Row Your Way to Color with Annuals

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.


When considering containers for colorful annuals, you have an ocean of choices. Sure elegantly glazed ceramic bowls or terra cotta pots straight from Crete are wonderful, but the palette available is much, much wider as the photo shows. Any vessel that will hold soil and provide adequate drainage is fair game. Although I am not fond of used bathroom fixtures, I have been known to grab other people’s trash off the side of the road. Two of my favorites for use at my family’s house in Maine are discarded granite ware clam steamers and old wooden lobster traps.


I found this very creative planting in a dinghy at Handy Boat Marina in Falmouth Foreside, Maine. Everything about it shows careful thought by a skilled designer: the plant selection, the container, the plant arrangement, and the setting. The window color is carefully incorporated, and the wall color, oars, and gravel all add to the charm.



One design trick that really makes this planting work is cramming a lot of annuals into the available space. The season for annuals in the northeast is short, especially in Maine. You don’t want to waste time looking at a half-filled container while the planting “fills in”. Spending the extra money on additional annuals to make the container ornamental from the start is worth it. Or better yet, grow your own from seed.


The designer has also used the classic “spillers, fillers, and thrillers” method of filling containers. Spilling out the front are purple, chartreuse, and tricolor sweet potato vines and silvery licorice plant. Filling out the body of the boat are orange million bells, purple and white petunias, annual begonias, angelonia, and white daisies. In the back are purple fountain grass and papyrus.

You can get great ideas by keeping your eyes open for creative containers whenever you are out cruising around. You may not have a spare dinghy available, but I am sure there is something suitable in your attic.

* * * * *

This post is another experiment with my recently acquired “new” iPad, this time attempting to post on my blog directly from the iPad. I discovered that you can’t upload photos to a post using the WordPress site like you would when using a computer. The only way to do it is to download the WordPress app and use it to post from the iPad. However, so far, I have found that this app is not very user friendly. Since there are supposedly six new blogs being started every five minutes, I suggest that WordPress and Apple get on the ball to make blogging easier from an iPad. In the meantime, I won’t know what this post will look like until I hit the publish button.


Nursery Happenings: The nursery is closed until the fall. Thanks for a great spring season!

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47 Responses to “Row Your Way to Color with Annuals”

  1. Nice post Carolyn, glad the iPad cooperated. Love the boat planting, it really is a fun container.

  2. Your post looks good, if that’s any comfort. 🙂

    I’m not really into “novelty” containers; they often seem a bit contrived and verge towards the “garden gnome style”… However, in a marina I’m willing to accept a dinghy as a planter, especially when it’s densely planted like this one. (And as it is, I have too many pots too keep on top of already; in the courtyard there are several pots of nettles, which is not really the look and feel I’m going for. Especially not the feel, considering that our guest bedroom is in the annex on the other side of the courtyard and I’d like guests to be able to traverse the courtyard to use the loo at night without being stung by nettles…)

    Maybe NEXT year I’ll grow some annuals… And some vegetables. And finish The Ambitious Border, and move the currant and the raspberries, and… Well, you know. It’ll all happen next year, right?

    • FG, Thanks for the thoughtful comment. The dinghy does fit in with the ambience at the marina. And I agree with you about the novelty container having to go with the setting. That’s why I would use a clam steamer and lobster trap on a lobstering island in Maine but not at a colonial house in Pennsylvania. I have grown all different kinds of vegetables in containers on my family’s deck in Maine, including squash, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, and lettuce, among others. Carolyn

      • We never garden in a vacuum, so a lot of things would look corny in one place but natural in another. It’s just a matter of finding the right things… (An old toilet, though, is NEVER the right thing to use as a planter.)

        Growing vegetables in containers is one of the things I’d like to do next year; I have a lovely sheltered courtyard between the house and the annex, and it would look great with some beans or peas up against the walls.

  3. The pictures were gorgeous Carolyn and I liked the post from the ipad…I have yet to attempt it…but I do look at things on my ipod and then I say forget it…maybe I’ll wait a bit still.

  4. Cynthia Kardon Says:

    Amen about Apple and WordPress.
    That planting is very engaging. I use an old grill as a planter for annuals. It sits on my patio and looks grand.

  5. Bonnie Devine Says:

    I’m still working on learning basics about my iPad and IPhone….but that’s a story for another day. I think I’ll drive around the neighborhood tomorrow and look for trash, er, suitable containers. Actually, I have 2 old toilet bowls (don’t ask!) so I’m also off to Produce Junction for annuals. Thanks for the inspiration I always get from your blogs.

  6. There was once a garden center on Va.’s Eastern Shore that hauled an old wooden boat to their property and painted it Pepto Bismol pink, and planted it with lots of bright color. To say it was an eye catcher would be an understatement.

  7. Very clever! I love it when gardeners create unexpected planting containers. 🙂

  8. You always give me such wonderful and new ideas for my garden and containers. And for that, I am very grateful. This is a beautiful way to present beautiful plants for the summer!

  9. You’re braver than I am! I haven’t tried a post from the iPad yet but yours give me some confidence. Mind you the auto-correct spelling is a nightmare with botanical names!

    Themes in the home or garden can create unity or a circus effect. This vignette works well in its setting and I always love to see personality shine through. I just have to persuade some clients that full exposure is not necessarily a good thing!

  10. paulinemulligan Says:

    Such a pretty arrangement and in keeping with its setting. I like that they haven’t just relied on flowers but have gone for colour, shape and texture of foliage in their arrangement, the grasses also bring movement, definitely a winner for me!

  11. WOW! How amazing is this display! I am so keen to re-do my wheelbarrow with colour and design! Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Love that boat planter! Great lesson – I’m going to keep my eye open with an open mind toward putting plants in everything!

    • Holley, My husband brought home all kinds of unusual containers given to him by a friend in the antiques business. I was initially skeptical, but i had to eat my words when I used them to create hosta gardens to sell. It was a lesson in being open-minded. Carolyn

  13. Carolyn, I should have read this post before coming out to visit you yesterday; I could have looked for this creative planter while I was at the marina. Thanks so much for the invitation; it was a delightful day, and I totally enjoyed both the company and the walk around the island.

    The post looked great.

  14. Nice job with the iPad post! I’ve always enjoyed the combination of chartreuse Sweet Potato vine with purple and fuchsia flowers. And the spiky grasses in the back are lovely to cap it off. Great example! Thanks!

  15. I love finding unusual containers, as long as they are appropriate to the setting. I noticed today that a neighbor has filled an old wheelbarrow with annuals. The look is charming. I like the dinghy in a marine setting. It would bother me on a suburban front lawn!

  16. wifemothergardener Says:

    Great container Carolyn! I agree – the secret to a fabulous container is to pack in the plants. When making up planters for the nursery I learned to mound the soil to get the maximum number of plants into the pot. The trick is being able to afford that many annuals! Growing my own is my dream.
    And I think the post looks great. Sorry it is giving you fits!

    • Julie, You are right, the number of plants that you need to put in for an instant effect can be very costly. Besides growing your own, another way to save is to buy pre-mixed containers. I bought a 5″ container that had dark purple verbena, white lobelia, and light purple petunias all in the same pot—a very pretty combination. I stuck it in a hanging basket and voila I was done. Buying the plants separately would have cost a lot more. Carolyn

  17. It’s a beauty. I thought it was at your place. That would be cool too! My mother (Harpswell) is looking for a small boat like this but it seems even in Maine they are hard to come by. It’s a beautiful design too.

  18. Row, row, row a boat…That floweraraangement is colourful!

  19. Well Carolyn, your post just looks tickety boo on my computer as does your inventive planter. Mind you when I checked my website on my daughters computer I was horrified. On my pc it fills the screen and I think it looks good, on hers it was all drawn into the centre leaving wide blank spaces to the left and right. She tells me hers is set at high definition resolution, well you can keep that as far as I am concerned. I am about to pick your brains, no rush for an answer. I want to edge the front of the main border in our back garden with a hardy Geranium that has a long flowering period 25/30cm tall. Max Frei almost fits the bill but I would rather have one with larger more ornamental leaves, any suggestions, the colour doesn’t matter.

    • Alistair, There are so many varieties of hardy geranium, and I really am not an expert in that area. I know the types I sell but not what else is available. The only long-blooming one that I sell is ‘Rozanne’. It has large leaves but would not act as what I think of as an edger. Jean from Jean’s Garden grows a long-blooming plant that may be more suitable, maybe ‘Brookside’. You should ask her. If I get any further ideas I will let you know. Carolyn

      • Thanks Carolyn, no problem. Rozanne does bloom for a long time, as you suggest, not quite right though. I will keep searching. Alistair

  20. The boat container is pretty and effective! You are so clever to blog from your iPad. I use Google and wonder if it would be easier than WordPress on the iPad. Maybe I’ll try …

  21. What a great annual planting. I just toured some gardens this weekend and one had some very creative containers including a metal pail welded to an old implement (you have to see it to appreciate it). I ran out of time for annuals this year, now I have some ideas for next season – thanks for sharing this wonderful idea.

  22. […] 6. Old kayak planter via Carolyn’s Shade Gardens. […]

  23. Carolyn Sharkey Says:

    Carolyn, my name is Carolyn too! Where can I buy that exact same wooden boat & stand you used as a planter? How much? Price? & what are the dimensions? I have been searching for this for over a year now. Used is also fine with me as I am going to use it as a planter as well.

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