Your empty pots are just waiting to be filled with spirit-lifting flowers and foliage. But with thousands of varieties of plants, where do you start?

Houseplants have migrated outdoors in this collection of creative container garden recipes by designers Sarah Davis of Sunnyside Gardens, Minneapolis, and Kelsey Ness of Lynde Greenhouse & Nursery, Maple Grove.

“People are becoming more comfortable grabbing houseplants for container gardens,” said Davis. “They bring diversity and color, especially in shady spots.”

Dramatic big-leafed beauties — from the flamboyant Florida Red cordyline to the junglelike Alocasia Polly — are the stars of the show, with splashy foliage rather than flowers.

When designing a container garden, an upright houseplant can fill the role of the tall, bold “thriller.” Then surround the centerpiece plant with mounding “fillers.” Lastly, tuck in “spillers,” which are varieties that cascade and trail over the edge of the pot.

The trick is repeating, complementing and contrasting plant colors, textures and shapes for a visually captivating composition. And you don’t need a cart filled with flats to do it.

“You can create a beautiful pot with just three simple ingredients,” said Ness. Plus containers are a lot easier to care for than an expansive in-ground garden.

Get inspired by — or simply copy — these five instant pots to create instant visual impact on your deck, patio and front steps.

“It’s a creative way to express yourself in a small space — like a painting,” said Davis.



Designer: Sarah Davis, Sunnyside Gardens, 3723 44th St., Mpls., 612-712-3054,

For eye-pleasing vignettes: Choose plants with contrasting foliage and shapes and complementary colors. “But don’t use too many plants with conflicting patterns or it can be confusing to the eye and look messy.”

Fave filler: “Ferns are elegant and complement heavy, big leaves with delicate fronds.”

Her go-to potting mix: Miracle-Gro with fertilizer.



Shade, from Sunnyside Gardens

• Alocasia Polly (tall center) tropical houseplant with scalloped arrowhead or heart-shaped leaves.

• Gartenmeister fuchsia (center) with coral-red tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds.

• Western fern (fine-textured filler).

• New Guinea impatiens (mounding filler) with vivid red blooms.

• Lemon Lime variegated maranta houseplant (spiller), also known as “prayer plant.”

• Lysimachia or Creeping Jenny (cascading trailer).



Shade, from Sunnyside Gardens

• Caladium (tall center) tropical heart-shaped leaves splashed with neon pink.

• Rieger Begonia (mounding filler) with vibrant pink repeating the caladium color.

• Autumn fern (upright arching lacy-leafed filler).

• Angel vine (spiller).



Sun, from Sunnyside Gardens; designed by Dana Harris-Gonsales

• Special Effects coleus (tall center mounding) with serrated multicolored variegated foliage.

• Cherry Red angelonia (tall center) with petite red blooms that attract butterflies.

• Nemesia (filler) with delicate daisylike white flowers.

• Cranberry Sizzle zonal geranium (mounding center) for brilliant cranberry flowers.

• Purple Heart setcreasea (trailing) with spiky purple foliage.



Designer: Kelsey Ness, Lynde Greenhouse & Nursery, 9293 Pineview Lane, Maple Grove, 763-420-4400,

For eye-pleasing vignettes: Pick plants you like, then start with the tallest in the middle or back and work your way down by height. Mix different foliage, such as a bronze leaf with a green leaf, to make it pop.

Fave filler: New popular sun-loving sunpatiens, which come in a wide range of colors — from lilac pinks to bright orange.

Her go-to potting mix: Lynde brand of peat moss, compost and perlite.



Sun, from Lynde Greenhouse & Nursery

• Florida Red cordyline houseplant (tall center) boasts showy purple-red foliage to contrast with green-foliage fillers.

• Vista bicolor salvia (mounding filler) with red and white blooms.

• Deep Rose sunpatiens (mounding filler) with sharp-edged foliage; attracts hummingbirds.

• Easy Wave Silver petunias (mounding filler) repeat purple in cordyline.

• Mezoo Trailing Red dorotheanthus or Livingstone Daisy (mounding trailer) with succulent variegated foliage accented with red dime-sized flowers.



Shade, from Lynde Greenhouse & Nursery

• Camilla dieffenbachia (tall center) tropical houseplant with variegated foliage that repeats the green in the impatiens (note: can be poisonous — keep out of reach of children and pets).

• Super Elfin Pink and Lipstick impatiens (mounding filler).

• Party Time Burgundy Lancer coleus (trailer) with dark purple-red serrated leaves.