Book Review: Container Theme Gardens

Nancy J. Ondra, whose earlier book on five-plant gardens received a positive review here, is at it again, this time with container garden ideas, each of which uses just five plants. Container Theme Gardens (Storey Publishing 2016) follows a similar format, offering basic ideas for designing container gardens, then demonstrating (42 times!) ways to use five plants in beautiful containers. The book is enhanced by a playful and instructive design and photographs from noted garden photographer Rob Cardillo.

container theme gardens coverWith more people gardening on terraces and decks or turning to containers as accents in their perennial beds, Ondra’s focus should be popular. She begins the book with nine reasons to consider using containers, including having the ability to provide ideal growing conditions, control aggressive plants and pamper small and precious plants, such as succulents or woodland wildflowers. Containers are also a great way to create and instant impact or try something new in the garden without committing too much space, money or time to the project.

Container Theme Gardens covers the basics of container planting and maintenance. Ondra points out that while containers are low-maintenance, they are not no maintenance. They require water — often daily — and occasional pinching and pruning is the best way to keep plants properly sized for their container.

Then, for each of the 42 containers, she not only tells you how and what to plant, but what to expect from spring through fall as the container plants grow, flower and fade. For someone new to container gardening (or gardening period), this is valuable information.

Due to a family move, I will be mostly gardening in containers this summer, so this book has great appeal. But it’s hard to choose which containers to plant! I love the color purple in the garden and Ondra has a tall, striking container featuring ‘Angelina Dark Purple’, ‘Marine’ heliotrope, Persian shield, purple heart and Superbells® Grape Punch. She also has palettes in white and silver that would be striking. Of course, I might miss the meadow in my current backyard, and Ondra offers a “Mini-Meadow” container filled with blanket flower, blazing star, two kinds of grasses and ‘Prairie Splendor’ purple coneflower. There are several herb and veggie containers, too, and all are appealing.

The fun of a book like this is you do not have to follow the recipes exactly. For instance, in the mini-meadow container, I would switch out the two grasses Ondra suggests for some of my favorite northern prairie grasses.

This is a book about ideas. How you use them is up to you. What plants will be in your containers this year?

—Mary Lahr Schier


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