“Thriller, filler and spiller” is a useful maxim or formula to keep in mind when planting gorgeous container gardens or hanging baskets. It’s the best way I know to achieve a balanced and beautiful display.

With the bedding plant bonanza happening now at plant nurseries and garden centers, finding a thriller isn’t that difficult. It’s usually something tall, vertical and dramatic — a show-off.

Fillers and spillers can be a little tougher to choose. Some plants are good for both roles.

Fillers do just that – fill in the space around your thriller, or in front of your thriller, depending on how you’re displaying the container. Fillers tend to be smaller, mounded or rounded, and you need to tuck in enough fillers to make the container look full. My method is to work in 3’s and ‘5s, depending on the plants and size of the pot. When planting, leave enough space to fit in spillers.

Spillers trail over the edge of the container, so these should be planted closer to the edge. Plant them on all sides if the pot can be seen from all sides.

Plant spillers on the front edge if the pot will be seen from just one side.

Here are a few fillers and spillers to consider:

Bacopa – Long-blooming; small flowers on mounding, trailing plants; no deadheading; sun to part sun; attracts pollinators; good for a filler or spiller; available in white (“Snowstorm” series), pink, lavender.

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Torenia – Lightly fragrant; small wishbone-type flowers; sun or shade; heat- and drought-tolerant; resists deer; trailing habit makes a good spiller.

“Blue My Mind,” evolvulus (dwarf morning glory) – Small, true-blue flowers with small white centers; heat tolerant; no deadheading; sun lover; one of my absolute favorite spillers.

Euphorbia — “Diamond Frost,” “Diamond Snow,” “Diamond Delight” are favorites from Proven Winners; clouds of flowers; heat- and drought-tolerant; resists deer; mounded habit; sun to part sun; well-mannered filler that goes with everything.

Calibrachoa (“Superbells,” “Million Bells”) — Small, petunia-like blooms; available in numerous colors; continuous bloomers; heat-tolerant; mounding and trailing habit; works has a filler or


Lantana – Pollinator magnet; available in a range of color combinations; heat- and drought-resistant; vigorous grower; good as a filler or spiller.

“Supertunia,” petunia – Popular, long-blooming and available in a staggering number of colors and combinations; sun to part sun; hummingbirds and pollinators love it; spiller or filler.

Other noteworthy ideas: Sweet potato vine, fuschia, lobelia, verbena, coleus, New Guinea impatiens.

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Arts/Special Sections Editor

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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