diy, home, landscaping

How To Pick Flowers for Planters

Something beautiful happens every year between spring and summer, other than warm weather.

Petrichor, the smell of earth after rain, comes out in full swing.

Seasonal garden centres open up.

Days get almost warm enough to wear t-shirts– only to be replaced by winter coats a day later.

1% of the population takes melting snow as a hint to wear shorts.

Then, summer comes around and the idea of the cold weather seems like a distant memory.

Seasonal garden centre attendance dwindles as pools, barbecues, and end of school take centre stage…


…until everything goes on sale.

How to Pick Flowers for Planters

I was coming away from returning an item when I ventured into a seasonal garden centre on its last day.

I tell myself each year that I’m going to put planters at the front of the house.  Then, I look at the price and decide that it’s not worth it.  I always seemed to have a reason to say, “Next time…”

This time was different. I knew I would be in control of the whole process.  It was going to be an an experience!  I was going to do more than buy a planter stick it somewhere.

My mind was made up after I saw that all of the plants were 50% off or $1.44 for four. I was so excited!

The hard part was picking out the plants for two planters I had in mind.

There wasn’t a huge selection left, but I thought I could pull some things together without having the planters in front of me.  I knew that The Principles of Art could come in handy while I walked around.

The Principles of Art


If there’s one thing I remember from high school art class (other than the slow click of the projector slides on Byzantine castles), it would be this thing:


Analogous refers to any three colours in a row on the colour wheel.   This set usually has a dominant primary colour and two others.  Blue, cyan, and green would be an analogous colour combination.


Complementary colours are opposites on the colour wheel.  Common sets are red to green, yellow to purple, and blue to orange.  Perhaps that’s why people find red flowers to be alluring; red and green are complementary to one another.


Triadic colours form an equal-sided triangle on the wheel.  Primary colours would be triadic, as would the colours purple, orange and blue.

Colour isn’t the only aspect of picking flowers.  There’s also…


Pick a large variety of plant styles that are a combination of:

  • short or tall
  • thin or thick
  • high or low
  • crawling or standing
  • many or few flowering

The eye finds it more interesting to see a variety of different flowers styles. It helps the eye move around.


Balance refers to symmetry or asymmetry.

Round planters bode well to symmetry.  Use the centre as a focal point for a particularly eye-catching flower, and build outward toward the edges of the pot.

Square planters can use a symmetric or an asymmetric combination.  It may be more difficult to balance out a symmetric square planter because of the hard angles.

Scale and Proportion

Proportion refers to how plants look as a whole entity inside the planter, and how they look to one another.

Sometimes, scale is a hard element to achieve when quality of plants is inconsistent.  Plants within a tray of four (or however they are sold) are often unevenly sized or shaped.


Movement is how the planter flows from the focal point out. Some crawing flowers look best hanging off the edges of the planter.  Tall plants may look best toward the centre, or toward the back of the planter.


Gradation refers to the arrangement of plants based on a common variable, such as a differential in height.

Gradation can also refer to a shift from a plant with darker coloured flowers to a lighter one, or a marked shift between three colours on the analogous colour scheme.


Emphasis can be built with contrast as well as opposites.  A plant with large yellow flowers is going to stand out next to a plant with small purple ones.

The contrast between the two will draw the eye in.

Some Other Things to Consider

Pick plants based on the sun level of the location whenever possible.

Choose particularly meaningful plants to create a story.  I chose the alyssum (of course!) and the dusty miller because they remind me of the planters my mom used to make.

Making the Planters

After I got home, I gathered the following things:

  • Two plastic planters
  • 70 L of soil (two 25L bags– or 2-ish cubic feet, I guess)
  • An assortment of annuals

I moved two large concrete paving stones on top of one another to give the short planters some height.  The planters weren’t in the greatest shape, so I turned them around and faced the good sides toward the front.

Here’s what the front door looked like before the planters were set up.

Preparing The Materials

Everything was laid out on the front lawn, ready for planting.

I filled the planters a little over 3/4 of the way up with soil.  I made the mistake of using too much at first and had to remove some after I’d dug some holes for the annuals thanks to displacement.

I’d imagine there are more scientific ways to calculate how much dirt one will need to fill a planter.  Guesstimating worked for me.


I mentioned some tips earlier for using the Principles of Art in choosing flowers.  Here’s how I applied those principles while arranging my plants:

Balance, Variety, Contrast

I moved the taller plants to the back so they wouldn’t hide the smaller ones. I mirrored the left and right pots to create visual balance.

I put the taller plants in the back first.

In this case, I did both planters at the same time so I wouldn’t forget where each plant should go.

A common rule of thumb I’ve heard is that items look best when arranged in sets of threes. This was a disappointing fact to remember when the plants I got were in groups of four.  

Colour, Scale, Emphasis, Gradation

I was able to use the rule of threes in the end when I remembered that I was using a triadic colour scheme.

I created emphasis by using fewer plants with large flowers.  This allowed the scale of the taller flowers to stand out.

I left some of the smaller plants to hang over the edges to create movement.  My hope is that they will grow a little longer over the summer to really make an impact.

Final Thoughts

I found the hardest part of this project was shuffling the plants around without breaking them.  I probably could have avoided this by using less soil in the first place.

In the end, it all worked out.

The Result

I liked the way the tall orange flowers contrasted with the flowing blue ones.  The tall, sage green dusty miller was a great pairing for the shorter purple flowers.

The planters made the front door a little more inviting.

Summer is here.  Some of the shops may be gone, but gardening season isn’t over yet.

Go and check out your seasonal garden centre before its gone for the year.  It might not be too late!

P.S. If you’re still interested in colour theory, here is an easy-to-use interactive colour wheel.

2 thoughts on “How To Pick Flowers for Planters

  1. Very nice description. IF I was going to have flowers or plants around my house, that’s definitely the way I would go. Low maintenance for sure. I probably would go with cacti, as even less bother, Right now I am so sick of the way our backyard is, all I want to do is have concrete so I don’t have to deal with anything! Thanks for the tips!

    1. No problem. Low maintenance plants are the way to go. My front garden is filled with different bushes. I remember you telling me about your backyard! Concrete pads are good for saving some grass mowing work.

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