Thrillers-fillers-spillers in large ceramic outdoor pots

One of my favorite garden pastimes is cooking up new ideas for planting containers. I’ve never bothered to count just how many large ceramic outdoor pots I plant each year, but the number easily tops 100.

But no matter how many large ceramic outdoor pots I display, I’ve come to realize there’s no mystery in making a scrumptious container planting as long as I follow a simple three-ingredient recipe. First and foremost is what I call a “thriller,” a centerpiece plant with star quality, something big, bold, and beautiful. Then I add a few spicy “fillers,” foliage or flowering plants that will complement but not overwhelm the main player. Finally, I add a savory splash of mischief, a “spiller” that just tumbles out of the pot. As long as I use each of those kinds of plants—in various proportions—and take care to balance colors and textures, I can create a pot with pizzazz.

GardenDesign-GardeningwContainers1
GardenDesign-GardeningwContainers1

Thrillers work best in compositions where they are the tallest plant. For me, they are also the starting point in a container design. I select my thriller, then build around it. At planting time, the thriller goes in the center of a large ceramic outdoor pots that will be viewed from all sides or at the back of a pot that will be displayed in a corner or against a wall.

When planting a large ceramic outdoor pots, I position my fillers around the thriller. I often use a mix of plants for this job: some with foliar interest, others with flowers. For flowery fillers, I avoid perennial varieties in favor of uncommon, striking annuals or tender perennials for their much longer flowering season. Since the goal of container plants is to attract the eye, these plants add an alluring unusual flavor. I like bountiful-looking containers, so I cram in as many fillers as I can.

glazed ceramic garden pot
glazed ceramic garden pot

Spillers should do more than soften a pot and link it to its place. Well-chosen spillers continue the dialogue begun by the thriller and filler. To deepen that conversation, I look for spillers that echo or contrast with the pot’s other plants by virtue of shape, color, or texture.

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