top of page

Container Design 101 and Our Favorite Plants to Use in Your Planters, Porch Pots, or Baskets

Each year Painters offers a variety of mature combination pots to add instant color to a front porch or patio. And this year they are stunning! But for those who might be interested in the creative endeavor of planting and designing your own, it can be as simple as 1-2-3. The design idea behind basic container planting starts with a time-honored three-step template: Thriller - Filler - Spiller:

Thrillers are plants with height. They add drama; they add splash; they constitute the vertical element of the container. Thrillers might be a showy bloom or ornamental grass or bright, tall foliage. They are generally placed either in the center of the container with plants all around or towards the back to set a front-facing scene. Read further down to find a list of Painters favorites.

Fillers are just as they sound. They are plants that create the center of the design and make it look full. They tend to be plants with a mounding habit and generally are placed in front of or around the tall element. There are many choices in this category so choose from your favorite colors or foliage.

Spillers are also easily self-explanatory! They are the plants that spill over the lip of the container. They are plants with trailing habits and are placed along the front or the edges of the planter so they can spill over the sides. We always grow a wide variety of favorites including those listed below.

But first here's a quick photo tutorial on creating a very simple Thriller-Filler-Spiller design for a sunny spot:

Thriller = Dahlia 'City Lights', Filler = Purple false shamrock, Spiller = Glitz euphorbia

You can start with just the basic three items, but add additional Fillers and Spillers depending on how full you want your pot to be. For example, in this pot, you could add two of the false shamrocks and two glitz euphorbia to create more lushness. Or you can add a different fourth or a fifth component to really punch it up! Maybe a spike plant or an additional color component. Then just make sure to water it all in and enjoy your new creation!


Find your full selection of Spillers and Fillers in Aisle 3 of Painter's Main Greenhouse!

Some Recommended Thrillers

  • For a Tropical Vibe: Taro, Canna, Ensete (False Banana), Asparagus Fern, or a Spike

  • Annual grasses for showy seed-heads or intense color contrasts: Purple Fountain Grass, First Knight, Fireworks

  • Perennial grasses for a more natural look & year-round interest: Northern Sea Oats, Everoro Sedge & Orange Sedge are favorites along with Japanese Forest Grass

  • Herby Options: Lemongrass, Rosemary, a tall ornamental basil like African Blue

Some Favorite Fillers

  • For sun, Geraniums, Zinnias & Lantana are great

  • Hens and Chicks

  • Dahlias (shorter cultivars such as City Lights series are ideal)

  • Petunias - especially Potunia, Crazytunia and others bred for compact container-friendly habit

  • Fan Flower

  • Persian Shield

  • Shrimp Plant

  • Duranta for bright color

  • Salvia farinacea or Salvia guaranitica

  • Rex Begonia

  • Lavender

  • African Blue Basil

  • Torenia, Polka Dot Plant, or New Guinea Impatiens for shade

  • Coleus (We have compact, large leafed varieties that do well in both shade and sun.)

  • Fuschia Gartenmeister, Mexican Heather, or Plectranthus Velvet Elvis for part shade

  • Oxalis, False Shamrocks

  • Caladiums

  • Ferns - especially Japanese Painted, Autumn Fern, Japanese Holly, and Limelight Lady Fern

And Spillers

  • Dichondra 'Silver Falls'

  • Wire Vine 

  • Licorice Plant

  • Sweet Potato Vine

  • Sedum - 'Angelina' is a favorite!

  • Bacopa

  • Red Stem Pilea

  • Portulaca 

  • Golden Oregano

  • Mint

  • Thymes

  • Trailing Tradescantias

  • Turtle Vine

*Make sure to check signage, tags, or do a little research to ensure you are combining items that have the same sun and moisture preferences. A Painters pet-peeve is seeing combo pots sold that contain a mixture of sun and shade loving or drought and moisture loving plants - we want you to have combos that last all season and are designed to thrive!


And finally, for those of us who learn by examples, check out these combo pots at Painters this year for some inspiration!

Shady Hummingbird Combo - Part Shade

Gartenmeister fuchsia, New Guinea impatiens (about to bloom!), Coleus

Cool and Classy Combo - Part to Full Shade

New Guinea impatiens, Coleus, Wire vine

Made in the Shade Combo - Part to Full Shade

Impatiens, Polka dot plant, Torenia (about to bloom!)

Enchanted Combo - Part to Full Shade

Asparagus fern, Polka dot plant, Dichondra 'Silver Falls', Oxalis 'False Shamrock'

Icy Combo - Part Shade

Caladium (just starting to emerge), Lobelia, Swedish ivy, Dichondra 'Silver Falls'

Chartreuse Combo - Full Sun to Part Shade

Dahlia (about to bloom!), Sweet Potato vine, Coleus

Sapphire Combo - Full Sun

Black & Blue Salvia, Fan Flower, Angelonia (all about to bloom)

Blaze Porch Combo - Full Sun

Geranium (about to bloom), Bidens, Melampodium

Glitz and Glam Combo - Full Sun

Taro, Black petunia, Sweet potato vine, Dichondra 'Silver Falls'

Sunny Hummingbird Combo - Full Sun

Salvia, Pentas, Million bells

Desert Divas Combo - Full Sun

Craspedia, Portulaca, Gazania

Gloriously Gothic Combo - Full Sun

Celosia 'Dracula' (about to bloom), Black petunia, Rudbeckia

And a few more for innovation ... from previous years at Painters.

697 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page