Plan for thrillers, fillers and spillers in container gardens

New plants available for designing come spring

For the HeraldJanuary 31, 2013 

— One day of sunshine has me thinking about what flowers I’m going to plant in my container gardens this year.

While it’s good to have a plan, I’m usually a bit capricious when I plant shop. I like to try a plant or variety that I haven’t seen before. Plus, I like to experiment with flower color and foliage texture combinations.

However, I do keep basic design principles in mind, especially for my large patio containers. I look for “thrillers, fillers, and spillers.” A thriller is your focal point, the main vertical element that goes in the center of the pot or at the back of the pot if viewed only from one direction. It can be something as simple as purple fountain grass, a spiky dracaena or more dramatic, like deep burgundy ColorBlaze Marooned coleus or the award winning canna South Pacific Scarlet.

Fillers usually are shorter, with smaller flowers, than your thriller. Fillers are rounded or mounded plants that complement and “fill” in around the thriller. They should be placed halfway between the thriller and the pot’s edge. Dependable fillers include alyssum, ageratum, annual salvia, licorice vine, dwarf dahlia, marigolds and pansies.

Spillers are trailing plants placed close to the edge or the pot. Effective spillers like bacopa “spill” over the side, softening the edge. Some vigorous spillers, such as lime green and dark purple sweet potato vines, Easy Wave petunias and calibrachoa, also serve as fillers. New annual plants available to gardeners this year include a variety of exciting thrillers, fillers and spillers:


ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper is a heat-tolerant coleus with copper to bronze leaves. Wasabi, another heat-tolerant coleus, has serrated bright chartreuse leaves that go well with hot pink flowers.

Field of Dreams is a variegated green and white sweet corn with a tinge of rose. It could make an interesting thriller, but use it in large containers since it grows to a height of five feet and yes, it does produce ears of popping corn.


Frosty Knight is a white alyssum hybrid that’s heat tolerant and doesn’t need deadheading to keep it in bloom all season long. It’s mounding and trailing. Blushing Princess is similar but has lavender flowers.

Lemon Zest is a mounding lantana with yellow and white flowers. Pina Colada is similar with creamy white flowers. Cherry Sunrise has a blend of gorgeous cherry pink and orange flowers.

Super Cal Violet Petchoa is a dark pink hybrid cross between petunia and calibrachoa, combining the best traits of both plants. This petchoa is heat and cool-weather tolerant and doesn’t have the sticky leaves of petunias.

Double Hot Cherry and Double Deep Salmon are two new members of the Profusion zinnia line. Hot Cherry with rich rose, double petalled blooms and Deep Salmon with deep pink-orange double blooms. They flower continuously from spring through frost.


Rose Chai, Deep Yellow and Magenta are three new MiniFamous Double calibrachoa from Ball that have true double flowers. Proven Winner’s Lemon Zest calibrachoa has single bright yellow and white bicolor flowers.

Shock Wave Deep Purple is a new member of the Wave family, with deep purple centers on purple (really dark pink) petite blooms. Watch out, the vigorous plants trail to a length of three feet.

Watermelon Charm is a new member of the heat tolerant Proven Winner Supertunia family. It has small watermelon red flowers produced all season long on mounded trailing plants.

-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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