by Darrel Mayers
Most of us struggle as designers… and when faced with a terra
cotta pot or half a whiskey barrel by the front door to fill with
plants, for me there's quite a lot of guesswork involved.
Luckily over the past few years a design secret has been leaking
out into popular garden magazines, giving us non-designers a use-
ful handle: 'thriller, filler, spiller.' It rhymes, it's easy to remem-
ber… and it works like this.
All you need is three different types of plants. Oh . . . and there's
a bit of show-business involved!
For the centerpiece of your pot, you choose a 'thriller.' This is the
star that needs to catch everyone's eye. It works well if it has some
height to it – and maybe also sways attractively in the wind. Your
star can be a flower, grass or an ornamental.
For the filler, think of it as a 'supporting actor' that complements
rather than competes with the star. (Remember you've got to keep
the star happy, and un-threatened!) It should be of medium height,
and you can plant it all around your thriller. Begonias, vincas, zinn-
ias and marigolds are all good candidates for this role.
Finally, the spiller, which could be thought of as 'the extras,' or
even the movie set. It should grow low to the ground, and drape
over the pot, softening the rim of the container, and helping to
bind the design together. Good spillers include: moss rose, pur-
slane, silver ponyfoot, cora cascade vinca.
Be sure that you take into account where they're all going to reside.
Your trio of plants should all flourish in full sun, or all flourish in
dappled shade etc.
A few weeks ago I asked some of the gardeners who work here to
put together some plants in a container that followed this design
idea, and was delighted when Jerry Hinton and David Sargert
stepped up to the challenge.
Jerry created a very pretty arrangement using skyflower / durantia
as the thriller, santolina as the filler and blackfoot daisy as the spiller.
(See photo at the top of the article.)
David also created this lovely design, using Persian shield as the
thriller, and a combo of silver ponyfoot and wandering Jew as the
spiller and filler. (All the plants that David and Jerry used are in
stock at the nursery.)
It can be fun activity to put the four elements of the pot and the
three plants together at your local nursery. Good luck, and happy