Building the Perfect Container Garden


A container garden can create an eye catching landscaping display in your yard. Building an eye catching container gardening display is more than just placing a plant in a container, it involves creating something with depth, bursts of color, or something else to catch the eye.



Plants to Build the Perfect Container Garden

Gardeners are able to create an attention-grabbing container garden by using the thriller, filler and spiller technique. Add a variety of plants with characteristics that have towering height or wide expanse, take up empty space and scramble through neighboring plants or tumble over a pot’s rim.

One idea combines a tall ornamental grass that adds movement with a foliage plant slightly shorter but spreading, a large plant with multi-colored leaves and an annual flower. Together, Pennisetum ‘Rubrum,’ a Joseph’s coat, Alternanthera ‘Royal Tapestry,’ a coleus called Solenostemon ‘Glennis’ and colorful snapdragons will fill a container garden and last all summer.

To learn more about container gardening, check out this post

Best Decorative Grass for Container Gardening

best decorative grass for a vaseQuoted from The Garden Book for Wisconsin, author Melinda Myers said, “Fountain grass has long been used along Milwaukee city boulevards and in county parks.” That was in 1999; today Pennisetum, a warm season grass, has remained a popular summer annual that espouses tall drama with its swaying burgundy foxtails.

Used as a thriller at the back or center of the pot, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ grows 3’ tall and 2’ wide in full sun or part shade. Limiting as a perennial, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ is a high value, multi-seasonal annual. After the plant dies in late fall, this ornamental grass can be part of a mixed winter-interest combination by adding it to evergreen boughs, sticks of red twig dogwood and mammoth pine cones.

Pennisetum and coleus with Calibrachoa, acting as a spiller, is another idea for gardeners but who want a longer trailing plant with more flowers and different color.

Check out this post to learn more about ornamental grasses

Best Plant to Fill Out a Container

saint josephs coat for container fillerAlternanthera dentate ‘Royal Tapestry’ is a Joseph’s coat plant that fulfills its role as filler in this combination. The coppery red and burgundy purple foliage is made up of long narrow leaves. The plant is shorter than the Pennisetum, 16” – 24” tall, a good choice for in front of thriller plants or off to one side at the pot’s edge.

Joseph’s coat plants are similar to coleus because of their colorful leaves. But, Alternanthera and Amaranthus plants are more successful at tolerating full sun an entire summer season. The variety of species and cultivars gives gardeners a wide range of choices for outside and indoor gardens.



Add something colorful to the center for a thriller

Solenostemon scutellariolides ‘Glennis’ is a large coleus, in this case, used as a thriller for the center of the pot for its range of colors. The leaf color of a Solenostemon ‘Glennis’ begins at the center with gold easing into shades of rose, gradually growing redder and purple, eventually surrounded by a thin green line edging the scalloped margin. This coleus plant grows to 36” tall and 18” wide.

In the book, Coleus: Rainbow Foliage for Containers and Gardens, photos of Glennis depict the change in foliage color when exposed to varying light intensity. This coleus grows best in part shade. Solenostemon ‘Glennis’ is considered compact and maintains pleasing color, even indoors, making it a good choice for indoor gardeners or to over winter and save for next season.


Use a spiller that includes an eye catching element

snapdragonsSnapdragons are colorful fragrant annual flowers for the late spring early summer garden, when temperatures are cooler. Botanically called Antirrhinum majus, snapdragons are most familiar for their comical flower form and vertical appearance. Varieties range from as short as the 4” – 6” tall Antirrhinum Acrobat™ ‘Cherry Red’ to the popular Ribbon series or Rocket hybrids, which grow to 36” tall.

In this container garden combination, very short snapdragons or the bushy twinny snapdragon plants, calling them trailers would be a bit of an exaggeration, will gently spill over the rim when planted at the pot’s edge. Whichever Antirrhinum majus is chosen, snapdragon flowers will contribute high impact color and fragrance to the planting.

Snapdragon flowers belong in cutting gardens but will attract hummingbirds to anywhere these annuals are planted. Northern gardeners appreciate the cool tolerant annuals because they withstand the unexpected dip in temperatures in May at a time when many summer bedding plants do not, although snapdragons will shut down in mid-summer as temperatures heat up. Economical to grow, snapdragons can be depended upon to reseed and are easy to start from seed indoors.

Plant Texture in a Container Combination

At a recent public garden event, Melinda Myers spoke about blending texture by adding fine lacey or big leathery leaves to make a high impact combination in a container garden. The thriller, filler, spiller technique is useful in narrowing the many plant choices.

This makes it easier for gardeners to pick plants with attention-grabbing drama and color for the planter, while devising a well thought-out appearance. The plants can be grown in one very large pot or in several, individually planted, and then strategically positioned together.

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