What Should You Plant in Your Edible Container Garden?

Once February arrives, I’m always eager to get back to my garden.  This winter in Portland, OR, has been much colder than usual and we’ve been stuck indoors due to strong winds, ice, and snow that basically shut the city down on more than one occasion.  

The good news?  I’ve had tons of time to daydream about changes I’d like to make in my garden, like deciding which veggies I’d like to grow and contemplating ways to maximize the growing space.

I generally prefer to grow plants directly in the ground, but there are several places that I don’t feel comfortable growing food in our small city lot, like where a garage once stood and along the side of our house.  One project this year is to increase veggie garden space by adding some large container gardens.  

I began my planning process by writing a list of food my family wants to grow this year, then I came up with plant combos using the thriller, filler and spiller combos.  The plant combos enjoy the same growing environments, and produce a harvest for our family and/or the pollinators.  

If you’re new to container gardening, here’s a quick into to thrillers, fillers, and spillers.  

  • Thrillers are larger or showier plants than the others in that container.

  • Fillers fill the space and are typically medium height.

  • Spillers and cascading plants that grow down the sides of the container.

Here are 7 ideas for gorgeous and edible container gardens:


1 - Hot Wall

The corner that gets the most sun in our yard may have soil contaminated with lead.  To avoid the issue, we will use a large container for this hot spot. 

  • Thriller: tomatoes trained vertically as vines

  • Filler: carrots

  • Spiller: squash


2 - Sunny Container #1

A pleasant sunny location, this space has been underutilized in the past.  This garden is located where a garage once stood.  Gravel is mixed into the soil and who knows what might have been spilled in this area. 

  • Thriller: ground cherry or tomatillo

  • Filler: amaranth (grown for the greens)

  • Spiller: pumpkin


3 - Sunny Container #2

  • Thriller: zinnia

  • Filler: early crop of radishes then lambs quarter (this wonderful weed has been self-seeding for several years. It provides amazingly delicious and nutritious greens, without any work!)

  • Spiller: cucumbers growing up a free standing three-sided trellis


4 - On a Trellis

A tight spot, this location is adjacent to a built in trellis style fence.  The soil is very poor but the trellis style fence gets at least a half day of sunlight, perfect for climbers.

  • Thriller: snap peas

  • Filler: violets


5 - Easily Accessible with a Trellis

Parsley is the most common herb we run to harvest when cooking, so I’m moving it as close as possible to our back door - a planter on our deck.

  • Thriller: green and purple pole beans

  • Filler: parsley

  • Spiller: nasturtiums


6 - Afternoon Sun

Our recycling, city compost, and trash bins are located on the west side of our deck.  To camouflage them a little, a long and narrow planter will be placed on the west side of our deck.  All functional and beautiful plants, this trio will add some color and invite pollinators to our garden.

  • Thriller: borage

  • Filler: cilantro

  • Spiller: German chamomile


7 - Going vertical

A formerly useless long and narrow space between our cellar door and back deck will soon become home to another long and narrow container.  

  • Thriller: dill

  • Filler: calendula

  • Spiller: cucumbers (a climber for the trellis attached to the deck)


8 - Child’s garden

A planter of their own with fruit, veggies, herbs, and edible flowers.  Here's a list of ideas to get you started:

Calendula, peas, pole beans, carrots, chard, dill, lettuce, potatoes, small pumpkins and gourds, chives, strawberries, sunflower, nasturtium, pansy, violet, cherry tomatoes, chamomile, cucumber, dill, lavender, lettuce, squash.

Tip: Start with a small garden that your child can manage and increase the size as your child grows and/or shows more interest.


I'd love to hear from you!  What are you planting this year?  Have you had success growing herbs and veggies in containers?