Thrillers, Spillers & Fillers: Design Your Planters

If you’ve ever wondered how florists create those stunning displays of color and texture in planters, but couldn’t quite figure it out, you are not alone. Many of us struggle when it comes to designing an attractive grouping of plants and flowers. By following the thriller, spiller and filler rule, you can create a collection that commands attention.

The Basics


Thrillers are plants with striking colors, textures or shapes that draw the eye to the grouping. Think large colorful leaves, unusual blooms or unexpected foliage. Ornamental grasses, tropical plants or spiked foliage often fit the bill as thrillers.


Just as the name implies, spillers are trailing or vining plants that spill over the edge of the planter extending its line and softening sharp edges. Think delicate alyssum, blue lobelia or ivies when choosing spillers.


Fillers are typically mounded plants that fill in around the base of the thriller. These include plants like begonias, pansies, coleus and impatiens. Choose filler plants that complement or contrast existing plants in the grouping.

The Design

Consider your theme. Choosing a theme for your planter allows you to make decisions about the plants to include with ease – but themes don’t need to be overly structured. Your theme can be as simple as a color or a mood. Think soft pastels in pinks and white for a romantic theme – or bright reds and yellows add sizzle to your front yard. Use your theme to guide your choices of thriller, spillers and fillers.

Add thrillers to the center of planters that will be viewed from multiple angles or the back of those viewed from one vantage point. Although you can add more than one, keep in mind that the thriller should be your focal point. One dramatic plant may be more effective than trying to add several of your favorites.

Add spillers along the outer border of your planter so that they can trail over the edge. Keep in mind that spillers should reflect both your theme and complement or contrast with your other plants and flowers.

Fill in the center with fillers. These plants make up the bulk of your planting, so choose wisely. Some prefer to use variegated foliage, while others choose blooming plants for fillers. Either will work, as long as the plants stick to your overall theme or color scheme.


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