Some folks find the smell offensive, though. Similar: Dwarf Alberta spruce.


Cordyline overwinters easily when brought indoors. Burgundy leaves pair nicely with brightly colored planters, such as blue and chartreuse.


Last year, this fig tree was purchased as a 2-foot plant. After a season outdoors — and a winter in the sun room — it’s ready for re-potting and another season in the sun.

Cordyline: Spiky foliage is burgundy with subtle variations. Consider planting in a round containers in a bold colors that contrasts with the foliage. Mustard yellow? Also consider phormium (New Zealand flax).

Fig: If you want a tree-like effect, figs are fast-growing and striking. You might even get figs. After its first winter indoors, mine has already produced a small crop.

Fuchsia: A great option for shade, as long as you can give it the consistent moisture it needs. You can sometimes find these grown as standards, so they look like little trees.

Kalanchoe: Slow-growing, but after a summer outdoors three small plants can grow into a sculpture. Look for a variety called Flapjacks (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora). Easy to overwinter indoors as a houseplant. Needs good drainage; add some sand to the potting soil.

Ornamental grasses: Great for pairing with bold planters. Choose forms that are lax or upright, depending on the effect you’re going for. For dry sites, consider little bluestem (schizachryium); for shady sites, look at the sedges (carex). Just be sure to choose a variety that fits the scale of your planter.

Princess flower: Amazing, intricate flowers that fall between blue and purple. Can be expensive, but they grow fast. Shrub-like form.


Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) looks fabulous in our new Puro 50 planter from Lechuza.