Planting Spring Pots

My penchant for planting containers for spring is based on several factors. At 30 years old, it seemed like an infinite number of springs were ahead. If I skipped planting fall bulbs, or spring pots, or a rose or a tree, there would always be next year. Or the year after that. In a blink of an eye, 30 became 50.  And with it, the dawn of the realization that though spring will probably roll around ad infinitum, my springs that had a beginning in 1950 would eventually come to an end. This is not gloomy talk. It means I am more interested than ever in observing and participating in every phase of the gardening year. I especially do not want to miss one moment of the spring season. Given that every plant in the landscape will break dormancy and grow, there is a lot to see over the course of that 3 month period. There are lots of ways to experience the spring season-why miss out on any of those opportunities?

Planting containers for spring seems even more attractive in cold weather zones like ours. Winter leaches out of our ground slowly. When that ground does thaw, it is wet. Milling around a garden when the soil is sopping wet is ill advised. My shoes, backed up by my weight, do a great job of squeezing the oxygen out of the soil, and compacting it. Compacted soil can be quite brick-like. As I like my plants to have friable soil that encourages good root growth, I stay out of the garden in very early spring. Spring containers make it easier to resist getting in to the garden too early.

It used to be that a vast majority of seasonal plants were of the summer season type. Now a gardener can find plants suitable for containers in every season. The most obvious choice is spring flowers bulbs.  Forced tulips, daffodils,hyacinths, grape hyacinths and crocus adapt very well to pot culture. The tulips in the shop garden are but 2 inches out of the ground. It will be at least a month before they start to bloom. A pot of emerging tulips faced down with violas already in bloom in a container is a sight for winter weary eyes. The best part of spring flowering bulbs in containers is how beautiful they are in every stage. It is a pleasure to be able to watch a hyacinth at close quarters come out of the ground, bud up, and bloom. The leaves and buds are juicy, and every bit as beautiful as the flowers.

It used to be that most seasonal plants offered for sale were only suitable for summer containers. That has really changed. Great plants, and lots of them, are available for container planting in every season. Right now at the shop, Rob has hellebores, pansies, violas, alyssum, primrose, rosemary and lavender topiaries, sweet woodruff, and sweet peas.  In short order, spring vegetables and herbs will be available for pots. Pansies, lettuce and parsley can be planted up to stunning effect. A hydrangea on standard can look a little bleak in a spring container, but the buds will swell soon, and the spring leaves are beautiful.

Fresh cut twigs can provide a lot of color and scale to spring containers. This straight copper willow not only has vivid color, that color is lively.

Pussy willow is a great twig choice for pots.  The fuzzy catkins covering the stems are charming.  Cut pussy willow twigs will often root in a spring pot, bringing leaves after the catkins have faded. Pussy willow would be a poor choice of a shrub for my garden, as it grows so large. Having the cut stems in a container is a way to enjoy them without making any commitment to a long term relationship. And speaking of long term relationships, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to try something new in containers every spring.

We will be starting our installations of spring pots this coming Monday. It will feel good to be gardening.

faux grass and Belarina series double primrose

white hyacinths

sweet woodruff and faux grass

tropical ferns and pansies

maidenhair ferns and Belarina primrose

grape hyacinths, primula denticulata and oxalisspring pot with helleborus, grape hyacinth, violas and sweet woodruff

spring pots with eucalyptus centerpieces

pansies and violas

lettuce and pansies

Tomorrow, the last Saturday of our hellebore festival will feature Rob’s collection of topiary plants – his best ever, I think. Thinking spring containers, we are.


  1. Lovely container gardens! Do you know if pansies survive outside now in zone 5?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cathy, I would think it would be OK. Our pansies are cold grown, and overwintered in an unheated greenhouse-so they can be out now without a problem. I have seen them snap back from a 20 degree night. best, Deborah

  2. Joni W. Holinger says

    All I do is leave the same comment: “Stunning. Simple. Elegant.”

  3. Such great ideas! Thank you for sharing the inspiring photos. We still have four feet of snow on the ground in the NE corner of Vermont, having recieved 19″ of new snow a week ago today :-{
    I’m off to find some primroses at a garden center to pot up with pussy willow and grasses. At this point, my garden primeoses won’t be visible for several weeks.

  4. Anita Berlanga says

    I’ve had much the same epiphany, Deborah and, like you, see it as an opportunity to really live each moment in the garden. I decided to do some container ‘monoculture’ (ala the Danes, who excel at that, it seems) and started to get impatient, waiting for the potted tulips & narcissus to break dormancy. It’ll be awhile. So, in the meantime, I’ll enjoy your photos!

  5. mollie duvall says

    Deborah, this post really resonates with me. Especially this year. I was born in 1951 and have had the same thoughts about treasuring my garden just a little bit more. I am over the moon this spring as my DH and I sold our winter home in Florida and this is the first spring in 12 years I will be here for this awe inspiring time of year. Actually, I have already started the gardening process: today, I made my first tour of the garden with Liquid Fence in hand. The earlier the deer and rabbits smell it, the better it is for all of us, LOL! I plan on making my first trip of the season to DGW tomorrow….can’t wait!

  6. Kitty Gibson says

    God gave us a beautiful planet with beautiful plants! Going from cold, dark and gray to a rainbow of colors in a couple of months is euphoria. So appreciative of this miraculous planet we live on and all nature has to offer us! Spring to me is a miracle every year.

  7. I can relate to your feelings of appreciating every day of spring, Deborah. I retired from teaching last June, so this is my first “full spring” to really savor and enjoy the daily changes fully. And luckily we are having a very slow creep, rather than a rapid bursting forth, of spring this year. (Got more snow today) . I told my husband a few days ago, I have few wants or material needs anymore, I just want some good, healthy years to enjoy and improve my garden and plot and enjoy its yearly resurrection of life. Cheers to this spring, and hopefully a good number to come.

  8. Gabrielle West says

    I too am a gardener—curiosity and passion are my engines fo sure-AND I too was born in the 1950’s.
    Blink of an eye is so true…..and each season suddenly becomes new all over! Yep be here NOW is true true true……

  9. Eileen Ripp-Emerson says

    How do you keep the twigs & pussy willows from becoming top heavy, or how are they anchored!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Eileen, we zip tie everything to a bamboo stake, and then we pound that stake down deep into the soil. For huge centerpieces, we may add rebar and concrete wire to the centerpiece. best, Deborah

  10. Paul Clancy says

    Your Spring pot plantings are always beautiful and inspiring Deborah. I particularly like the grape hyacinth, primula and oxalis display.
    I am all for Springtime pots, it’s such a great way to experiment with new bulb combinations too. Nothing beats scouring the bulb catalogues on a rainy autumn afternoon planning for the seasons ahead.

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