Tips For Container Gardening Design: What Is A Thriller, Filler Spiller

Tips For Container Gardening Design: What Is A Thriller, Filler Spiller

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

What is a thriller, filler, spiller? This set of simple rhyming words – thrillers, fillers, and spillers – removes the intimidation factor from container gardening design. Read on to learn how to create professional-looking container plant designs by grouping plants into these three basic categories.

Container Gardening Design with Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers

Container flower gardening need not be intimidating to those new to the garden world. In fact, a simple method for ensuring beautiful focal points in the home or garden includes the use of thriller, filler, and spiller plants.

Thriller plants – Thrillers are the big, bold focal point of your container plant designs. This plant provides an eye-catching vertical element. Tall ornamental grasses such as purple fountain grass or Japanese sweet flag work well, but you can also use spiky blooming plants such as:

  • Canna lily
  • Asters
  • Cosmos
  • Salvia
  • Dahlia

If you’ll be viewing your container from all sides, the thriller goes in the middle. If your view the container from the front, plant the thriller in the back.

Filler plants – Fillers are mid-size, mounding, or rounded plants that surround and enhance the thriller and fill the space in the planter. You can use one filler or opt for two or three different plants in your container gardening design. The difficult part is selecting the plant from so many choices, but a few suggestions include:

  • Begonias
  • Coleus
  • Petunias
  • Lantana
  • Heliotrope
  • Geraniums
  • Caladium
  • Gerbera daisies
  • Gazania
  • Heuchera
  • Ageratum

Spiller plants – Spillers are splashy plants that cascade and tumble over the sides of the container. Have some fun with your container gardening design! For example, here are some popular choices:

  • Sweet potato vine (available in purple or green)
  • Bacopa
  • Ivy
  • Trailing lobelia
  • Vinca
  • Alyssum
  • Nasturtium
  • Trailing begonia
  • Calibrachoa

Using thrillers, fillers, and spillers removes the complication from container flower gardening, allowing you to have fun and exercise your creative muscle. Just be sure to choose plants with the same sunlight and water requirements when selecting plants for your container plant designs.

This article was last updated on

Read more about Container Gardens

Container Gardening

Plants add value and beauty to a landscape. They can draw attention to features or hide unsightly views. Vegetables have the added benefit of providing nutritious food. However, bad soil, poor drainage, and hard surfaces can severely limit a plant’s ability to survive. Furthermore, some people are physically challenged and unable to garden at ground level. All of these factors can be discouraging to grow plants. Container gardening can remedy many of these challenges, allowing everyone to enjoy the opportunity to garden. This fact sheet will help you design and build ornamental and vegetable container gardens appropriate for your landscape.

Flowering Thrillers

Learn about plants that make great thrillers in combination planters.

Gardening in containers is ubiquitous and for good reason. We can all find a spot to place a planter of some kind. When creating patio planters having a tall "thriller" in the middle or back of your planter is one of the best ways to add drama and height. It is also a great way to get the height needed to really balance out the container that holds the plants. Thrillers are sometimes almost an afterthought in combination planters, but they deserve to have the spotlight all to themselves too. This season we are introducing 10 awesome new thrillers to the market. Not only do these plants thrive in containers, they are great in landscapes as well. I think you're going to love them!

First up are the Angelface ® Angelonia. We have added one upgraded color - Angelface ® Perfectly Pink. This plant has large flowers, dense branching and a raspberry-pink color with dark buds and new stems. The color is like nothing I've ever seen on an Angelonia and the blooms are larger than what you are used to seeing too. Angelface ® are heat tolerant, low water use, tough plants that are well suited to most gardens. In addition to being great thrillers they are wonderful in landscapes, which is probably my favorite use for them. From left to right, below: Breathtaking, Angelface ® Perfectly Pink and One in a Million.

In addition to our regular Angelface ® , I want to introduce you to our Angelface ® Super plants. These new plants were created to be used as cut flowers and they do make great cutflower bouquets. But that doesn't mean they aren't also great landscape plants and wonderful thrillers for combinations. They top out around 3 1/2 feet tall, whereas our regular Angelface ® are about 2 feet, max - which is already taller than most Angelonia. So if you are looking for something tall, tough and willowy, this is the plant for you. They come in three colors - blue, pink and white.

I know the songs say "diamonds are a girl's best friend," but I say daisies are a girl's best friend. For decades now Butterfly has been the best, most heat tolerant Argyranthemum on the market. The large, butter yellow daisy flowers are a delight in the landscape or containers. While we have searched the world over - really, literally, the world - and repeatedly struck out, until now - we finally have a white version of our favorite daisy called Pure White Butterfly ™ . This is the original Butterfly, but with the much coveted white flowers. At one and a half to three feet tall, they are great as thrillers in containers, but are awesome in the landscape as well. Since Pure White Butterfly ™ is brand new I don't have a lot of photos of it, but I have included some of Butterfly as well to give you a good idea of what it will look like in combinations and landscapes.

The tropical look is still popular everywhere, no matter where you live. Canna Lilies have long been a stalwart in gardens all over. They are sturdy plants with bright colors and a tropical feel. The bonus? Hummingbirds adore them! They grow quickly and are a great summer plant where the hotter it is, the happier they are. Most Cannas are 5 feet or taller, and our new Toucan ® Canna series is relatively compact, with a final height around 4 feet, which means you can grow them in landscapes and very large container combinations. I tend to use them in containers by themselves, but grouped with other planters to give the effect of a combination planter, and this approach gives the Canna plenty of elbow room. They can tolerate some dry soils and will do well with wet soils as well. This new collection comes in four colors (from left to right, below) Toucan ® Dark Orange, Toucan ® Rose, Toucan ® Scarlet and Toucan ® Yellow.

When it comes to thrillers, Graceful Grasses ® King Tut ® Cyperus is hard to beat. This variety reaches 5 or more feet tall in one season, and looks like a plant Dr. Seuss would have created - it is an awesome plant. But sometimes King Tut ® is just too much plant, yet you need something just as cool, but a whole lot smaller. Well, we have the plant for you - Graceful Grasses ® Prince Tut ™ , which tops out at about 30 inches tall. Prince Tut ™ is short and sturdy and works in the landscape, in containers by itself or in very large combination planters. It can take normal soil conditions, but will also happily grow in water gardens. In fact, I usually grow the Tuts in containers with no drainage holes and treat them as if they are their own mini-water gardens. This plant has something for everyone. The two photos below show the difference in height between Prince Tut ™ , on the left, and King Tut ® on the right.

Graceful Grasses ® Prince Tut ™ is also a great container plant, of course, as these photos show. From left to right, the combination Dream Big, Prince Tut ™ in a mono and on the right, the Follow Your Dream Combo.

Additonal articles you might enjoy:

How to create a container garden with the Thriller, Filler, Spiller concept.

For even more ideas, visit us on Pinterest.

How to use thriller plants in the landscape: Layered Landscapes.

Close to 100 more combination ideas: Container Garden Recipes.

Patent info: Angelface ® Perfectly Pink Angelonia hybrid USPPAF, Can PBRAF Angelface ® Super Blue Angelonia hybrid USPPAF, Can PBRAF Angelface ® Super White Angelonia hybrid USPPAF, Can PBRAF Angelface ® Super Pink Angelonia hybrid USPPAF, Can PBRAF Pure White Butterfly ™ Argyranthemum frutescens 'G14420' USPPAF, Can PBRAF

Coordinate Your Plants

The color combos are up to you. Blue and yellow work well together, as do burgundy and yellow, or burgundy and pink. Mixing leaf shapes and textures adds a lot of visual interest, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Also, remember that plants grown in pots need significantly more water and fertilizer than those grown in the ground since they aren’t getting nutrients from the soil. It’s best to water every other day if there is no rain and fertilize once a week with a water-soluble fertilizer. Many potting mediums come with fertilizer as part of the mix, but it won’t last the entire growing season.

See our Indoor Gardening Guide for more small-space gardening inspiration!

How It Works

The idea is straightforward using this planting technique means you’ll have various pops of color and texture reaching three or four feet tall.

First, you want to choose your pot. Make sure it’s a bigger sized one because you’re going to be squeezing quite a few plants into this space. There are many types to choose from, but my personal favorite is clay. Terracotta gives an area such a natural feel!

When designing my containers this year, I used the book Gardening Complete: How to Best Grow Vegetables, Flowers, and Other Outdoor Plants for a little refresher.

This wonderful bible recommends beginning in the center of the pot with one tall thriller plant. It should be quite narrow-growing as well. Look below for examples of plants that are well-suited for this category.

Next, choose a lower-growing plant for the filler, making sure it doesn’t grow higher than about a foot. Include two or three of them and plant them around the thriller.

Finally, select some plants that will spill over the edge of the pot, giving it a final, whimsical touch. You’ll need three or four of these, depending on the size of the container.

Thrillers, Spillers and Fillers plants

Thriller plants

Thriller plant is the height that dramatizes and combine your Container garden and home Vertically attractive. These can be a flower or leafy ornamental plants or indoor plants. Thrillers are usually kept in the center or behind the container Place thrillers in the center of the container, to be easily seen from everywhere. These are a Perennial sunflower, canna, Summer Lilac, Blue Lily, Hydrangea, aster, cosmos, etc.

Fillers plants

Thriller plants are selected, then the next time you start choosing filler varieties Fillers plants are more spherical or mixed plants and the entire container appears to be full. Fillers’ plants are normally placed in or near the thriller plant. If you put the Thriller plant in the container center, then fill the Fillers plants around the thriller variety. some example is coleus, Begonia, Pansy, Pentas, Lantana, Heart of Jesus, ornamental plants. Read more.

Spiller plants

In the end, you add spillers plants in your container gardening. Spillers plants are trailing plants and hang on the edge of the container they are placed on the edge of the container, spillers are clearly visible from any point of view. If the container is being seen from all sides, the spills should be kept on all sides. According to Lobelias, fuchsia, Calibrachoa, Nasturtium, Scaevola aemula are the best spiller plants.

Caring For Your Planter-Dead Heading

An essential practice for any annual garden is dead heading removing spent blooms, but it isn't just the colourful petals that need to be removed it is also the seed head itself, the green portion underneath the petals. If that is left the plant will go to seed and stop flowering since it has completed it's life cycle and feels that it has fulfilled it's purpose to spread and continue that type of plant in the world. Dead heading will keep the plant blooming the whole season long, combined with using a flowering plant fertilizer.

Expert Advice

What are Beneficial Nematodes?

How to control some pesky insects with the use of beneficial nematodes

Watch the video: How to Create a Thriller, Filler, Spiller Garden