One of my favorite things to do each growing season is fill the several planters on the front porch and around the yard. I have a few that are larger in scale and lend themselves well to a grouping of plants in a single pot. Just as decorative objects on display in the home look better in odd numbers, plants arranged in a trio look equally beautiful. In container gardening, the technique is called the “thriller, filler, spiller” and its application never fails to create an interesting yet harmonious container.
The showy centerpiece or “thriller” grows tall and proud, the “filler” flowers up next to it provide fullness and complement the main attraction, and the “spiller” creeps out of the pot towards the ground to create one full and lush container.
Thrillers are the starting point since they’re the attention grabbers and typically the tallest plant. I always begin the design with the thriller first, choosing it at the nursery, then selecting the annuals that go around it after the thriller is chosen.
The pot is filled up one third with fresh container soil then the thriller is placed in the middle (in this case it’s bicolor blue Senetti), planted so that it takes center stage.
More soil is added and in come the spillers. I’m in the habit of adding the trailing flower next then squeezing in the fillers last when I know how much room I have to spare, but it’s really up to the gardener as to which goes next, filler or spiller.
Because I’m using white Petunias as a filler, I chose another cool tone for the spiller in the form of trailing blue Calibrachoa. Spillers are equally important because they grow over the edge of the pot spilling down towards the ground to soften the look of the container.
Finally Petunia fillers are woven into the space between, and more soil is carefully placed on top. I picked petunias because they’re such a friendly tolerant flower and actually grow more than one season if I’m lucky.
The use of white adds a nice contrast to what would otherwise be a grouping of blue, but plays well with the white centers of the bicolor Senetti. Fillers also hide the stalks of the thriller and add mass to the entire structure.
I enjoy having the dirt under my fingernails during the warmer months, beautifying the yard with new annuals and perennials. I keep most of the plantings in the cooler shades of blue, white, and sometimes pinks for a harmonious palette, but I’m always looking to create interest by varying the sizes, textures, and growing stages of the plantings.
Over the years I experiment, planting different combinations of thrillers, fillers, and spillers to come up with different compositions each year. Scale is important, so I try to combine plants that will continue to be proportional during the growing season.
There really are no rules when it comes to arranging flowers in containers. Planting what you love and what will thrive in your zone is most important, and your local nursery is the best place to study up on what will grow well in your garden. No matter what you choose to plant, using the thriller, filler, spiller technique is pretty much a guarantee of success.
One of my favorite resources that I turn to time and again is the Sunset Western Garden book. It’s tabbed with all my notes over the years, and I highly recommend it for anyone living in the western United States, it has taught me a lot.
Now for those of you with green thumbs (or wannabe green thumbs!) in Northern California, I have great news so mark your calendars! I’ve partnered with Home Depot to co-teach a Do-It-Yourself Gardening Workshop in Roseville on Thursday May 3rd. There will be a gardening expert present and I’ll handle the creative ideas presentation. We’ll be talking about herb gardens and terrariums, and it will take place in the evening (6:00 ish) – I’ll share more details in the upcoming weeks. Hope to meet some of the local readers there!
What’s your latest spring planting project? Got any seeds growing in your windowsill or new annuals in pots? What’s your favorite planting combination in your zone? Do share.