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Star Quality Thrillers for Summer Containers

Updated on August 27, 2013

Fillers, Spillers and Thrillers

Creating stacked pots gives a simple white Martha Washington geranium the height it needs to take centerstage.
Creating stacked pots gives a simple white Martha Washington geranium the height it needs to take centerstage. | Source

If you grow seasonal mixed containers, you've probably heard of fillers, spillers and thrillers.

Mounding growers like dusty miller and phlox that help your container look complete are fillers. Trailing plants like ivy and sweet potato vines are spillers.

And thrillers? They're the stars of container gardens.

Thrillers take centerstage.

Because they're the focal points, the attention-getters of mixed planters, every thriller has some eye-catching quality--vivid coloring, showy flowers, or unique structure--that shouts, "Look at me!"

For best effect, thrillers should be the tallest plants in the pot. Like the stars that they are, they go centerstage at planting time--right at the center of the pot if the container will be viewed from all sides. For corner pots or containers set against a wall, place thrillers upstage center, against the back of the planter.

5 Summer Thrillers

If you're looking for awesome thrillers that can take the heat in summer containers, search no further. These five eye-popping tropical plants are bold, beautiful, and definitely thrilling!


1. Persian Shield

Strobilanthes dyerianus, commonly known as Persian shield, is a fast grower that looks its best when other plants are wilting in the hot sun.

Although its small blue blossoms are pretty, Persian shield’s iridescent purple leaves make it a real showstopper in summer containers. Long, pointed, and brightly hued, they're often referred to as "metallic." They've even been compared to stained glass. As Persian shield's leaves age, they turn pink.

For a dramatic summertime display, partner Persian shield with cascading petunias in blue or pink and heat-loving Intensia phlox. You can also use Persian shield as a filler. Just pinch it back to make it bush out.


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2. Jewels of Opar

Named after a mythical city of legendary riches, Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculata 'Limon') is another thriller that can take the heat.

Sometimes called fameflower or limón talinum, Jewel of Opar's flowers and foliage are best described as extremely bright. Its leaves, a shocking chartreuse, are shaped like pretty petals, and its showy flowers look like hot pink stars.

Water it regularly, and remove old stems and flowers. Jewels of Opar will provide your container with striking blossoms and foliage throughout the summer.

Good pot partners for Jewels of Opar include blue wave petunias, dusty miller and sweet alyssum.


3. Summer Snapdragons

Summer snapdragons (Angelonia angustifolia) are pretty thrillers perfect for smaller containers, even window boxes. Butterflies are attracted to their blossoms, and their spiky foliage has an apple scent.

A native of Mexico and the West Indies, summer snapdragons love hot weather. In fact, the hotter it is, the better they flower--and the longer their blooms last.

For smaller planters, try the Carita series of Angelonia. The spikes are sturdier and shorter than those of the angelmist cultivar, growing anywhere for 12-18 inches tall. Blossoms are purple, white or deep pink.

Angelmist cultivars grow from 18-24 inches high. They come in six colors: white, deep plum, purple, blue, dark pink and purple/white stripe.

Pretty pot partners for summer snapdragons include white petunias and creeping jenny.

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4. Flowering Maple

Flowering maple (Abutilon) is another heat-loving thriller. Sometimes called Indian mallow, Chinese Lantern or Chinese bell flower, it's a member of the mallow family. As such, Abutilon is related to hollyhocks and hibiscus--not maples. So why the "maple" in its most popular name? Because of its leaves, which are shaped like the leaves of a maple tree.

When selecting a flowering maple as a thriller, choose one of the many upright semitropical hybrids available, such as the Abutilon pictum Thompsonii cultivar pictured right. It grows three feet tall, making it a good choice for large summer containers. Its variegated green/yellow foliage is striking, and its creamy orange flowers bloom from spring to fall.

Souvenir de Bonn is another tall orange-blossomed cultivar. Its leaves are wide with white margins. Snowbell, also a tall prolific bloomer, has solid green foliage and two-inch white flowers.

For smaller summer containers, upright flowering maples like Huntington Pink and Heronswood Lipstick are excellent choices. They reach just two feet tall. Huntington Pink's light pink flowers have scarlet throats. Heronswood Lipstick has magenta blossoms.

For gorgeous color plus nonstop blooms, pair Abutilon with heat-tolerant, boldly colored beauties like coleus and Joseph's coat.

5 RED CANNA LILY Indian Shot Canna Indica Flower SeedsComb S/H
5 RED CANNA LILY Indian Shot Canna Indica Flower SeedsComb S/H
Try these red cannas in a large mixed container.

5. Canna Lily Hybrids

Cannas, particularly the new hybrids, have it all--strong structure, bold color and big, beautiful iris-like blooms. A native of Africa, cannas love heat and sun. Keep them moist, and they'll add drama to your mixed containers all summer long.

Hybrids like Tropicanna, pictured right, are particularly suited to pot culture thanks to their shorter stature. Unlike some cannas that can grow up to six feet or more, the Tropicanna reaches just three to four.

Black Pearl is another dramatic short cultivar with glossy black blossoms edged in deep red. If you're a fan of high-impact foliage, variegated Canna Pretoria has yellow/green zebra stripes and enormous orange blossoms.

For big visual impact in smaller pots, try a dwarf canna hybrid like The President, featured right. Wyoming is another small hybrid, reaching 30-42 inches high at maturity. It has large, purplish-black leaves and eye-popping orange blooms.

Partner canna lilies with tuberoses and trailing Plectranthus, a relative of Swedish ivy, for stunning summer displays.

Canna Lily Care

Canna lilies aren't actually lilies; they're herbaceous flowering plants that grow from bulb-like structures called rhizomes. In zones 8-11, cannas are annuals, but with care gardeners in cooler areas can grow the same cannas from year to year.

Container Gardening

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