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Pillars, Spillers, and Thrillers! A Guide on Container Gardens

We aimed to create a container garden with plants that will bloom throughout the fall with beautiful autumnal colors.

How to Pick Out Plants for Your Container:

First, it's important to know where you will be placing your container and pick plants that are appropriate for the amount of sun they will receive.

When designing your container, you will want to pick plants of staggering heights, and contrasting colors and textures that will give your container different levels of dazzling visual appeal. These different types plants can be categorized as pillars, spillers, fillers, and thrillers.

Pillars are the backbone of a container garden. They will be the eye-catching centerpiece that will draw your eyes vertically. Choose a plant that will provide architectural structure to the arrangement and grow taller than the rest. These plants will often have bold colors or strong, pronounced shapes and could often be considered a 'thriller' as well. In our container, we used Achillea Paprika (Yarrow) as our pillar. Achillea is a pollinator and native plant with stunning bright red flowers and frilly, fern-like foliage.

Spillers are the anchor to the arrangement. Spillers provide depth and contrast to your container. These are typically low-growing, trailing plants that will cascade out of your pot and fall to the ground. Vines, grasses, vincas, ivy, and calibrachoa make a great choice. Plant these at the edge so they can tumble & 'spill' out of the pot towards the ground. We picked Carex Feather Falls (Feather Falls Sedge) for it's bright, variegated foliage that contrasts beautifully with the other colors and textures in our pot.

Fillers provide fullness to your container and are meant to complement and highlight the stars of your arrangement. Fillers should be planted in the middle of your container and surround your pillars and thrillers. We recommend choosing plants that will be smaller than your other components, but still tall enough to be seen over your spiller. They will disguise the base and fill up the container with contrasting colors and shapes. We used Spooky Halloween Mix (orange and black blooms) and Pure Yellow Pansies for their contrasting colors and fall blooms. .

Thrillers are the jaw-dropping, head-turning component of your design. We recommend picking plants of a moderate height and bold, eye-catching colors or shapes to be the mid-level of your design. They will hide the base of your pillar and stand out against your spiller. Since we were going for an autumnal, Halloween-themed container we used Purple Flash Ornamental Peppers and Coral Queen Ornamental Kale. These plants with their dark foliage rarely seen in plants provide a 'wow' factor and contrast against the other colors and textures in our container.

Planting the right combination of pillars, spillers, fillers, and thrillers will create a rich, striking composition of plants that will be the envy of all your neighbors.

Planting Tips

Before you begin planting, arrange your plants while they are still in the pot in your container to ensure that the plants have the spacing required and you like the look of your design. Make adjustments as necessary.

We recommend using a mixture of potting soil and compost. Mix in soil amendments as needed for certain plants.

Fill up your pot with your soil to approximately 3 inches below the rim of your container.

We recommend potting your pillar and other larger plants first. If any of the root balls are compacted, gently loosen before placing in the container. Add more soil before placing your smallest plants. Fill in around the plants as needed, but do not mound potting over the level of the plant’s depth nor up to the base of the plant.

Once all of your plants are in place, water slowly but thoroughly. If the planter and plants are small, consider watering from the bottom by placing the container in a larger bin or saucer with 2-3 inches of water.

Alternative Ideas

Depending on the arrangement and scale, some plants might fit multiple categories or be even be promoted from filler to thriller. Some fillers might spill a little, and some thrillers might just be a filler when paired with larger plants. Don't overthink the process when categorizing plants, but make sure you create a combination that requires the same amount of light.

A stunning shade container idea (using plants currently stock at the garden center) would be using:

  • Tassel Fern

  • Purple Sage

  • Heuchera Marmalade, Sirensong Orange Delight, or Caramel

  • Pansies

  • Glacier Ivy

Alternative plants you could use in a shade container could be Ajuga (Black Scallop or Burgundy Glow) or Helleborus (Winter Jewel Black Diamond or Apricot Blush). Pansies and Black Mondo Grass are both fillers that could be in the sun or shade.

Pillar -Cardoon -Giant Red Mustard -Liriope -Ornamental Grasses -Dinosaur Kale -Helleborus -Cast Iron

Spiller -Illumination Vinca -Creeping Jenny -Trailing Sedums -Glacier Ivy -Carex -Calibrachoa -Purple Heart

Thriller -Ajuga -Dahlias -Salvias -Tassel Fern -Asters -Ornamental Peppers -Black Eyed Susan -Achillea

Filler -Pansies -Snapdragons -Violas -Black Mondo Grass -Begonias -Verbena -Ornamental Cabbage, Kale -Swiss Chard

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