The Secret Formula for Grouping Plants at a Pot

I thought I was fairly smart when I created a successful formula to get a plant mix in a bud. I’d create my plant selections employing an “uppy,” a “downy” plus a “bulky.” The uppy for height. The downy to cascade over the rim of the container. And also the bulky to fill the rest of the distance (usually something cheap and quick growing to keep the cost down). Well, as it turns out, I am not as smart as I once thought myself to be. I recently ran across my own formulation — and with a catchier catch phrase to boot! Sheesh.

Here is the elegant, original-to-someone-else formula for producing great plant combos in containers: Select a thriller, a spiller plus a filler. The thriller (aka the uppy) is the focal point, soaring toward the heavens; the spiller (aka the downy) grounds that the plantings in the kettle, softening its hard edges and drawing down the eye; along with the filler (aka the bulky) enables the eye to rest between points of interest (that is to say, the uppy along with the downy). Consider the qualities each component brings as you’re formulating your composition — beyond colour, plants may bring textural interest, comparison in form, movement and more.

Kenneth Philp Landscape Architects

Airy thrillers, a thickly populated spiller and fillers that examine as calligraphic brushstrokes make this a stunning arrangement. Placing this masterpiece in front of a backdrop that makes it pop– much like art hung on the gallery wall — plus the powerful colour of the container really kicks it up a notch.

Urban Nature / Troy Silva Design Group

Notice the constrast of texture and colour, in additon to the makeup in general. To get a similar look, try:

Thriller: Cape Rush (Chondropetalum elephantinum)
Spiller: Fish Hooks (Senecio ‘Fish Hooks’)
Filler: Blue Chalk Sticks (Senecio mandraliscae)

Margie Grace – Grace Design Associates

Tough but airy, these low-water-use plants have lots of movement.

Thriller: Fairy Tails Feathergrass (Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’)
Spiller: Marnier’s Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe marnieriana)
Filler: April Gruen Sheep’s Fescue (Festuca amethystina ‘Aprilgrun’)

Kenneth Philp Landscape Architects

Need something larger than one bud? The same thriller-spiller-filler formula can be expanded to a set of pots that work together to create a unified composition. This grouping of pots full of flax (Phormium var.) And assorted succulents follows the thriller-spiller-filler formula.

Margie Grace – Grace Design Associates

There is no reason not to include edibles on your magnum opus. Attempt:

Thriller: Semi-dwarf tangerine
Spiller: Million Bells (Calibrachoa)
Filler: Thyme (Thymus var.)

Exteriorscapes llc

This bud utilizes multiplethrillers, spillers and fillers to create a well-balanced entire. To get this look, try:

Thrillers: Evergreen Miscanthus (Miscanthus transmorrisonensis) and Coastal Woolybush (Adenanthos sericeus)
Spillers: Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas var.) And Bacopa (Sutera cordata)
Fillers: Sand Hill Sage (Artemisia pycnocephala ‘David’s Choice’) and Wand Flower (Gaura lindheimeri)

This combo will need regular tending: Pairing and tip pinching to maintain bigger plants in line, and also digging up, breaking up and eliminating a portion of Sweet Potato Vine “potatoes” when they’re dormant to keep them from crowding out the plants.

Margie Grace – Grace Design Associates

Thriller-spiller-filler on a grand scale! For a look like this, try:

Thriller: Altissimo Rose (Cl. Rosa ‘Altissimo’)
Spiller: Bacopa (Sutera cordata); Glacier Ivy (Hederacea helix ‘Glacier’)
Thriller:Purple Vine Lilac (Hardenbergia violacea ‘Happy Wanderer’)

TruexCullins Architecture + Interior Design

Matched pots with tropical-flavor plantings create a statement powerful enough to pull the eye away from the stunning backdrop. Attempt:

Thriller: Canna var.
Spiller: Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)
Filler: Assorted Coleus

Margie Grace – Grace Design Associates

This clearly Asian-flavor planting illustrates the formulation works in almost any design style. Attempt:

Thriller: Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara)
Spiller: Variegated Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea ‘Variegata’)
Filler: Siskiyou Blue Fescue (Festuca ‘Siskiyou Blue’)

Debora carl landscape design

Texture, form and contrasting foliage colour enhance the composition. Attempt:

Thriller: Little Cape Rush (Chondropetalum tectorum)
Spiller:Silver Falls Dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’)
Filler: Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) and New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax ‘Jack Spratt’)

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