It might seem a bit overwhelming to walk through aisles looking at thousands of plants, hoping to pick out a winning combination, but with a little bit of planning, your patio pots and hanging baskets can really get the neighbourhood talking!

Consider these tips below to help you narrow down your selections, and build your very own arrangement with style!


Two of the most popular approaches to designing a planter are the “Filler, Spiller, Thriller” technique or sticking to a single bold specimen. 

Filler, Spiller and Thriller

All plants will fall into at least one (sometimes more than one) category of growth habit…they grow upright and tall (thriller), broad and mid-height (filler), or they’re shorter and trailing (spiller). Some of the most successful container combinations include at least one plant from each of these categories. Depending on the size of the planter, it’s usually 1 thriller, 2+ fillers and 1+ spillers. See our chart below for ideas on which plants fall into these categories. 

Single Specimen

Choosing one plant can help you accentuate something specific, like ornamental grass if you want height, coleus for a bright pop of colour, dwarf boxwood for a traditional feel, or maybe it’s potato vine because you have tall planters you want to use. 

Thriller, Filler & Spiller

Typically you would select your plants in this order (but it’s not required…just a good place to start!).

Thriller Plants
  • Plants with height that bring the drama, and a vertical element to the container
  • They can be flowering plants, foliage plants or even ornamental grasses
  • Typically they’re placed in the center (if you will see your planter from more than 1 side) or at the back of the container (if it’s up against a wall)
Filler Plants
  • Tend to grow in a mushroom or mounded shape that will help the container look full
  • Usually you place these in front of or around (surrounding it) the thriller plant you selected
  • When planting fillers, be sure to leave room closer to the edge of the container for your spiller
Spiller Plants
  • Trailing plants that hang over the edge of the planter
  • These are placed close to the front edge of the container (if you see the planter from one side), or close the edge on all sides (if you’ll see the arrangement from all sides)

Consider Colour

Inspiration for your planters can come from anywhere! What kind of art do you like (colour palettes found in paintings are nice to think about), what colour is the outside of your house, what is in the surrounding gardens that you want to match or contrast with, or simply what colours do you like or dislike. Here are some ideas on how to pair colours:

Complimentary Colours

These are colours that really make each other pop, and are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Typically bold and exciting colour combos like purple and orange, or blue and yellow.

Monochromatic Colours

Use shades or tints of a single colour. For example, a deep raspberry pink, bubblegum pink and pastel pink together. 

Analagous Colours

Fancy way of saying 3 colours that are beside each other on the colour wheel like red, red-orange, orange, or blue, blue-purple, and purple.

colour wheel accenting 3 colours that are side by side sections
Neutrals or Greenery

Stick with greens, whites or silvers. There are lots of interesting foliage options such as dusty miller, coleus, licorice, caladiums, or rex begonias. 

None of the Above

These are your planters, so don’t be afraid to just choose what you love.

Include Different Textures

Mixing course and fine textured foliage can help to create different shadows which makes things look more interesting. Contrasting foliage (think of the velvety leaves of dusty miller, waxy leaves of ivy geraniums or airy fronds of asparagus fern).


What Kind of Sun Do You Get?

To help plants perform their best, and take unnecessary care requirements off your already full plate, make sure to pay attention to the sun and heat in the spot where your planter will go. Plant shade loving Imaptiens in a south facing window box, or a sun loving geranium in the shade of your front porch and these plants simply won’t thrive, no matter how much love you give them. 

So what do the sun requirements on those plant tags actually mean? 

  • Full Sun: Essentially, lots of strong sun. It can be intense mid-day sun such as 12-3, all day from dawn to dusk, or any combo of 6+ hours of sunlight. If you’d want to throw on sunscreen before you go out in it, it’s likely full sun.
  • Part Sun or Part Shade: A little bit more open to interpretation here, but usually spots that get 3-6 hours of morning sun, or evening sun work well. These plants rarely enjoy soaking up those strong hot rays in the middle of the day for extended periods.
  • Shade: This is admittedly a little trickier, as shade normally doesn’t mean no sun at all…but an hour or two of morning or evening sun, or dappled sun under a tree with a loose canopy is ideal. When it comes to dense shade, that is the shade found on the north side of a house, or under a covered porch for example. 

How Much Water Do They Need? 

If you pair a desert-loving succulent with moisture-loving petunias, they won’t be happy growing in the same pot! To make your life a little easier, and increase your chance for success, try to choose plants that have both: 

  • Similar moisture and soil requirements
  • Match the time you’re willing to spend watering (some of us just do better with drought tolerant selections…amirite?) 

Designing your own planters is a great way to experiment with new plants and colour combinations. The best thing about gardening is that things are never permanent, so head on out there and give it a try!

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