Container gardening basics: Thrillers, Fillers, and Spiller Plants. Lists of suggested container plants and container plant combination ‘recipes’ and examples
With spring fully here and summer not too far off, my mind is churning with everything garden. I’m planting my vegetable garden and pondering on what plants to add to my flower garden so that I can have cut flowers spring through fall. I am noodling all my containers and considering what combinations of plants to mix this year. While I love my vegetable and flower gardens, I always enjoy putting together my containers. I think it’s that I get to start with a brand new palette each year and find a combination of plants that really speak to me that makes container gardening so appealing to me.
I went to a Container Gardening workshop through my local Arboretum several years back and was introduced to the terms ‘thriller plants’, ‘filler plants’ and ‘spiller plants’ as they relate to container gardening.
I’m not sure who coined those terms, but I’ve seen them used by both Martha Stewart and Home Depot, as well as other sources when discussing Container Gardening Basics 101.
Container Gardening Basics: Thrillers, Fillers and Spiller Plants
The ‘Thriller Plant’ of your container will be that plant that is as its name implies…the real standout of your container garden.
This plant will typically be the taller plant, placed in the middle or back of your container and will feature dramatic foliage color, structure or flowers. I usually have one great Thriller plant in each pot.
Ornamental grasses, elephant ears, cannas, taros all make great thriller plants. Some other great choices are:
Alocasia, Colocasia (Elephant Ear)
Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant)
Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet)
Echinachea (Cone Flower)
Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)
Muhly Grass, Fountain Grass
Panicum (Panic Grass)
Rohdea (Nippon Lily, Japanese Sacred Lily)
In this pot, the thriller is the Golden Mop Cypress, with Strawberry Mop Coleus as the filler and the Ice Plant doing the duty of the spiller.
The ‘Filler Plants‘ is the plant that will provide a textural or color contrast/complement to your ‘Thriller’ and help fill in your container garden.
When I’m putting my container together, I get my plants in my shopping cart to see if they play well together. I love how the purple grass is complemented by the pink Superbells (calibrachoa) and pink trailing antique rose, while the fluffy Diamond Frost (Euphorbia) plays counterpoint to the spikes of the grass in the planter below.
In this case, the ‘Spillers’, Superbells and Antique Rose, also act as fillers.
Epimedium (Barrenwort, Bishop’s Hat, Fairy Wings, etc)
Euphorbia (Diamond Frost)
Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Oxalis (Wood Sorrel)
Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal)
Ruelia (Wild Petunia)
Zephyranthes (Rain Lillies)
In this almost monochromatic pot, two different coleus (Colorblaze Keystone and Colorblaze Maroon) vie for the thriller’ plant position, while the Lantana does a great job as a filler plant and spiller plant.
The ‘Spiller Plant‘ is the plant that will tumble out of the pot, softening the edges. Look for a plant that will tie the 2-3 other plants together, complimenting or contrasting as need be.
Sweet Potato Plant
Golden Creeping Jenny
There’s a lot of drama in this container with the Purple Sweet Potato Vine playing counterpoint to the Purple Fountain Grass, and the Red Sunstatia adding a bolt of color against the otherwise dark foliage of the container.
I think in a month or two, the Mandevilla vine in this pot will act as both the thriller plant and the spiller plant. I’ll have to remember to go back and take a photo to see how it all comes together.
Window boxes benefit from the same ‘recipe’ of thriller + filler + spiller. The purple Scaveola and Apricot Lace Superbells seem to be the thriller plant, with the white Bacopa and Emerald Lace Sweet Potato vine sharing the duties of filler and spiller.
Once you have decided on your Container Pot combination or ‘recipe’, play around in the dirt to determine the best placement; do you want your thriller to be right in the middle or off to one side? Make sure to add a slow-release fertilizer to the dirt when you plant your container garden.
We get most of our plants from our local Home Depot. They have an extensive variety of thrillers, fillers and spillers from which to choose to create your own “recipe”. They have a wonderful program by which you can Order Online Here and pick it up at your local store within hours or at your convenience.
So, do you have a Container Garden recipe, idea or plant combination that you love? If so, please share it. I gather for container garden recipes like I gather recipes for meals and you can see some of them here.
And, don’t forget! Container gardening isn’t just for the outdoors! You can do indoor container gardens as well.
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