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Planting the Perfect Spring Container

By: Sandra Nelson

Every spring I tell myself that this will be the year that my container plantings will be “knock out gorgeous.” But somehow, what I see in my mind's eye doesn’t come close to the reality of what’s in front of me. They aren’t awful,  just amateurish.



They don’t have the pizzazz that I see when I look at planters designed by JoAnn Prieto, Embassy’s Seasonal Color Manager and Ashton, her assistant.



For several years, JoAnn has talked me through the basics of container planting.  For example, she taught me that there are three elements basic to a good container design – the thriller, filler and spiller. The thriller plants give height and add drama that draws the eye to the arrangement. Thrillers are placed in the center for containers that are viewed from all sides, and are in the back for those viewed only from the front. 

spring container


Fillers are often mounding plants, designed to give the container a satisfyingly finished look. They typically surround a centered thriller or sit in the front and sides of a thriller in the back of the pot. Finally, the spillers are trailing plants that hang over the sides of the pot. They help move the eye throughout the entire display, giving a sense of completeness to design. Like fillers, spillers are placed around the pot if viewed from all sides or in the front of a container viewed from one side.



Proportion, JoAnn says, also plays a huge part in the success, or failure, of a container planting. Generally speaking, the tallest element of the arrangement should be at least 1 ½  but no more than 2 ½ times the height of the container. If the thriller is too short, then the arrangement looks lost.  Too tall and the pot looks as though it might topple over in the wind.


Care in selecting colors is another essential in designing container plantings. For the novice  (or color-impaired, like me) sticking to complementary colors like reds and greens or oranges and blues is an easy path to stress free, successful designing. Placing complementary colors next to one another creates contrast, letting each color pop and bringing a sense of excitement to the arrangement. In JoAnn’s point of view the bolder the colors, the better. 


Containers meant for shady areas need a different approach. JoAnn says that it’s best to avoid dark colors in the shade, as they will tend to get lost in the background. She prefers using plants with white, silver or chartreuse tones that bring a touch of brightness to a dim corner. 


Probably the most important things to consider in designing gorgeous arrangements are the plants themselves. JoAnn’s philosophy is that if you have the right size plant for the pot, the right light situation and watering needs taken care of, then almost any plant will work. The trick is to select plants that share common needs. Pansies and primroses, for example, work well together because they both like a moist, organically rich soil. Adding snapdragons to the mix however, could cause problems, since mature snaps prefer a drier soil. 



Now that I have again reviewed the basic principles of container planting, I’m ready to head out to the local garden center and begin creating.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this year is finally the year I’ve been dreaming of –  the year of knock out gorgeous.