How to choose the right plants to add color to your life

Container gardening is a good option for urban dwellers


Calling all potential urban gardeners: if you would like to add some color to your life, I have tips for gardening in the city. All you need is a bright room, balcony or patio.

When planting in locations with full sun exposure, be sure to select sun-loving plants. When planted in containers, however, even sun-worshipping varieties do better where they have a little relief from the sun. This is because plants in containers, especially hanging baskets, have less soil to retain water. Regular watering will prevent leaves and flowers from drying out in hot, sunny periods. On the flip side, planting containers in deep shade can be somewhat of a challenge.

Choose your plants wisely. Selecting bright and/or white flowering, shade-loving plants can really brighten up an otherwise dark area.

Protected sites are usually found beside walls or other garden features that provide shelter from the sun, wind and rain. In built-up areas, the temperature is often several degrees warmer than other exposed areas, so it is possible to grow a range of tender plants successfully. Exposed sites are more difficult. Here, you can try planting a tougher variety of plants in well-drained soil, or select low-growing plants that will not be battered by wind. Succulents and cacti are very resilient in exposed areas.

Plants grow in a variety of different shapes and sizes. To select the most suitable plants for your containers, consider a plant’s natural growth habit. Is it upright or trailing and how tall will the plant grow? When buying plants, always check the mature dimensions on the label. The shape of the container and plantings should look harmonious and when out in the open — as opposed to against a wall — the container should look just as good from the back and sides.

Color is a matter of personal taste, but when designing your containers, an awareness of the mood color combinations create is important. For example, reds, oranges and yellows give a feeling of warmth, while purples, blues and greens create a cooling effect.

When selecting a color theme, you can choose colors that are in harmony with each other, such as different shades of the same color such as dark red to pink. Other harmonious colors are orange and yellow and purple.

Another way to design is by using contrasting colors that do not share common pigments such as blue and yellow, red and green or even vivid orange and deep purple.

When planting for texture it becomes clear that flower petals and foliage come in a staggering range of sizes and textures. They encompass everything from waxy, smooth, shiny, matte and prickly with subtle variations in-between.

Your choice of textures should be decided by where you intend to place your containers. Small feathery leaves and delicate little flowers create subtle beauty that should be appreciated from up close. When creating a display that can be appreciated from a distance, try working with bold flowers and large leaf shapes.

When working with groups of containers, I often try to choose containers in similar colors and styles to focus attention on the different foliage and flowers.

Happy planting!

Mike Holloway is a horticulturist with Denver Botanic Gardens. He can be reached at


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