Dress Up Your Small Garden with Container Plants

Throughout the day in our home we listen to work crews, builders, sirens, engines, airplanes, cars honking, and leaf blowers. The wind blows hard enough to throw our door wide open and remind us that our apartment is high up in our building. At least the view through the glass door is always peaceful.

Plants are important to make your apartment feel like home.

What should you consider when choosing plants for your container garden?


The mandevilla (pictured above) is one of our favorite climbing vines, and it’s nicer to look at than my neighbor’s satellite dish.

Fragrance & Beauty

I always grow mint for how it smells when I crumple it in my fingers, and the jasmine flowers (pictured here) make me wish this blog could be a scratch ‘n sniff.

I love blooms, and who can resist the green of bright new leaves?

Many plants need at least partial sun to produce flowers, but they can still grow even if the conditions are less than ideal. Even our camellia could push out a few blossoms under the shaded cover of our last apartment.


Everyone should grow some food in containers at least once, if only to understand just how much time, water, and care growing food takes.

We harvested golden peppers and cherry tomatoes last year and baked them on our pizzas. There were only a few, but they were special. We thought about how many plants and efforts would be required to produce a bigger harvest.

It was like Barbara Kingsolver said in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,“Labors like this help a person appreciate why good food costs what it does. It ought to cost more.”

Herbs are a sure, easy thing. Italian parsley is one I reach for often, and the basil made enough pesto to last all winter.

In the comments Monday about designing a container garden, reader Mab mentioned how she grows lettuce in a hanging basket.

Although it’s still on my list of things to try, I think it would be neat to grow mushrooms.


As much as I would like to give advice like, “Got shade? Try ferns, begonias, hosta, and bleeding hearts…” it depends on where you live and where your plants go. You’ll always have new ones to try and some old favorites.

There is a lot to learn about gardening, but it starts with putting a seed or a small plant in a pot with some dirt, and then water it and give it some light. Everything else you learn by experimenting with your particular location and the plants you like the best.

Containers give you a greater chance to experiment. You don’t have to plant a whole row of something, you can plant just one and see if you like it. I wouldn’t be able to grow an orange tree where I live, but since it’s in a big pot I can bring it inside and keep it next to my bathtub over the winter.

Find out what zone you live in so you’re not working against nature.

Check your plants often for pests, especially the ones you might not recognize. Container gardens are often sheltered, and pests can thrive on plants that are not washed off regularly from rain.

Almost any plant can live in a container, as long as the container is big enough.

And if your plants always die after two months, try annuals. They’re supposed to die when the season is over, so they’re just right for people whose gardening interest wanes over the summer. They might even convince you to give gardening another try.

What are your favorite plants to grow in containers?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. We’re growing lettuce, regular & cherry tomatoes, red & green peppers, basil galore, spearmint, rosemary, oregano, thyme, cilantro, chamomile, dill, and lavender…all in pots since I’ve been largely pregnant through this and last summer! We LOVED the fresh herbs all last summer and are still enjoying the dried ones from that harvest. We’ve already enjoyed some of our lettuce this year and can’t wait for the rest. We tried zucchini and yellow squash last year, but the pots weren’t big enough for their root systems and we only got a few small fruits. Perhaps next year, I’ll have a raised garden box to grow them in. Our biggest problem this year has been the squirrels digging up my plants for the acorns they buried in there over the winter. However, the dog helps keep them away if we let him out early enough in the morning.

    • I think I really need to try lettuce. Last year I tried luffa which grows similar to squash, and I experienced the same results. I had no idea how big it could get. It grew and grew until it was the biggest plant out there, but it was never able to produce because it needed more. It was definitely a ground plant.

      • Go for lettuce, it’s easy! Some kinds are ‘cut-and-come-again’, where you can snip the outer leaves, and they will regrow. Fun!

  2. I love flowers, but growing herbs satisfies my desire for a variety of flavors and my husband’s frugal, practical side. I have a black thumb for the most part but was able to grow thyme, sage, and cilantro in containers with little to no effort.

    Shannon´s last post…Roasted Bacon Wrapped Asparagus Spears

  3. We have a house with a good sized yard, however, we have an overabundance of deer and therefore cannot really grow anything in the yard. We do have a deck off the second floor where we grow everything in planters and pots. We mostly do flowers but last year I also grew cherry tomatoes and that worked out great! Also rosemary. This year I will expand on the herbs but I think I’ll stick with just tomatoes again. And of course, lots of flowers. Will be hitting the nursery this weekend – can’t wait!

  4. I am very excited about my small patio garden and have planted chives, rosemary, mint, and thyme. I also have tomatoes and cucumbers in big planters along with flowers in window boxes.
    I am starting to study up on how to dry and keep the herbs. The mint is kind of taking over so I need to start some harvesting.
    The little garden has been great for my stress level when I get home from work and I am really enjoying learning and watching it grow.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Our containers hold patio tomatoes, strawberries, marigolds, mint and a big bowl of alyssum (smells like honey when you sit next to it). There are also some bell peppers and mini zinnas and basil in wine boxes that came from Costco. As windy as it’s been this week (Dallas), I’ve had to water twice a day, but it’s fun to see the colors and everything growing. I threw a handful of mesclun (lettuce mix) seeds in the soil next to the tomatoes just for grins; they’ve sprouted. Next week, we may be able to snip a tiny harvest of field greens!

  6. Sainte Genevieve says:

    Once I was in the parking lot at Home Depot and I smelled some heavenly smell and I was like, “WHAT is THAT??” and followed the smell till I came to a jasmine tree in a pot in their garden centre. I have always wanted one since then. Maybe this will be the year.
    Have you tried lavender? Lavender is very pretty, and when the season is over, you are supposed to put the dried branches in sachet bags in your lingerie drawers.
    We found that the two things that taste so wonderful when home-grown, and to which store-bought can never compare, are strawberries and tomatoes.
    Hooray for Spring and for your inspiring post.

  7. Oooo strawberries, as someone else mentioned, would be fabulous.

    Tepary´s last post…Life Lessons – Community

  8. Alas, I started a square-foot garden last summer, and the strawberry plant I put in is growing again! So why “alas?” Because we are moving within a month. sigh . . . will have to observe the sun/shade patterns at the new house (which has little yard but a nice sized deck). But I know there are lilac bushes!

  9. Thanks for these posts on container gardens! I’ve had terrible luck with keeping any sort of plant alive, but I am trying to grow a few vegetables this year. (I was inspired by Barbara Kingsolver, also!)

    After seeing your pictures, I think I need to plant some beautiful and sweet-smelling flowers as well! Maybe I can enjoy a few lovely weeks before everything is scorched by the summer heat. :-)

    Lindsey´s last post…If a tree falls in a forest…

  10. vermontmommy says:

    We have two raised beds. In the past we have tried to fit more than we should have. This year I planted less. I used one bed for herbs (basil-several, thyme, sage, cilantro, parsley and oregano). The other bed I planted chives (they were there from last year so I left them), cherry tomatoes and jalapenos. I tried lettuce last year but planted it too late and it was just too hot. I might try that another year.

    We also have a pot of strawberries that we have had for several years. My kids love to see what they have each morning. It is quite exiting.

  11. The best part of gardening is when my two children run out to the vegetable garden to pick strawberries right of the plant and eat it! Its a hide and seek game for them. First one finds it, eats it!

  12. This is a blog that may interest those of you experimenting or better with balcony gardening. I am not in any way affiliated with it, I just enjoy reading it.


  13. I have lots of room to grow, but I love having containers on the porch. Mandevilla is one of my favorites, but I also love growing patio tomatoes. It’s so fun to be able to walk outside and grab a mater and pop in your mouth!

    Jackie Lee´s last post…What’s holding you back?

  14. I love plants but something always goes wrong. One of these days I’m going to try again though and see if I can keep a few hardy houseplants alive for more then a few months.

    My grandma and my mom have both grown large gardens and the work that goes into it is huge, but the results are worth it. Nothing tastes better then a home-grown, vine-ripened tomato!

  15. Every time I come home after a garden tour I start getting new ideas for my own garden.

  16. I agree about the growing food thing. People just don’t have an appreciation, with the ease of modern grocery stores.

    Having plants outside and inside the home can also help uplift people’s spirits.

    John Moves´s last post…Elm Creek Quilts Series

  17. I love to grow more flowers, lettuce and tomatoes in my garden.

  18. RachelNichols says:

    Love these blog posts. I live in a small apartment, but have a nice balcony. I plan on growing several plants in containers next spring.