Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thriller, Filler, Spiller

Sheila Schultz, Denver, Colorado
Former winner from a container design challenge
I have to admit that I have yet to master the idea of "Thriller, Filler, Spiller".  It takes a controlled hand to only plant a few specimens into one pot.  My issue is placing too many of the wrong plants this next blog on pots is about the art of designing an arrangement of plants together. I have just started buying large pots around the property and so while I don't have any "master" samples yet, I will down the road. Many of you already know this concept but this may be something new for those just starting to garden.  It doesn't matter where you live to utilize this design because it can happen anywhere....all you need is a pot.  However, I may be the first "desert" person to utilize this idea with cacti/succulents while creating that coral sea affect that I mentioned in an earlier blog.  But because of the weather, I can't begin my arrangements until March when the weather warms up.  Let's talk about this idea in detail.....

Kathy Mackenzie, Abington, Massachusetts
"Thriller, filler, spiller" is a simple idea.  3 plants.....notice again the idea of "3" being repeated with this design.  "3" seems to be magic number in the garden to set the human mind at ease.  Our eyes are attracted to "3" or "5" combinations.  But I'm sure that some of you have broken that golden rule and made this idea your own style:) Let's take the terms and understand them.  "Thriller" stands out in the pot and grabs our attention.  It sometimes will be the larger of the plants with bigger leaves, colorful leaves, or taller stems.  Sometimes it may have a colorful and bright flower that stands out from the rest.  Cannas are considered a thriller as are bananas/musa or large elephant ear plants.  These plants should be considered if you are putting together a tropical plant theme.  "Filler" is what fills the pot.  Many plants are considered fillers.  For example, again using the tropical plant theme, I use bushy flowery plants like the painted sky or caladiams for contrast.  Finally, we have the "spiller" which refers to that plant which spills over the pot towards the ground.  Here I use ice plants, sweet potato vine, or spider plants which do well in Tucson.

Jane Horn, Prior Lake, Minnesota

What's important is that you keep your themes together.......tropical with tropical, desert with desert, etc. Others will disagree and tell you to mix it up.  Do it....go with your feelings. Use a lot of contrasting color of leaves and flowers, BUT this is the one rule you MUST remember.  Make sure you place plants together that require the same watering schedule. Your job now is to identify these container winner's arrangements and identify what's the "Thriller, Filler, Spiller".  It's good practice.  Don't cheat and skip to the bottom for the answers.....see if you can identify the arrangements and identify if they are the thriller, filler, or spiller in each pot.  I'll let the masters guide you here as I am just a novice right now:)
Images and article taken from:
About an article on a 2007 Container Design Challenge.  Answers below.....
"Balancing shapes with textures.
While all of the plants Sheila chose for this planting are succulent, their widely varying textures make the combination dynamic. The paddle plant’s broad leaves and the aeonium’s dark foliage add visual bulk to cover up the stalk of the weeping yucca. As a whole, the plants also inversely mimic the shape of their vessel, creating a pleasingly balanced composition. Sheila and her husband moved from the shady suburbs of Chicago to the intense sun and dry air of Denver just four years ago. We think she’s putting her new palette of sun-loving plants to good use."


Weeping yucca (Yucca recurvifolia, USDA Hardiness Zones 7–9)

Pencil tree (Euphorbia tirucallii, not hardy below Z 11)

Paddle plant (Kalan­choe thyrsiflora, Z 11)

‘Zwartkop’ aeonium (Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’, Z 9–11)

‘Angelina’ sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, Z 6–9)



Tropicanna® canna (Canna Tropicanna®, Zones 8-11)

'Silvery Sunproof' liriope (Liriope muscari 'Silvery Sunproof', Zones 6-10)

Geranium (Pelargonium cv., Zone 11)

'Sweet Caroline Red' sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Sweet Caroline Red', Zone 11)

Calibrachoas (Calibrachoa cvs., annual)

'Lemon Symphony' osteospermum (Osteospermum 'Lemon Symphony', Zones 10-11


"This thriller is a spiller, too. Jane stumbled upon the rex begonia vine while searching the nursery for a thriller. Trained on a metal hoop, it makes an excellent centerpiece for her entry. She loves the purple and silver leaves, and chose the remaining plants to highlight both the purple tones in the vine’s leaves and the purple-glazed pot. Eventually, Jane trained the thriller into a spiller and visually pulled the plants together."

Rex begonia vine (Cissus discolor, Z 11)


Purple shamrock (Oxalis triangularis, Z 6–10)

Shadow Dancer™ Ginger fuchsia (Fuchsia Shadow Dancer™ Ginger, Z 9–11)


Velvet Moon™ wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri Velvet Moon™, annual)

Until next time, stay tuned for more from the garden.......
Next post is on what we Tucson gardeners need to be doing in our gardens this month.

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