Click Here to Order the Gardener's Idea Book!


Container Gardening 101

If you’re new to this, here are some helpful terms to get you up to speed. 


Monoculture Container: A “monoculture container,” or “mono,” is a container with just one kind of plant growing in it.


Combination Container: A combination container will have two or more different varieties growing together. 

Thriller, Filler, Spiller: The “thriller, filler, spiller” method to planting a container is a great designer trick based on plant characteristics like height, mounding, foliage size, etc.,

How to Read a Plant Tag

‘Sky High’ combination:
PLAYIN’ THE BLUES™ Salvia longisicata x farinacea
PINK CHABLIS® Lamium maculatum
DARK KNIGHT™ Lobularia


  • Thrillers are plants with height that add drama and a vertical element to the combination
  • Thrillers are generally put either in the center or at the back of the container


  • Fillers tend to be more rounded or mounded plants and make the container look full
  • Fillers are generally placed in front of, or around, the Thriller variety


  • Spillers are trailing plants that hang over the edge of the planter
  • Spillers are placed close to the edge of the container

Getting Organized

Going to the garden center to get all the plants you need for your container garden can be a daunting task. There are countless plants to choose from, and countless pots to plant them in! To help you out, our designers have shared their 3-Step method for a patio of tamed containers. 

Decide On Your Containers

Before thinking about plants, collect a group of containers. They should vary in height and size, but have a similar color palette. One container should be significantly larger than the rest. This large one will be a combination container, the star of the show. The smaller containers will be planted with single varieties to compliment the large pot. We find that an odd number of containers, like a grouping of 3 or 5, works best. 

A container grouping

Get Your Plants

Now that you know what containers you’re using, it’s time to choose plants for your largest pot. Head to your local garden center and choose 3-5 plants that you think look great together, keeping their water and light requirements in mind. A quick look at the plant tags will give all the necessary information.  Once you’ve chosen the plants for your combination container, get 2-3 additional plants of each variety. These will be planted as monocultures in smaller containers.

Plant the Large
Combination Container

With your plants ready to go, it’s time to get planting! Fill your largest pot with potting soil, stopping 2-3 inches underneath the lip. Dig out a hole either in the center, or the back of the container, put your “thriller” plant in there, and fill in with soil. Move on to the “fillers,” planting them around the “thriller.” Last but not least, plant the “spillers” close to the edge of your large container. ks best. 

Plant the Monoculture

This part’s easy. Now that you have your combination pot ready to go, plant up your smaller pots with individual varieties. Once all of your smaller pots are planted, group all of the pots together on a landing, around a bench, or anywhere you’d like some extra life. You don’t have to take this formula literally. Even one or two monocultures paired with your combination will achieve a unified, designer look.