Posted on 20 April 2008 by

Oh So Pretty: Creative and Colorful Combinations for Container Gardens

Swiss ChardBy Cindy Naas

Containers are the perfect option for city gardeners since they take up so little room.

Growing vegetables is a good enough reason to container garden, but if you want to make your garden do double duty, here are some ways to make your city garden look as great as the veggies will taste.

These plants and combinations will add a colorful splash to your garden:

1. ‘Bright Lights’ swiss chard – this is a beautiful plant. The stalks of chard come in orange, red, pink, cream and lavender and make a wonderful backdrop for pots of pansies. One of my favorite containers always has ‘Bright Lights’, some purple icicle pansies and some trailing green ivy. By the time we’ve eaten all the chard, it’s time to swap out the pansies for some hot weather flowers.

2. Tomatoes and marigolds – the marigold is a great companion plant because of its insecticidal qualities. In other words, harmful pests hate marigolds. Adding a marigold to any pot of tomatoes keeps away pests and offers a showy display of blooms all season long.

3. Basil and tomatoes – if you have a very large pot, you can grow a basil plant in the same pot as your tomatoes. Basil also acts as a natural pest repellent, and since the water requirements are the same for both plants, they are a great team. There’s nothing like picking a fresh juicy tomato and grabbing a handful of fresh basil to shred on top of it for the perfect summer salad.

4. Strawberries and rosemary – I have a dedicated bed for strawberries. In the middle of that bed, I have a spot for my container-grown rosemary bush. It looks absolutely charming there. It has exactly the same needs as the strawberries do – a fair amount of water early on in the season followed by near-drought conditions after the berries are done for the year. Keeping the rosemary bush there protects the strawberries from pests and gives the rosemary the place of honour in my garden since it is a really attractive plant.

5. Lettuce and radishes – any time I grow lettuce in a pot, I ring the pot with radishes. They keep the soil from compacting and prepare it for the next crop, they are ready at roughly the same time the lettuces are, and by growing the decorative ‘Easter Egg’ radishes, I get a prettier salad, too.

6. Trionfo violetto bean – this bean is absolutely gorgeous! It also tastes really good and is a heavy producer even in a container. The bean produces vivid purple flowers and dark violet pods, and is sure to get lots of compliments and questions from neighbours. Trellised, this is every bit as lovely as any flower you might grow.

7. Bull’s Blood beets and any carrots – Bull’s Blood is a new favourite. The tops can be added to salad and are a rich burgundy in colour. The beets are medium in size and are round and are quite tender if watered consistently. I plant up a pot with beets in the center and carrots all around the edge. The contrast of the feathery green carrot tops and the dark purple beet tops is really pretty, and the veggies are ready at the same time.

8. Basil and green onions – when planting up the containers I use for basil, I always plant a few green onion seeds at the same time. The water and sun requirements are the same, and the leafy basil plants look especially decorative when surrounded by the dark green spikes of green onions.

9. Brussels sprouts and purple bush beans – bush beans are ready in 55 days, brussels sprouts in 100. The beans grow quickly and spread, the brussels sprouts grow up in an interesting geometric sculpture. By the time the brussels sprouts start needing a lot of room, the beans are done and can be pulled out. So, for most of the season you’ll have a bean plant with dark purple beans growing next to a tall tower of dark green brussels sprouts, a lovely combination.

10. Cucumbers and bush beans – trellising the cucumber and growing the bush beans in the front of the pot give a nice romantic cottage garden look to your container garden. Most cucumbers have fairly insignificant flowers but the beans will add interest to the pot. By the time the cucumbers set fruit, the beans will be finishing up so the cucumber gets to be the star. If you can provide the water this combo requires, you’ll be rewarded by a wonderful crop of veggies and an attractive display all season long.

7 Responses to “Oh So Pretty: Creative and Colorful Combinations for Container Gardens”

  1. Delia Says:

    very cool! I knew that marigolds were good to keep insects away, but I didn’t realize that I could plant them with the tomatoes. I love the idea of being able to protect them naturally, and the combination of ripe red tomatoes with the yellow flowers will be lovely!

  2. Dani in NC Says:

    If there is one thing that confuses me, it is the different varieties of beans in the gardening catalogs! The Trionfo violetto bean: is that like a fancy version of green beans? Or is that something where you pop the beans out of the pod and eat them like pinto beans?

  3. Dani in NC Says:

    If I want to grow basil and tomato from seed and put them in the same pot, should I start them at the same time? I started my tomatoes about six weeks ago, but I haven’t started my basil yet because I wasn’t originally planning to put them in the same pot. Should I start the basil seeds in the tray and then add them to the tomato pot or can I plant them directly?

  4. patsy Says:

    You’ve introduced some new ideas for containers–I’m trying to plant them now. Glad to see you’re a regular here. Thanks.


  5. doug Says:


  6. Joe Says:

    Basil and tomatoes are a great combo. Not only do they taste great but the basil is also good at keeping white fly of the tomatoes. Win/Win

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