Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers

I've had several questions about container gardening this week, so I thought it might be a good blog topic.  Container gardening can be very fun and rewarding if done right.  The most common question I get asked is, "What plants go together?"  To answer this, I say a pot needs a "Thriller, Filler, and Spiller" to fill out nicely.  I usually get a few laughs or puzzled looks, but I promise this is a recipe for success with containers!


A thriller is usually a taller plant that is the focal point of the pot.  They are the boldest and most exciting part of the group.  Interesting flowers and/or colorful foliage are a couple of things to look for in a thriller.  It is essentially the backbone of the pot, so pick something that has strong visual impact.  The thriller should go in the center of the pot when viewed from all angles, or in the back of the pot when viewed in a corner.  I pick my thriller first, and then co-ordinate my filler and spiller around it.  A few examples for container thrillers are:

For smaller pots:
  • Rudbeckia
  • Amazon Neon Duo Dianthus
  • Coleus (until frost)
  • Cat Whiskers
  • Foxtail Fern
For Larger pots:
  • Purple Fountain grass
  • Aspidistra
  • Cannas
  • Giant Katie Ruellia
  • Variegated Ginger
(Of course these are only a few examples, and many more can be found at local nurseries.)


Fillers are used for volume to fill out the container.  They should have complimentary flowers to your thriller.  You can even experiment with contrasting color foliage from your thriller.  Texture of foliage even comes into play with fillers.  A spiky leaf thriller goes nicely with a rounded leaf filler and vice versa.  Either way, this should fill out the pot and not grow taller than your thriller. Don't be afraid to use annuals for your fillers since the blooms sometimes last longer than some perennials, giving the container a bigger visual impact.  This selection should be planted around your thriller so it will fill up the base of the pot.  Some good examples are:
  • Lantana
  • Begonias
  • Petunias
  • Dianthus
  • Ornamental Cabbage or Kale
  • Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender'
  • Dusty Miller
  • Cupheas
  • 'Diamond Frost' Euphorbia

Spillers are the anchor to your pot.  They spill over the pot giving the container a look of life and abundance.  The main point of the spiller is to soften the edges of the pot as it spills over the edge and trails the ground.  Again, a spiller should compliment the thriller and filler in color, but can contrast with foliage textures as well.  These should be planted on the edge of the pot to allow them to spill over.  Some good spillers are:
  • Sweet Potato Vine
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Chenille Plant
  • Nasturtiums
  • Alternanthera
  • Lysimachia
  • Pink Buttons
  • Australian Violet
I've given you many examples of each component to a great container garden, but I should also stress that the placement of the pot matters on which plants can go together.  Sun requirements and water requirements need to all match for each plant.  If they don't match, you'll have a lopsided pot when one plant thrives and another dies.  I also want to mention soil as well.  I use a mix of potting soil and rose soil in my containers. The potting soil is light and airy which is needed in pots since the roots are in a confined space and need aeration.  I like rose soil for its composition, and I use it in my flower beds as well.  I combine the two together with a few handfuls of MicroLife fertilizer before I plant my plants.  If the drainage hole at the bottom of your pot is large, a rock can be placed over it to prevent soil from running out of the bottom and provide drainage for water.  Drainage is essential to successful container gardening.  Standing water in saucers is a sure fire way to get root rot and other water born fungal diseases.  The roots need aeration to thrive and be healthy.  Using this soil and drainage technique will give you success!

With the Thriller, Filler and Spiller method, you'll be a container gardening pro in no time!  Have fun pairing things up with one another.  If you find something doesn't work in one pot, put it in another.  Play around with color combinations, foliage, and textures.  Don't let flowers stop you either:  Herbs make great container plants and even have thrillers, fillers, and spillers that make great combinations together.  The sky is the limit!

Good Luck and Happy Planting!

1 comment:

  1. wish I was in a zone 8, im 4B contemplating planting a butterfly bush- dont know if it would survive the winter. Lovely containers you have


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