Not sure where to create garden bed? Try it out with containers

grouping of containers with vegetables on front lawn
In order to see where I might like to place a garden bed, I created a grouping of containers. If I didn’t like where they were located, I knew I could always move them. This is a view in early June. The pot on the left is an amaryllis (a flower that I force inside in the winter) and the rest are tomatoes and peppers. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Our front lawn is big and open, so it used to be the place to play catch or soccer.

Now that the kids are grown, I thought I’d use some of that space for growing plants other than grass. Since the front yard is a bit sunnier than the back, I especially wanted to try vegetables, which need some sun.

The problem was that I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted the new garden to be. I didn’t know how large it should be. I didn’t want something that would block our view from the front porch– we like to chat with our neighbors. And I wasn’t sure if I would like to grow vegetables in the front yard.

I decided to experiment by creating a temporary garden with containers. If I didn’t like it, I would just let the grass grow back.

I got the idea from Elaine Clutterbuck several years ago on the Parkside Garden Tour.  See that article here. 

When she wants to extend one of her garden beds onto her lawn, she lays down newspapers to kill the grass. Then she covers the newspapers with black landscape fabric and tops it off with decorative mulch. Since it will take weeks to kill the grass, she plants her perennials in large containers and sets the containers on top of the mulch.

It looks great all summer. In the autumn, she transplants the perennials into the beds– where the grass is now dead.

So I figured if I skipped the newspaper and landscape fabric, I could have a temporary garden with containers. I envisioned creating a beautiful still life on my front lawn. It would look great for a season, and if I liked it, I could take the steps to make it into a permanent garden.

The grouping of containers didn’t turn into the amazing still life I had envisioned in my head, but I learned a lot from my experiment.

The most important thing I learned was that to make the grouping look as nice as Elaine Clutterbuck’s container bed looked, you need to use big containers. She used large containers, and those containers were set among mature plants. It looked wonderful.

My containers were in a wide open space with nothing else around them. I used one large container, about 18 inches in diameter. Most of the containers were about 14 inches in diameter. A couple were even smaller.

I was stingy. I tried to save money by using smaller pots, thinking it would look fine if I had several of them grouped together. It wasn’t enough. It looked sparse.

I thought it would be better when the plants filled out. It didn’t.

I added an eighth pot after a couple weeks, but it still wasn’t enough. I should have used a bunch of pots that were 18 inches or larger.

pots of vegetables on front lawn viewed from porch in Amherst
Here is a view from the porch in early August. Some grass is popping through the wood chips, but it didn’t bother me because I decided I probably wouldn’t place the garden there. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Other things I learned from my experiment were:

  • Setting the pots on a blanket of wood chips helps to make the grouping look as if it is a coherent collection. Before the mulch was laid, it looked as if someone had scattered pots on the grass. I laid a thin layer of wood chips because I didn’t want to kill the grass.
  • There wasn’t enough height to the garden, especially when the pots were newly planted, but a lovely hanging basket on a shepherd’s hook helped.
  • For me, the grouping of vegetables weren’t as attractive as I would have liked. I added a pot with a canna and some marigolds, and that made the grouping look better. If I had used larger pots, I could have added marigolds, nasturtiums and herbs to each pot. I plan to do that this year. See some examples here.
  • There is no part of my front lawn that gets continual sun. Because of the surrounding houses and trees, it gets sun off and on throughout the day. I chose a part of the lawn that seemed to get the most sun. In addition, it doesn’t block our view of the sidewalk. However, from a design standpoint, that spot seems too far from the street.

I haven’t decided whether I want a permanent garden in my front yard yet, but I am going to take what I’ve learned and do another temporary garden this year.

container garden in front yard
This spot gets a lot of sun, but from a design standpoint, it might be better placing my container garden nearer to the sidewalk. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

6 Comments on “Not sure where to create garden bed? Try it out with containers

  1. Hi Connie, thanks for sharing your project! My favorite container garden uses old wheelbarrows. I have a funky deep one that’s perfect for my herb garden; other shallow ones look great with miniature hostas and annuals. Can’t believe I find these great containers in the trash!

  2. I’m not sure what success you had with your tomato, but it appears to be in too shallow a pot to really flourish, ie. yield lots of yummy tomatoes! My suggestion? Save one of the bigger, deeper pots you’re planning on using this summer for tomatoes. I had good luck with 3 different heritage cherries in a 2’x2′ pot in 6 hours of sunshine with fertilizer twice during growing season. Summer wouldn’t be summer without home grown tomatoes. Good luck!

  3. Great ideasI I didn’t think the container garden looked skimpy because that gorgeous plant on the shepherd’s hook and the taller foliage of the ground plants added height. If you want more interest, perhaps you could place potted plants on overturned empty pots to stagger the heights even more.

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