The Simple Formula You Should Use When Designing A Container Garden

The Simple Formula You Should Use When Designing A Container Garden

The Simple Formula You Should Use When Designing A Container Garden

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Designing the perfect container garden is like putting together a floral puzzle. You have to strike the right balance between ornamental plants and filler. Luckily, there’s a simple formula you can use when designing a container garden. The rhyming phrase should be easy to remember the next time you’re plant shopping: thriller, spiller, filler. These categories describe the appearance of plants and the role they play in a display.

The method is based on the idea that a balanced combination of thriller, spiller, and filler plants looks best. Thriller plants are the stars; they steal the show, like a bird of paradise. As the name suggests, spillers cascade out of the container, and filler plants add structure, texture, and color. You can design a harmonious container garden by blending these types of plants. The goal should be to use plants that complement each other either visually or organically. Consider mixing textures, heights, colors, and growing styles to create an eye-catching container garden.

How to choose the right thrillers, fillers, and spillers

lush container garden


Planning is key when designing a container garden. Choosing a cart full of beautiful plants sounds great, but too many statement plants can be overwhelming, and flowers that should stand out get lost in the mix. So consider the thriller, spiller, and filler formula and break those categories down into what the plant needs. For example, a thriller plant that thrives in direct sunlight should be planted with spiller and filler plants that grow best in full sun. Grouping plants according to their soil and water needs is also beneficial.

When creating your garden display, decide what features you want to highlight. Many gardeners like to rotate flowers seasonally to show off different colors throughout the year. If you want a more permanent display, use natural landscapes as inspiration. Find certain species that grow together in the wild; you can mimic this in your container garden. Tropical plant combinations like plumeria and crinum lily, paired with climbing jasmine, will look radiant and smell fantastic.

How to apply the thriller, filler, spiller formula

person planting flowers in container

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The first step to creating a gorgeous container garden is finding the right container. Containers should be deep enough for plants to root and have drainage holes for excess water to spill from. Once you’ve got an adequate container, fill it with a potting mix that’s fit for all of the plants you intend to grow. Then, gather your plants, but wait to remove them from their grow pots until you know where you want to plant them.

Create a layout with the potted plants; this will help you visualize how everything will look in the container garden. Begin your layout by placing a thriller plant that will become the focal point of the garden. This plant should be tall, dramatic, bold, and showy. Next, add spiller plants so they may flow freely over the sides of the container. Finally, incorporate filler plants to fill in the gaps and give the garden a lush look. Play around with the layout until you have the awe-inspiring container garden that suits your vision.

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.