White flowers in a garden.

How to Create a Cool Combinations in Your Summer Patio Displays

Summer patio displays often lack height and structure, but this simple idea solves both problems. Stack pots of annuals on the steps of an old wooden ladder and use tall cosmos in containers on the ground to create a tower of flowers and foliage. Choose bright sunny colors or select elegant cool notes, like the blues and whites used here. Remember that the tiny pots will need watering every day in summer.

When to start: Spring.

At their best: Summer to early autumn.

Time to complete: 3-4 hours.

You will need: Blue and white containers, broken clay pot pieces, multipurpose potting mix, slow-release granular fertilizer, gray slate pebbles.

Selection of plants you could use: Salvia farinacea – blue, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Purity’, Chives, Antirrhinum majus – white, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Lobelia erinus – white.

Prepare the ladder

Rub down the ladder with sandpaper to remove dirt and grease, and either paint it with a clear preservative or a wood stain. Collect your plants and pots, and decide how you would like to pair them up. Make sure all the pots have drainage holes in the bottom—drill some if they don’t—and put a few pieces of broken clay pot or plastic plant trays over the holes.

Plant the containers

Cover the clay or plastic pieces with a layer of multipurpose potting mix. Then arrange the plants, still in their pots, in the containers and check that you are happy with your collective display. Also make sure that the plants will be about 1.–1. in (3–4 cm) below the rims when planted. Water the plants well, remove them from their pots, and plant them up, firming in soil around them.


Add some fertilizer to the soil, and water the plants in well. Scatter decorative pebbles over the surface to finish the pots off and to help minimize moisture loss. Then arrange the pots on the ladder, wedging the smaller ones between the steps, if necessary, to keep them in place. Water the containers every day, and remove the fading blooms regularly. If plants start to flag later in the season, apply a dose of tomato fertilizer.

Tips: Sow cosmos seeds

Cosmos are tall airy plants with feathery foliage and a continuous display of white or pink summer flowers. Despite their delicate appearance, they are very easy to grow from seed, and one packet will give you sufficient plants to fill five or six containers. Simply follow the instructions for sowing large seeds, and the seedlings should appear within a few days. Cosmos are not hardy, and must be kept inside until the risk of frost has passed. Deadhead faded flowers regularly.