Friday, November 2nd, 2012...4:38 am

Plants in the Container – Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers

One of Polly’s Pots

You have the containers that you want to fill with plants and those containers have one or more holes in the bottom. You have covered the hole or holes with something that will keep the soil in but will let excess water trickle out and you have filled the container with good soil. Remember, the better the soil, the happier and healthier the plants will be. TheGardenLady wrote that you can buy potting soil in the stores. There are those purists who don’t like to buy their soil in bags, saying it is not alive and healthy. They prefer all compost. But gardeners will have success with good bagged soil. And when you have saved enough compost, the next time you make containers, you can use your own compost. That is why it is so very important to compost all your garbage and lawn clippings and leaves.

So what can you grow in a container? Just about anything that grows in the garden. If you have a container large enough you can plant trees. If you have very small containers you can plant alpine plants. You can plant just one plant in a container. For example, there are containers called strawberry pots where people like to plant strawberries. Or you can use them for planting succulent plants or herbs. (see here)  You can plant more than one plant of the same kind like Begonia ‘Dragon Wings Red’  that will create an impressive show.

And you can use your containers to grow a variety of plants. This is what I am hoping readers will do.

When you choose your plants, a rule of thumb is to plant three different types of plants. Gardeners call them Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers.

The first plant that goes into the center of the pot is erect and taller than the other plants.  This is the plant that gives a “thrill.” You can choose from many erect plants in the nursery.  Consider Angelonia ‘Adessa’ a 2 ft tall plant with many stalks of blue and purple orchid like flowers that last a long time. It likes sun and part shade.  It is grown as a perennial in Temp. Zones 9-11  but elsewhere as an annual. (see here)  Or you could consider Amaranth ‘illumination

A few other suggestions for the thriller plant:

Begonia ‘Dragon Wings Red’ as a single plant

Ornamental Pepper ‘Black Pearl’

Colocasia ‘Madeira’

Canna plants

Nicotiana ‘Perfume Antique Lime’ and ‘Heaven Scent’

Persian Shield

Or you can use a Grass like ‘Blue Dart’

Now around the central plant you will use filler plants. These will be lower plants than the thriller plant.

You can use impatiens or Lantena or petunias or coleus- depending whether the container will be in a sunny spot or a shadier location. There are numerous lower plants that will fill your container with color or greens if you wish.

Then near the edge of your container you will plant the Spillers or plants that will vine down and hang around the edge of your planter. They can be just leaves or the spillers can have flowers like Bacopa ‘Blue Sensation” or ‘Atlas White’ with cascading flowers. (see here) I have a friend who adores this plant in her containers.

Other spiller plant suggestions:

Sweet potato vines- very popular since it comes in different colored leaves

Calibrachoa ‘Noa’ tiny petunia flowers


Licorice plant



Seavola ‘Top Hat Blue’

You can plant your containers with plants you start from seed or you can go to your local nursery and have fun checking out what is available. Read labels to see if the plants will go together- for example, if the container will be put in a sunny location, you want sun loving plants. If you have a shady area where the plants will be, find shade loving plants. Get plants that want similar amounts of water. You don’t want to plant bog plants with your plants that don’t like to sit in water.

Check the label for the height of the plants so the thriller plant in the center will be the tallest and the filler plants will be shorter.

A woman by the name of Polly was so successful with creating container plantings that she started a business creating the pots for both private clients and for the town of Princeton, NJ. Here are some photos of her container creations.   Notice the size of the planter on the street. In the center, her thriller is a canna lily- it may be Bengal tiger.  And notice the spiller. It is the purple leaf sweet potato vine. Some containers use perennials as the thriller and add annuals as the filler and spiller. Some containers are planted with all annuals.

Container gardening really can bring out the artist in you.  Please send photos of your container creation to share with TheGardenLady readers. Any tips you learned along the way while you were creating your container garden will also be appreciated.

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