Fun, Whimsical, Easy Ideas for Unique, Thrifty Garden Containers

By Lisa Watters-Lain, Arizona’s Garden Gal

Unusual containers are gardening fun. Heading to a thrift store to hunt down the perfect, on-the-cheap planters, and then figuring out how to use them, is a great way to spend an afternoon with a girlfriend.  On a recent trip with one of my friends, we spotted this tote in a thrift store for three bucks and just couldn’t resist. Back at home, I recalled a similar bag in an upstairs closet … and that’s how we acquired the two bags in this photo!

Not being waterproof, they only will last for a couple of seasons; but, hey, the one was only three dollars!

A significant concern is making sure the new planters will look good for an entire season.To make this project viable, create drainage holes, line the bag to minimize water damage, and use succulents. Somehow, in a feng shui kind of way, succulents just look right with their strange and beautiful textures against the materials of the bags. Plus, they don’t require much water so, no matter the fabric of the purse, it could last for a year.

Another great tip: adapt this idea to turn many other thrift-store finds into containers. I used a similar technique for planting yellow patent leather stilettos!

This simple creativity looks great for backyard parties, weddings, and corporate events, so have fun and be creative.

Here’s how to get started:

Project Materials

  • A heavy duty plastic bag (I used a heavy zip-lock bag, but you can use any plastic bag, depending on the size of your purse or container)
  • Succulent and Cactus potting soil (use high-quality soil—we have an excellent one at Watters)
  • A small purse, a pair of shoes, gloves or other unique container (consider how you’ll display it, and which types of plants would look good together inside it)
  • Combination of succulents and or sedums (these work best because of their drought tolerance and ease of care, these plants provide season-long beauty; fill your container with all the plants you can squeeze in)
  • Sharp scissors

Considerations to Keep in Mind

Drainage: It’s surprising how much water a well-made leather bag can hold. I found it’s best to cut a hole in the bottom of the container, where it can’t be seen. Even when a bag or container is hung from a post a strategically placed drainage hole is best. Use sharp pruners or scissors to cut a one-inch hole. It doesn’t have to be tidy, but it does have to be reasonably large so water can drain away.  Also, it needs to be close enough to the bottom of the container so water doesn’t pool, causing the roots to steep and rot.

Lining the Container: Use the plastic bag to line the container. I use my finger to poke a relatively long piece of the plastic liner through the hole, then cut off the end of the bag so water can escape.

Preparing the Container: Fill the plastic bag with Succulent and Cactus Potting Soil to within 1” from the top of the container, leaving room for the plants.  Tamp down lightly with your hand.  Trim the plastic bag, so it is just above the soil line.

Planting: Mix and match to make your plantings fun; there is no right or wrong way to fill the planter.  Succulents like Hens and Chicks are so endearing and somehow comforting that they are good candidates for purse/tote planters. We must have a dozen different captivating varieties at the garden center at any given time. Be sure to press down on the planted soil so the roots will have solid footings.  You might have to remove some of the bottom leaves depending on the container. Or, slightly mound the soil at center above the edge of the bag. Pack in enough succulents so no dirt is visible, or apply a topdressing of small stones, glass beads, gravel, or moss. Give the planted container a heavy soaking until water is dripping out of the drainage hole.

Caring for Your New Planter: Water the plants at least once per week, feeding with Watters ‘Flower Power 54’ twice per month. When lined with a plastic bag it’s surprising how long a container planter can go between waterings.

Design Help: If you find a real thrift gem and just don’t know where to start, bring it to Watters. If I’m busy, our entire team of garden enthusiasts loves helping with fun garden projects like this one.

Consider this “Even Easier” Option

Hang an elegant evening bag indoors, “planted” with decorative Tillandsias, also known as air plants. No soil is needed; simply place a combination of air plants in the decorative bag. Once a week, take each plant out of its purse and deep soak in the bathroom sink for an hour.  It’s that easy.

Until the next issue, I’ll be helping friends plant their own stylin’ purse gardens here at Watters Garden Center.

Lisa Watters-Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott. or contacted through her web site at or .