The lovely thing about gardening in containers is how flexible and ever-changing they are. You can grow your garden in new places every season, and you don’t need to commit to a particular aesthetic for too long. Whatever works in your garden, you keep. Whatever doesn’t, you can replace with a new plant next season. It’s part of the fun to create new and breathtaking arrangements every year.
With so many options, we understand the difficulty of designing beautiful planter boxes and pots from scratch. We’ve gathered a list of general guidelines that can inform the way you approach your planter garden this season. You don’t necessarily need to hold yourself to these guidelines. We encourage you to develop your own creative vision or pursue an inspiring idea. Go with your gut! You never know what may work for you.
How We Used to Garden with Containers
A lot has changed in terms of container gardening trends. They aren’t just for cramming flowers in for a splash of color. In some people’s homes, their gardening containers are the only growing space they have, so it becomes all the more important to make the most of that space.
If you want to make your containers look beautiful, intentional, and purposeful, it isn’t hard to incorporate anything from succulents, to edible herbs, to vegetables into your containers. Each plant possesses its own unique beauty—the key is to use them in arrangements where each plant enhances and complements the others.
When you’re selecting a container, choose a size and shape that fits your space, first and foremost. If you plan to grow taller plants, a good rule of thumb is they should be as tall as your container, plus another third. So if you want to grow a plant that reaches 4 feet in height, choose a 3-foot-tall container.
If you will be able to see your container from all sides, go with a larger container and place your centerpiece plant right in the center of your planter. This will balance out the look, and a larger container accommodates some smaller plants you can use to fill it out on all sides. However, if your container is going next to a wall, put your centerpiece plant closer to the wall, positioned at the back of your container. In this case, you can arrange the plants from tallest to shortest from front to back, or you can then arrange smaller containers around the larger one.
Lastly, check the tags on your plants to determine how large they’ll grow and how wide they’ll spread. You don’t want to overcrowd your container. Make sure you account for weather conditions, as the plant tags list the maximum height you can expect under ideal conditions.
“Thrillers” are your centerpiece plants, as we mentioned earlier. These plants grow to be the largest, making them the most striking element you can build the rest of your container around. Your thriller plants can grow more vertically like salvias or red hot pokers, or some leafier and more full-bodied like canna lilies or dahlias. Even some varieties of shrubs make excellent centerpieces you can also plant in fall.
The shape and size of your thriller should match the size of your container, so look into what the final sizes of your plants will be before you buy.
Fillers are mounding plants. They are usually rounder in appearance and work great as a transition piece between your thriller and your spiller. Hence, the filler “fills out” the look of your container. Fillers can also grow to be quite large. As you’re looking for filler ideas for your potted plants, be sure to keep proportion in mind between your filler and your thriller. To balance the look of the container and prevent the filler from competing with the others for attention, try using a foliage plant or a plant with blooms in a more subdued color, like hostas or white impatiens. These two flowers are particularly great in containers that are underneath some shade, or have tall leafy thrillers that cast shade onto the shorter plants. However, if your container is getting lots of sun, petunias will make a fabulous filler plant.
Spillers are like little locks of plant hair flowing out of your container. They create a bit of a draping effect for your container, softening the look of the edges and helping accentuate the height of your thriller. When you’re selecting spiller plants, be aware that some varieties like to fight for space in your container. Be aware of how your spiller behaves with your filler, and keep them looking neat as your spiller trails outwards. If you’re making do with a gaudier-looking pot, find some thick green spiller plants to cover it more effectively and help it blend into your space. Calibrachoas are a great option in this case, as they produce blankets of flowers that cascade bountifully out of the sides of the container.
By carefully planning out your container and following the “thriller, filler, & spiller” design strategy, your container gardens will look balanced and beautiful. Have fun this year experimenting with a few design options, and don’t hesitate to ask us at Meyer’s Garden Center for our favorite combinations!