Thrills, Fills, Spills

Flower Pot Rhyme

by Sandy Swegel

These are your clues today to have a container garden that causes people to stop in their tracks. This cute little rhyme is how the professional designers make fabulous flower pots. If you learn how to follow this basic rule, your designs will be breathtaking whether you are using traditional annuals or native plants or succulents.


The thrill is the highlight of your pot. It’s tall and commands space and attention. Often the thrill is brilliantly colorful with big flowers or something unusual like red foliage. Some of the thrills I use are

Large tropical hibiscus or canna lilies or castor beans if I’m going for color.

Red grasses if I’m going native, a knockout rose if I’m going for an English garden look.

An agave or euphorbia if I’m going desert garden, big multicolored coleus if you’re in the shade, a mini tree or shrub works too.  A thrill is a big plant that catches your eye from a distance.

You place the thrill slightly to the back of the center of the pot.


The fill is next. This is several plants of medium flowering height. They provide fullness and reliable color. Don’t be stingy with plants: the secret is to have no soil showing. Geraniums or salvias or shorter zinnias or daisy-like flowers do the job well. Place two or three “fills” around the central “thriller.”


Finally, two or three “spillers” are needed around the edge of the pot. Anything from sweet potato vine to creeping Jenny, or petunias or million bells. You want to have overflowing plants soften the edges of your pot…and it makes the planting look twice as big and luxuriously abundant.

That’s it….the basic recipe. Now you can read the container gardening magazines and books and see how most ‘artistic’ designs are just variations on this theme.

Photo credit:

Sandy Swegel

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