Have you ever looked at a professionally arranged planter and wondered what makes it so attractive? It’s simpler than you think. The best designs usually come down to three basic features: a thriller, filler, and spiller. 


The Thriller 

The thriller is the centerpiece of your container. It can be placed in the middle or at the back. Usually, it’s the tallest and has showy flowers, a compelling shape, or dramatic foliage. Basically, the thriller is anything unusual, extraordinary, lofty, or otherwise impressive that will catch your eye. Often, gardeners use bright salvias, showy dahlias, colorful cannas, or tall grasses as the centerpiece of their designs. Here are a few of our favorites:    




Purple Fountain Grass: Growing to a height of up to 4 feet, these plum-purple grasses turn burgundy in the fall, and their flower heads bloom red before fading to beige. 




Yellow Dahlia: This impressive annual bloomer is sure to thrill with its mass of tall, sunny flowers.  


The Fillers

Fillers are smaller, mounded plants that wrap around the thriller. They compliment and contrast it with different leaf texture and color. Like a good book, they reward a second glance—and in that sense, they’re almost more important than the showy thrillers. The best containers usually have several fillers. Your choices are wide-ranging—from begonias, to pansies, to geraniums, to petunias. Here are some ideas to get your creativity flowing: 




White Petunia: The flowers of this herbaceous annual soothe the eye and complement many plants with their neutral, yet compelling pure-white color.  




Silver Dust Dusty Miller: Its fuzzy silver foliage adds a wonderful contrast to green leaves and flowers of any hue. Blooming with faint yellow buttercups in full or partial shade, it makes a fascinating addition to the right design. 


The Spillers 

Arguably the most fun part of the container design, spillers intentionally overflow from your planter to give the impression of abundance and to soften the edges of the pot. Again, color and texture are essential to complement your other plants and jive with your choice of container. Sweet potato vine, ivy, nasturtium, and creeping Jenny are all spiller favorites. Small flowers like lobelia and pansies can also beautifully droop from your planter as they grow. 




Golden Creeping Jenny: Preferring shady locations, their trailing leaves keep their golden color throughout the season and bloom with yellow cup-shaped flowers.




Nasturtium: You can combine this spicy edible bloomer with several ornamental annuals, or get creative and make an edible planter! 

Whatever flowers you choose, be sure to give them enough space to fill in during the summer and remember to select plants that share the same requirements for sunlight and moisture. When choosing colors, consider if you want hot, impressive hues—like red, yellow, or orange—or cool, soothing shades—like purple, blue, or green—or a combination of both. If you need more inspiration, or wish to purchase a professionally-designed container, check out our Grab & Go Planter service. These planters are some of the many beautiful products that our Chicagoland garden centers have in store this season!

Platt Hill Nursery is Chicago’s premier garden center and nursery.