Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers Part 1

By Hattie Ryan        

As you walk into a nursery and get hit by a wave of humidity and earthy smells, your eyes see all the colors of the rainbow that go on forever. As a plant lover you may be so ecstatic that your first reaction will be to grab every plant that catches your eye! But as there are not enough pots in the world to plant everything you could possibly want, there is a catchy phrase to stay focused on your goal of creating beautiful container planters: Thrillers, fillers, and spillers. This simple phrase will help you organize the copious amounts of plants into three easy categories as you walk through your favorite nursery and your plant choices will work harmoniously together to create a stunning planting container.

TLC Garden’s Contra Verde Project. Canna lilies serve as the thriller and dragon blood sedum serves as the filler/spiller in these custom-made steel planters fabricated in-house by our talented team.

The first step of creating a pot is to find your thriller. Look for plants that make a statement with bold colors, height, and/or beauty. The thriller is the star of the show and is complemented by the fillers and spillers. Dahlias, canna lilies, elephant ears, and banana plants are great examples of thriller plants for the Front Range area of Colorado (plant hardiness zones 4-5).

An excellent example of a banana plant used as a thriller

‘Begonia Luxurians’ used as the thriller and focal point of this elegant container at the Chanticleer Garden

Step two is to find fillers. These plants will fill the extra space between the thriller plants and the spiller plants on the edge. They complement the thriller plant, create volume, and add texture, though they do not outshine the thriller plant. Excellent examples of filler plants include coleus, osteospermum “African Daisy,” licorice plant, and even ornamental grasses. Ornamental grasses add texture and interest as they sway in the wind and varieties such as Japanese forest grass can be very complementary and elegant. 

CLICK HERE for PART 2 of the “Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers” series! Next up you will learn about spillers, the final step in creating a gorgeous container, along with creative ways to use edible flowers while entertaining!