simple stuff: planters and pots.

June 8, 2017

Simple Stuff: A new series devoted to talking about the stuff that might prove useful or helpful or otherwise necessary while making a home in a small apartment or anywhere. Its aim is to provide a bit of inspiration for simplifying your space sustainably and stylishly. Its contention is that what’s useful can be beautiful, and that you might already have everything you need.

I’ve written in this space about my some of my favorite tiny houseplants and some of my windowsill plants, and I’ve been sneaking in shots of new spring sprouts, so I figured it was high time for a post about the things you grow those plants in. And so, a post about simple pots and planters and other vessels for growing green things, indoors or out.

I recently had the great pleasure of being able to take over the care of the outdoor planter near our apartment building’s front door. (An honor, and a plant-loving renter’s dream come true.) The previous steward just moved out and before she left she scrawled a note in her unsteady hand and hung it near the mailboxes. “‘Gardener’ moving. ‘Garden’ may be cared for by someone else.”(Quotations hers. Unabashed enthusiasm about the opportunity all mine.)

Her ‘garden’ included a motley array of plants (and, inscrutably, a large number of buried plastic bottle caps), so I carefully dug out the things I didn’t care for (fie, red gerbera daisies), cleaned up a heuchera that still had some life in it, and added in a small dusty miller, some purple sweet potato vine, and a little blue lobelia, because gosh, even shady gardens need flowers. The problem remains however: the planter itself is bad—a large, plastic faux terra cotta number with a hole cut into it where the previous gardener had chained the thing to our staircase to scare off would-be flower thieves. The newly freshened pot looks lovely except, of course, for that plastic pot.

Therein lies the eternal rub: What to do with something that’s plastic and terrible but that might only sit in a landfill if you decide to part ways with it? For now I’ve decided to keep the plastic pot and hope that the trailing lobelia and sweet potato vine will work their magic to cover the offensive bits. For you guys, a few suggestions for alternatives to plastic pots in case you’re in the market for a pot to call your own. 

The recipe for some of my very favorite planters is a basic unglazed clay pot + time. I love a clay pot that’s had the good fortune of being well-loved and long-planted, and abandoned pots given half a chance to develop a good patina can be even better. Give me your gnarliest terra cotta, in other words, and I’ll probably love it. 

There are methods for speeding up the aging process (we’ll leave that to Martha), but I think the best things come to those who wait. Plant up an unglazed clay pot and stick it outside and before too terribly long you will get yourself a pleasingly aged vessel. Different clays will react differently to time and soil and I’m no expert—but in my experience, terra cotta becomes either whiter or greener as time passes and, if you ask me, more elegant. Keep your eyes peeled in the springtime then, when sheds get cleared and old pots heaved to the sidewalk. Check tag sales or church sales or your parents’ garage and see if there’s not a good clay pot just waiting for a little tenderness.

If you’re looking for something a little more special:

+ I have two unglazed white clay pots from third-generation Connecticut potter Ben Wolff. My pots both started off white, but they’ve taken on a very beautiful coppery color over time. I’ve always purchased his pots at GRDN here in Brooklyn, which is one of my favorite spots in the neighborhood. If you’re looking for an already aged pot, GRDN also stocks the very beautiful Campo di Fiori pots, which come perfectly mossed and ready for planting. 

+ I also have a few earth-fired clay pots that I was given a few years by Terrain. I really like the muted clay color and they’re an affordable imported option that have held up beautifully, even after being left outside for two winters.

In addition to clay pots, I have two teak window boxes that I bought seven Junes ago when I first moved to Brooklyn. Teak planters are a bit of an investment up front, but they age beautifully, drain well, hold up well over time, and look solid. A worthy investment if you’re able.


Shocking, I know, but I prefer a good white pot for indoor houseplants. They match anything, let the greenery shine, and I never get tired of them. Of course, I’ve got preferences: nothing too glossy, soft whites over stark whites, hand thrown over machine made. I’ve had the same few pots ever since I upgraded my houseplants from their tin can planters (also a noble and very much free option!) going on five years ago. Here’s a little list of those and others that have caught my eye

Judy JacksonI have two of these fluted beauties from Judy Jackson (pictured). They’re the very perfect shade of white with the very perfect matte glaze. It can be difficult to find large planters and I appreciate that she makes her planters in a range of sizes. (You can find them locally at GRDN.) Handmade in New York City.

Pigeon Toe Ceramics: We’re currently using our Pigeon Toe Ceramics Faceted Hanging Tray as a catchall for baby supplies (tiny hair brushes, music box, stray hair clips), but you could certainly plant it if you’re after a hanging planter. If not, their small Sprout Pot looks lovely. I’d choose the solid natural, but the other shades are so subtle and sweet I might be convinced to get a little color. Handmade in Portland, Oregon.

Notary Ceramics: This sturdy, understated Small Planter with Saucer from Notary Ceramics would complement just about any decor. Handmade in Portland, Oregon.

Convivial Production: The Minimal Ivory Planter is an affordable planter option with a simple shape and clean design. Handmade in Kansas City.

Stuck in the Mud: For folks after something understated but still a little bit fancy, this hand-thrown ceramic planter commissioned by Food52 might be the right fit. The textured saucer was made by pressing a doily into the clay. Handmade in Upstate New York.

The Sill: Purveyors of pots and the plants in them, The Sill has lots of simple white pot options. I like the August Ceramic Planter best. Made in New Jersey.

Also: This garden-y piece made me smile this week.

What about you guys? Favorite pots or planters? Creative workarounds?

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  • Reply Tamara June 8, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    You’re speaking my language. 🙂 I’m a potter who makes planters and hanging planters. I mostly sell locally right now in Portland, Or, although I do have some listed on the website. I’ve been attempting to throw bigger recently because I hear it’s so hard to find large hand made pots, but it makes my muscles ache afterwards. Anyway, lovely post. Plants are the best, indoors and out. I have such a hard time not spending all my money on them!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 8, 2017 at 12:37 pm

      Your work is beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Reply Jennette June 8, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    I’ve had some good luck spray painting plastic planters to give them new life. Right now, I’m loving matte black (so elegant and modern), but I’ve been wanting to try Rust-Oleum s American accents Terra Cotta spray. It’s supposed to give the look and texture of real Terra Cotta

  • Reply Kate June 8, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Yep, we too have the chance to take over some vacated planters at my apartment, of terra cotta-colored plastic variety. Maybe this is just the inspiration I need! I can’t bring myself to throw them out, but might nestle in a few clay pots to distract.

    For indoors, I like vintage ceramics, usually McCoy or something similar. My mother and grandmother stocked up years ago when they became a hot flea market item for a quick second. In helping them winnow their collections, I picked up a few special ones — usually white, but sometimes I fall for the greens. I don’t think they are expensive lately at antique shops and the like. Often the bottoms are marked “USA,” which I find reassuring — we used to make a lot more of our own products! Maybe we can again.

    • Reply Tori June 9, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Seconding the vintage planter idea! I’ve found some fantastic old handmade ceramic planters on Etsy for around $10-30 in really great drippy neutral shades. There are also tons of brass planters on Etsy if that’s your thing.

      Erin, loved this post, love your blog. Plants foreverrrr!

  • Reply Hannah June 8, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    What about planter for larger plants? I have a yucca plant that’s in need of a 12″ pot. I was going to go with a plastic one because I’m having a hard time finding reasonably affordable large ones 🙁

    • Reply Kirsten June 8, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      I’m not sure where you’re located, but I’ve gotten some fabulous and huge terra cotta planters at…IKEA.

  • Reply Gill June 9, 2017 at 4:33 am

    Perhaps you could do some decoupage on the plastic pot? : ) love your blogs. Gill. in Yorkshire. England.

  • Reply Zoe June 9, 2017 at 9:46 am

    If you ever just want a garden-y escape, there is a podcast out of the Philly NPR station called “You Bet Your Garden” which is oddly soothing to listen to. He’s got dad-esque catchphrases and light jazz interludes that go on for a weirdly long time, but it’s the perfect thing to listen to when you’re half occupied with other things, like shuffling plants around in various planters .

  • Reply neisha June 9, 2017 at 11:04 am

    cutest planter ever made by my friend Alicia in Montreal

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 9, 2017 at 11:14 am


  • Reply Jeska June 14, 2017 at 5:08 am

    This is my favourite scented pelargonium! Mine is all wild and bent over now.

    Ooh, and paint the pot?! or wrap it in something that will be okay for a long time in all weathers, rugged hessian maybe? Happy gardening xxx 🙂

  • Reply Ceramic Planters August 30, 2022 at 4:11 am

    Your work is beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing with us!

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