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Pick the Perfect Planter

A landscaping professional suggests the perfect flora for five diverse planters.

By Katie Coates

June is a great time for outdoor living: The weather is warm, flowers are in bloom and the poolside and barbecue beckon. It’s also time to spruce up your outdoor space, and whether it’s a small patio or an expansive lawn, you want it to be comfortable, inviting and beautiful all summer long. One of the easiest ways to do that is to incorporate potted plants. Available in an unlimited variety of sizes, shapes and hues, planters add vibrancy, texture and visual interest. From tabletop classics sporting sweet succulents to stylish stunners bursting with desert greenery, the ideas are endless—so endless that we sought the advice of an expert. Here, she gives her suggestions on five stylish planters to help you make the most of your slice of the Sonoran landscape.

The expert: As the owner of PaloOco Design in Phoenix, landscape designer Katie Coates specializes in creating outdoor environments for beautiful living. Her design focus is bringing the visual and physical together in an outdoor space, often considering color, texture, sound and movement. “My goal is for you to love and enjoy your outdoor space,” she says.

For more information, see Sources.


I love this piece—with its no-frills sandy-gray look and stonelike texture—for any midcentury modern or contemporary environment. Three of the small square planters in repetition would be great going up a few stairs to an entrance, along a patio border or across a balcony. Place them in a sunny location and fill with firesticks (Euphorbia tirucalli), Lady’s slippers (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) or prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica). Each offers striking forms that contrast with the simplicity of the planter. Top dress with black or white 1″-2″ rock, depending on other elements in the exterior design. Available in three sizes: 12″H x 12.25″ square, 16″H x 15.75″ square, and 14.5″H x 31.5″W x 14.5″D. $60-$169 (


This simple yet spirited pot on a stand is perfect for a condo balcony or small patio looking for color. I would use it in a grouping of three to highlight a corner or to help define the space of a patio seating area. For a modern setting, select a single color. In a more artful and eclectic setting, combine blue, yellow and white planters. Adding a bit of height with greenery would help elevate the significance of the grouping. Structural succulents, such as African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’), provide interest in color, shape and texture. Other complementary plantings are aloe vera, blue elf aloe and Lady’s slippers. A top dressing of multicolored river rock provides a natural and elegant finish to round out the look. 14″H x 12″ square. $240 (


Crafted by Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Larry Kornegay, this is a hearty and serious planter deserving of a striking mix of desert plants. Because of their substantial size, I see these planters anchoring either a transition from patio to pool as a dramatic welcome or along the long side of a pool in repetition for greatest effect. For the spotlight position, start with the unusual and attractive totem pole cactus (Lophocereus schottii v. monstrosus) and add Morrocan mound (Euphorbia resinifera), golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii) and Agave macroacantha. Purple trailing lantana would bring an airy, colorful element that would soften the pot. If used in repetition, combine purple prickly pear (Opuntia macrocentra), with its awesome lavender hue, and the happy yellow flowers of desert marigolds (Baileya multiradiata) for a great mix of color and texture. 18″ or 30″H x 40″ in diameter. $515-$750 (


In true Cosanti style, this beautiful reverse bell-shaped patina pot is classic and would be a prized possession in the middle of an outdoor Tuscan-inspired dining table surrounded by a dramatic desert or Mediterranean landscape design. The plant choices should accent the pot without stealing the show. I’d choose a variety of jade, such as Hummel’s Sunset (Crassula ovata), that’s outlined in an orangey-red to highlight the bronzy patina. To accompany it, add a small trailing succulent, such as String of Bananas (Senecio radians) or String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus). 13″H x 9″ in diameter. $448-$478 (


These ceramic pots are perfect for a modern, clean look. I’d use these near a lounge-style furniture grouping under a covered patio with shade. A splash of hot color in the white containers would provide a nice wow factor. Try the flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfediana) with its glossy, dark green leaves and bright pops of orange, hot pink or red blossoms. Plant one in each pot, or place a kalanchoe in the top pot and fill the bottom one with a small succulent, such as an interesting sedum or elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra) with its emerald green leaves and red-brown stems. 28″H by 9″W x 9″D. $80 (


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