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  • Waterwise Gardening | David Salman

Exciting Plants for Container Gardens That Attract Hummingbirds and Butterflies

We have a fun and exciting selection of flowering perennials that are perfect for creating container gardens. I like to focus on everblooming perennials that attract pollinators with their nectar-rich flowers, especially varieties that will feed hummingbirds and adult butterflies. Here are just a few of the “thriller”, “filler” and “spillers” we’ll have for sale this spring. Here's how we define these three types of container plants.

  • Thriller – this is the biggest, tallest plant used in the center of the container.

  • Filler – these are plants that occupy the area between the center of the container and the edge of the container. Fillers should be small to mid-sized growers that are not as large as the Thriller.

  • Spiller – these are plants that are planted on the edge of the container to mound or spill over the edge of the container. They will grow into a flowering “skirt” that hide the sides of the container. Groundcovers make excellent spillers.

A well designed container should be planted with at least one variety of “thriller”, “filler” and “spiller” to create a balanced planting. Large pots can accommodate several thriller, fillers and spillers. A medium sized 16" diameter pot would be planted with a single thriller in the middle, surrounded by 3 fillers plants and 3 spillers plants.


Petunia eximia (Red Brazilian Petunia) – a very rare plant from the tropics of Brazil that was only recently discovered, it’s a non-stop blooming species with deep red flowers that are a magnet for hummingbirds. A cold-tender perennial that will grow year-round when brought into the house before fall frost, it blooms all winter much like our beloved Santa Fe geraniums. For summer, place its container in a half to full day of sun. Use it in the center of the container (a position known as the “thriller”) and surround with other complementary long bloomers.

Here are some additional thrillers to look for at the plant sale:

  • Cuphea x 'David Verity'

  • Gaura lindheimeri 'Snow Fountain' PP#

  • Pelargonium salmoneum


Felicia aethiopica ‘Tight and Tidy’ (Blue Compact Felicia Daisy) – this amazing non-stop blooming cold-tender perennial covers itself with bright blue, yellow eyed daisies that attract butterflies. The crisp, deep green foliage is lovely too and the plant, as the name suggests, is a dense compact grower that always looks tidy in its pot. This South African native is used in container gardens as a “filler” to surround the tallest plant in the center (“thriller”). It loves sun and heat, so combine it with other sun loving companions.

Here are some additional fillers to look for at the plant sale:

  • Agastache aurantiaca 'Tango'

  • Festuca glauca 'Boulder Blue'

  • Festuca ovina 'Boulder Blue'

  • Oreganum libanoticum


Verbena peruviana (Red Devil Verbena) – a cold hardy perennial (to USDA zone 6) is a blooming machine, covering itself with brilliant red flower clusters that are irresistible to butterflies and hummingbirds. A low growing groundcover when planted in the garden, it makes a fantastic “spiller” or cascading plant for the edges of pots. Planted along the edge of its container, the stems will spill over the sides of the pot to create a blooming skirt of flowers and foliage. Trim it back occasionally during the growing season to keep it blooming vigorously. Plant it in a pot that will be placed in full to a half day of sun for best performance. And be sure to bring your sunglasses to look at it during the mid-day sun; its red color is electric!

Here are some additional spillers to look for at the plant sale:

  • Delosperma ashtonii 'Blut'

  • Verbena peruviana (Red Devil Verbena)

  • Monardella macrantha 'Marian Sampson'

  • Delosperma sp. 'Deep Red'

We will be using “thriller”, “filler” and “spillers” on our Waterwise Gardening plant signage to help you recognize good everblooming container plants and help you to design your container gardens by providing guidance as to their position in a container garden.

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