Tag Archives: coleus

Thrillers, Fillers, Spillers

I love the anticipation of watching for those first little seedlings to emerge from the soil. We didn’t have to wait long for our first flats to show signs of life. Our pennisetum (fountain grass) emerged within two days and is doing well now!


Why fountain grass? Well, now that our yard is “done” (not that landscaping ever really ends), we can put more energy into our containers. I have come to appreciate ornamental grasses in my container design.

There is really no one way to approach container design. You can plant one type of plant in a container or combine several types. If you’re doing a combination, the traditional way to choose your plants is by using the thriller/filler/spiller approach.

Thrillers are typically your feature plant and provide height to your container. Many people use dracaena spikes but more adventurous types may try canna lilies or ornamental grasses. We even tried columnar basil and leeks last year. Thrillers can feature either dazzling flowers or spectacular foliage. Thrillers are often placed in the centre (if you’re going to view the container from all sides) or at the back of the pot (if it’s only going to be viewed from the front). The pennisetum that is so steadily growing will hopefully grow to become beautiful thrillers that we can play around with in our designs.

Fillers are those plants that, well, fill up your container. They are usually mounded/rounded and provide bulk to your container. They are usually of medium height and complement the thriller. You can use a few different fillers at once if you have the room and the desire. The fillers are placed so they surround the thriller. I used coleus, pansies, petunias, calibrachoa (in very small containers), and kale last year.

Finally, spillers are low-growing plants that are placed close to the edge of the containers. They spill over the edge and visually soften the transition from container to plant. Spillers can be placed on all sides or just in the front, depending on where it will be viewed. We tried creeping jenny, sweet potato vine, bacopa, calibrachoa, and wire vines last year. I have thoughts on what I will and won’t try for spillers this year but I think that’s another post for another day.

You can think of thrillers/fillers/spillers as a container recipe. When I am shopping for plants I will often arrange them on my cart as I would in the container and play around with combinations until I find one that I like. (Pro tip: take a picture with your camera because once you have bought those babies home they’ll probably be mixed up or, if you’re like me, you’ll have forgotten what your plans were.)

Right now it’s far too early to start/buy most plants. Growing a few thrillers is a great way to kick off the year. If they don’t survive, I’ll just start new ones. That’s what I figure. I’m getting impatient already and it’s only January 17th. Boy, am I in trouble.