Container gardens at Brookside Gardens in Maryland

I don’t know about YOU and the size of YOUR garden pots, but mine just aren’t large enough to comfortably include what we’re always told we should – a spikey thriller, bushy filler and trailing spiller. That virtually universal advice just makes container gardening harder to do well.

Above are two arrangements at Maryland’s Brookside Gardens. The humongous on the left IS large enough for an assortment of plants with different sizes and growth patterns.  On the right, the smaller pots (still large by the standards of most private gardens) need less complexity, so we don’t see all three plant types in single pots. The pots hold fillers and spillers while the pot in the rear provides the thrill of height.

Iresine 'Blazin Lime' and 'Blazin Rose'; Coleus 'Twist and Twirl' and a plain red one - and spilling is provided by Sedum sarmentosum

In my front yard, these three pots hold similar fillers – Iresine ‘Blazin Lime’ and ‘Blazin Rose’; Coleus ‘Twist and Twirl’ and a plain red one – and spilling is provided by Sedum sarmentosum. Which is plenty, but there’s also a thriller behind all that filler – it’s just not IN the pots. Growing happily in the soil are the ‘Little Joe’ Joe Pye Weed that grow to 4 feet or so and thrill me plenty (me and the pollinators).

We hear about complex, thrill-fill-spill arrangements needing to be fussed over right about now, mid-summer, but more simplified arrangements like these will ride it out until frost.  The annuals need supplemental water but since these are all about foliage, they don’t need me to feed them.  

Petunias, Little Bluestem, banana tree plant

A few feet away is another arrangement that IS flowery, so I feed it regularly. Still it’s simple, with petunias doing double-duty – they spill AND fill. The easy thrillers in the larger pots are Little Bluestem grass and a banana tree plant.

Persian Shield and Sweet Potato Vine in pots

Next to my front door are two pots I recently painted mint-green, and am repeating the combination I tried during the pandemic when I couldn’t find my usual annuals for these pots, and they performed! The Filler that’s gradually becoming a Thriller is Persian Shield, and the Spiller is the common chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine. Yes, I notice that something is eating the vine but they’re leaving enough for me and I’m fine with sharing.

Standing Ovation Little Bluestem with trailing Sedum in pots.

In my back garden are more signs of my painting spree of 2020 – tomato red pots that used to hold annuals, until deer convinced me to give up on them in this spot. Now they’re about as low-maintenance as pots can be, with one ‘Standing Ovation’ Little Bluestem per pot, rising above more trailing Sedum. No watering or feeding required.

Switchgrass and trailing Sedum in bird bath container

Finally, my new bird bath container, located under the living room window, is doing well with just one Switchgrass and some trailing Sedum.