Container Design for Sun: Simple Style Solutions

Choosing the plants for a container garden arrangement can sometimes seem daunting. How do you decide which plants will create the multidimensional masterpiece you envision? 

It can be helpful to use a concept that breaks down the design process by categorizing plants into three categories: thrillers, fillers, and spillers. This three-part solution offers a demystifying method for intriguing container design arrangement and is a great guide to successfully creating a lush container that combines plants to harmoniously perform different functions. 

Thriller Plants

Thriller plants add attention-grabbing height and drama. Thrillers usually display prominent characteristics such as bright foliage, colorful flowers, or an intriguing form. Thrillers are generally the tallest plant in an arrangement, offering a vertical element that acts as a focal point. When composing your arrangement, this is a good place to start. Choose your thriller plant and then fill in around it. 

Tip: When planting, keep in mind how the container will be seen. If it’ll be viewed from all sides, plant the thriller in the center. If it’ll be viewed from one side, plant the thriller in the back. 

Thriller Plants for Sun Examples:

Cordyline, Wilma Goldcrest Cypress, Dahlia, Salvia, Snapdragon, Grasses, Juncus Patens 'Elk Blue', Chamaecyparis 'Blue Surprise', Azara microphylla, Dwarf Hinoki Cypress, Corokia Cotoneaster.

Filler Plants

Filler plants are generally mounded plants that nestle around the thriller centerpiece, making the container look fuller. Filler plants usually have a medium height in the arrangement. Often times, fillers are more finely textured plants that add textural contrast. They can have colorful foliage or flowers that contrast and compliment the thriller. 

Tip: If the container will be viewed from all sides, fillers should surround the thriller. If it’ll be viewed from one side, place the fillers halfway between the thriller and the edge of the container. 

Filler Plants for Sun Examples:

Sun-Coleus, Fancy-Leaf Geranium, Lantana, Persian Shield, Coleus, Geranium, Sun-Begonias, Sun-Patiens, Black Mondo Grass, Carex 'Eversheen', Carex Flagellifera, Perennial Dianthus, Heuchera.

Spiller Plants

Spiller plants do just what the name implies: they “spill” or trail over the side of the container. The spiller adds lushness as it sprawls over the edges of the pot.

Tip: If the container will be viewed from all sides, spillers should be placed on all sides. If the container is going to be viewed from only one side, spillers should be placed in the front of the container and optionally, along the sides as well. 

Spiller Plants for Sun Examples:

Bacopa, Millionbells, Sweet Potato Vine, Lobelia, Setcreasia, Creeping Charlie, Trailing Verbena, Mexican Daisy (Erigeron 'Profusion'), Persian Chocolate, Campanula 'Blue Orb', Campanula 'Blue Waterfall', Verbena 'Homestead Purple'.

Now consider the plants you chose and how they play off one another. Think about how the colors, textures, and fragrance interact. Do you like a monochromatic, modern look? Or, do you prefer a mix of bright colors or pastels? It's up to you!