The Natural Order Of Things


I had a client in the store a few days ago, needing some help with planting a pair of containers.  She told me she needed a thriller, some fillers, and some spillers for her pots.  ???  I was at sea.   This sounded like some popular container composition slang; I asked for an explanation.  The explanation was as follows.   A tall center of interest plant, with some slightly shorter supporting cast plants, and trailing plants to spill over the edges of the pots.  Voila-a perfectly designed and beautiful pot.  Formulas-I instinctively have an aversion to them.  The pot pictured above looks like a mess with no discernible design, but give it a few weeks.  The “spiller” plants are planted in the center.  The “filler” plants are planted on on the edge.  I abide by the natural order of things when I need to.  The seasons change-I get behind that.  The west sun is merciless, unlike the life giving east sun.  The natural order of things apply to natural phenomena.  All else-whatever idea you have, try it out.  Be confident enough to try things out of order.    

This may be my most favorite container planting of this season. A purple spike may bring the thriller status to mind-I had another idea.  What happens when I plant the thriller plant, in multiples,  in the spiller slot?  We’ll see how this planting matures-but I like the idea that I have dwarf and luminous white and green caladiums in the thriller spot.  The button ferns-they defy categorization.  They do not spill-they are drapy. I promise to take another picture in 6 weeks or so.    

Last year I planted white mandevillea vines in the front of the shop.  No stakes, no trellis.   I let them grow as they would-my thriller became a spiller.   They were beautiful. How they looked encouraged me to be free of an outline about the natural order of things.  Gardens that I see that are free-free from popular sentiment, free from formulas, free from preconcieved notions-are they not so beautiful?  I pin my climbing roses to the wall, and I stake my mandevillea.  I give my clematis a trellis on which to climb.   I follow the rules-mostly.  But there are those times when a preconceived order of things may not be the most interesting solution.


  1. Nice!

    When you get comfortable with plants, thinking out of the box if fun. But formulas are useful for those starting out.

    I’ve a three pot combo on my patio, it uses the formula, but breaks it into two or three plants in each pot, the thriller and spiller relating to each other across the boundaries.

    The whole thing is an experiment with the local climate (Phoenix desert.) I’ve been horrible homesick for the lush container plantings of the midwest and am trialing these plants for hardiness and appearance. Most of them are new to me. (Save the pentas. Pentas are perennials down here, they just need to be protected during the handful of days we get to freezing temps)

    And, I need to make this a post on my own page. Thanks for the inspiration!

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