Thrillers spillers and fillers

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”
—Claude Monet

I love gardens made in pots and containers. Whether you have room for a small or a larger garden or have just enough space for a few pots on a balcony. Pots, containers and hanging baskets are a great addition to any garden.

They offer flexibility, are so versatile and can be anything between compact or oversize and of course the best thing is, they are portable and moveable around the garden.

Pots are often used for smaller areas with restricted access to garden beds but even in larger gardens accent pots sitting amongst the foliage, or as a focal point at the end of a path add a thrill aspect and set the mood or style of the garden.

The pots can be embedded in amongst foliage or raised up on a pedestal, grouped together at the back door or highlighted against verandah posts. The possibilities are endless and only limited by your own imagination. Upright and trailing plants, edibles, and flowers all give pleasing and colourful effects. 

Herbs too are the perfect plants to grow in containers on the verandah, deck, patio or balcony or simply sitting at the back door in a group. The kitchen is within easy access for cooking and the herbs can be grown in a collection of various sized pots and interesting containers.

Think, old kettles, terracotta, fibreglass or metal pots, wooden crates, old wine barrels, old urns, buckets, carts, wheelbarrows, old tree stumps or fancy new self watering or ceramic pots. The list is endless. Basically, any container that will hold enough potting mix and compost for the depth of the roots to be planted. A container that will give enough drainage and is not in any way toxic.

Carla Fineschi Garden Pot

To achieve really stunning gardens in containers, hanging baskets or large pots a good rule of thumb is to have a thriller, a spiller and a filler. First decide on the main focus plant of the pot that is eye catching – the thriller. For example an upright plant that will bloom for most of the season like Geraniums or a beautiful Rose, a Coleus plant with brightly coloured leaves or a Begonia. Add plants that will spill over the edge such as Petunias, Climbing Geraniums, Dichondra Silver Falls, creeping Thyme or hanging Succulent varieties and finally add filler plants like bright blue Lobelia, herbs such as Parsley, Mini Chilli plants or variegated foliage, Alyssum or any smaller leaved annual plants that are available.

One plant variety but nice and full

The idea is to really fill the container and as it grows the thriller plant will bloom as the highlight, the spiller will cascade down the sides, and the fillers will add foliage excitement around the focal point.

Pots at my back door

Or you may want to fill a pot with just one type of contrasting plant to sit in the garden to give texture and difference to the design or to keep under control so they don’t spread. Large pots of bold foliage like Bamboo, Ornamental Grasses, Cordyline or Yucca plants for example.

Georgeous pot of variegated foliage

The variety of plants for containers and pots is endless and really depends on your climate and your own creativity. Consider all the trailing, climbing plants, tropical and flowering but also herbs, foliage plants and vegetables.


One tip I learnt the hard way is to position your larger pots and containers before you fill and plant them out. Once full and watered they are heavy so place in position and then start planting.

Two, the size of the pots is most important.
The container needs to be in proportion to the size of the plant with enough depth so the roots can have plenty of room to grow.

Three, the shape is also important so look at the growth habit of the plant before deciding on the container style. A low shallow pot is only suitable for low growing plants ( azaleas or herbs) and taller plants like a standard rose will need a tall wider pot.

Four, good drainage is crucial in pots and containers. The water must be able to reach the roots but also be able to wash away so it does not go stagnant. This will cause root rot and fungal diseases.

Five, to rectify poor drainage and to keep the heat off the roots the plants can be planted into plain, black nursery pots and then the pot is placed inside the larger more decorative terracotta or ceramic pot for display.

Six, always buy and use the best potting mix you can afford. Yes it does make a difference. And always, always wear a mask when opening and using compost, and potting mix your lungs will thank you.

Seven, the air left in the pot after drainage is very important for plant growth so do not use heavy soils in pots. Allow your plants the chance to breathe.

Eight, larger pots and less of them are better or make a stronger statement than loads of small ones.

Nine, give your container plants more attention and water more often because they will dry out more quickly than the garden. Position pots if in a hot climate in morning sun as a preference, even plants that are full sun varieties, so that they have some shade in the afternoon sun. This will lessen the need to water so frequently.

Ten, If your pots and containers rest on the ground without saucers they will not drain very well so use bricks or some sort of platform underneath to help with drainage. Consider even a platform on wheels so easier to move.

Words and images by Di Baker 2019

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