Container Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers

As we move in to May it’s we begin to brighten up our patios, and at this time of year that means flowers, flowers, flowers. Although there is still risks of frosts it’s not too early to start thinking about planting up your containers with tender plants that will provide flowers right the way through summer. The following steps will hopefully help you to get good results and value for money.

Firstly select a suitable container for your situation and ensure that it has adequate drainage to prevent waterlogging. Consider adding gravel, stones or polystyrene into the bottom to improve this if necessary. Then select a suitable compost for the type of plants that you wish to grow.  The most convenient type to use would be a container and basket compost that already contains slow release feed and water retaining crystals. After this is time to select a mixture of plants that will complement each other to create the perfect display.  These can be split into the following three groups Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers.



Usually this is one individual plant that is placed in the centre of the container. This should be the largest plant, and is often of a tall and upright habit. In most cases as the name suggests (thrillers) this plant should be striking in as many ways as possible. Look for plants that have continues flowering periods and also give consideration to the colour and texture of the foliage. Plants such as Ageranthemums, Bush Fuchsias, Geraniums and Osteospernums are ideal for this.  Other tall plants such as Conifers, Cordylines and Phormiums can also be used. Although these don’t flower they add architectural value and other plants can be added to provide further interest.


Fillers  These are used to add colour, body and texture to the container.  They are usually placed in a ring around the base of the ‘Thriller’. The choice of the Thriller plant will have an effect on the plants that you chose for this section. Plants can be selected for either their flower interest or to provide foliage contrast. They can be either upright or spreading in their habit.  It’s worth pointing out that a mixture of plants varieties can be used for this in a mixture of colours. In order to make the display more aesthetically pleasing to the eye plant these varieties in odd numbers either 3’s or 5’s. Plants ideal for this include Bush Lobelia, Begonias and Petunias and Nemesia. Plants such as Cineria, Helichrysum and Geraniums can be used for foliage interest.


Spillers  Plant these around the side to soften the appearance, and trail over the sides. As mentioned above this can be a selection of flowering and foliage plants. Give attention to the vigour of the plants selected to achieve the result you want. Some of these plants will be very wide and spreading whilst others will be much more compact and will cling closely to the side of the container. These also can be planted in nixed varieties in multiples of 3’s or 5’s. Plants ideal for this include Trailing Geraniums, Trailing Fuchsias, Bacopa, Million Bells and Surfinia.

If this all sounds too complicated then the same effect can be created by planting one single plant variety per container, and then grouping these containers together. Whatever option you chose its worth starting this project as soon as possible. For those of us that have greenhouses the containers can be planted up so that they are full and ready to go out as soon as the frosts have passed.