Do you long for a garden but lack the time, space and expertise to start from scratch? Or do you want to give the garden you already have a quick dose of glamour or a new dimension?

Don’t waste your time and money calling a landscape company. The answer to your predicament lies in a pot: container gardens are portable, can be decorative or utilitarian and definitely offer up a satisfying creative gardening experience.

“You can use them by walks and doors, on balconies or patios or even incorporate them into your landscape, which is a hot trend known as ‘potscaping,’” says Nancy Clifton, a horticulturalist at Chicago Botanic Garden, in Glencoe, Illinois.

“You can replace and refresh things as you use them or they die, or even bring the whole thing inside for the winter in a cold climate,” notes Abbie Rea, a horticulturalist at Morton Arboretum, in Lisle, Illinois.

But best of all, you can start a container garden anytime and make it look like you planted it months ago—a true plus for those who want instant results.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Identify the kind of garden you want and how much time you’re willing to put into maintaining it. Do you want sumptuous eye candy, or are you intent on growing your own edibles? Are you looking to make a visual statement, and do you have time to tend your garden each day?

2. Decide where you’ll put your containers. Is that location sunny, shady or a mix of both? Light, temperature and wind exposure in the spot you choose also determine what you can grow. Finally, your geographic locale rules your growing season, though container gardening is a year-round pursuit.

3. Determine your budget. Large containers have more visual impact and require less watering but also take up more space, require more materials and demand a stronger understructure because of weight (which can also limit mobility). The colors and sizes of plants will also be dictated by your budget.

4. Choose interesting containers that add substance and style to their location. Containers come in every size, shape and material imaginable. Consider the properties of the material you choose; for instance, terra-cotta flakes and breaks in cold weather; nonporous materials hold soil moisture better; and concrete is durable but heavy. If you improvise and adapt something, make sure it has a drain hole (use saucers to keep water from going where it isn’t wanted), and if you plan on moving your pot around, stick to something lightweight.

5. Blend your own potting soil; don’t just buy a premixed bag. The garden center where you buy your plants can help you choose the right soil mix and fertilizers.

6. Give your container a theme. Container gardening by theme helps you select plants that go together. Consider choosing plants according to a regional theme, such as Southwest, tropical, or English country. Another way to pump up your container is by building it around a particular color scheme, such as orange, pink or red. Or you can build an herb-garden container. The Bountiful Container (Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey, Workman, $16.95) focuses on edible container gardens.

7. Pick your plants and get planting. The options are virtually endless, and sunlight and climate are so pertinent to this process that it pays to consult the experts at your local garden center or read up on plant selection in a book like Container Gardening for Dummies (Bill Marken, Wiley, $16.99).

For the best visual effect, Clifton suggests this foolproof formula: “Combine thrillers, fillers and spillers.” “Thrillers” are plants that stand upright and have height. “Fillers” tend to be mounding and bushy plants best used for background, and “spillers” cascade over the edge of the container.

Plant four-inch plants to get that “grown in” effect today. (Forget the idea of starting with seeds; they can take weeks to mature.)

And finally, use Clifton’s “cram and jam” method for planting: “Lay the plants out still in their pots so you can get a sense of how the design will look, and pack things closely to achieve a lush, ripened look,” she says.