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Container gardens offer fun weekend project

A black pot holding a rose plant has white lettering and design.

By Gary R. Bachman
MSU Extension Service

Now that we’re officially into summer, I know there will be days when it will be too hot to work in the garden, but I’ll still want to do garden activities.

On those days, one easy garden project that I think is perfect is creating combination containers.

Putting together beautiful flowers and colorful foliage is as easy as gathering pots and planting. You can use everything from heirloom vegetables to flowers or any other type of plant you like.

I like to combine herbs in containers that I keep on the back porch and patio for easy access for dinner prep. Over the years, I’ve tried lots of different combinations, but I like the old thriller, filler and spiller method (TFS for short) best.

For an herb thriller, choose from wooly, silver-gray curry plant; woody-stemmed, upright rosemary with aromatic gray-green, needle-like foliage; or the lemony-ginger fragrance of lemongrass. Both rosemary and lemongrass are Mississippi Medallion winners.

For filler herbs, you can’t go wrong with basil. This plant has varieties like lemon-scented and -flavored lemon basil, spicy-flavored spicy globe or licorice-flavored amethyst basil.

Great spiller herbs that will sprawl over the container edge are creeping rosemary with its scented, bluish-green, needle-like foliage; pineapple mint with its delicate pineapple scent; and the creamy, variegated foliage of English thyme with its wonderful, aromatic, gray-green leaves.

Other combinations I like use leafy greens like kale or celery — yes, celery — and colorful flowers like calibrachoa or petunias. I typically just plant these together and don’t worry about TFS.

An important and fun decision is what container to use.

Old school is terra cotta, but there are other options. The colorful Talavera containers are becoming more widely available. Or, if you’re a fan of home-remodeling shows, finding something you can repurpose can be satisfying. I love my herb box made by the Pine Belt Master Gardeners using scraps from their salad table construction projects.

I like to grow plants in the basic, black plastic pots, likely a throwback to my nursery and greenhouse background. While functional, these containers are also very dull.

An easy way to jazz up these basic containers is to paint them. I like to use textured spray paints that result in a stone-like appearance. This year, my wife has been decorating and appliquéing the names of the plants on my containers.

So for a new project this week, go to your favorite independent garden center and pick up some plants and a great container, and go have some garden fun.