Sunday, July 4, 2010

Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers

You may have heard the story about Nancy Miller and me when we were first interviewed to become Master Gardeners back in the Summer of 2001. If so, and don't want to hear it again, skip ahead, else, here it is.

After listening to a presentation by Bob Kessler and Chris Mayer, describing the program, and discussing how the group is made up of many individuals coming from all aspects of horticulture, we were asked to introduce ourselves, and talk a bit about our own interests.

Nancy sat to my left and noted that, although she had experience growing up with vegetable gardens, she now limited herself strictly to ornamentals, and said, "If it isn't pretty, I don't grow it." I came next, and offered my own perspective, "Well, if you can't eat it, what's the point?"

I've come a long way since then, and although my heart is still in the vegetable world, I've become much more interested in the aethetics of it all, and keep learning more each year. For example, I've become rather proud of my shade garden and have been adding to the woodland spring ephemeral section (see here and here) and actually spent $12.00 on a single, three leaved specimen of the American Hosta Grower's 2008 hosta of the year, 'Blue Mouse Ears' (it was in 2009, and on sale, but still - $12.00, for a single plant, and such a dinky one at that!)

I also worked with Donna last year, along with Maria, and a rotating subgroup of the Victory Garden class, helping Steve evaluate different varieties of container vegetables, by harvesting, sorting, rating, counting, weighing and documenting yield of the 'marketable' produce from the trials. Armed with that experience, I offered to help with this year's Container Gardening Workshop, with a small segment on the recent trend in vegetable container gardening.

And of course, I learned something new at that class, from Linda Horst, during her presentation and reinforced by Sally Dallago during the hands-on part, about the easy to remember design for containers, using something tall (thrillers), something shorter around them (fillers), and something that drapes down, (spillers.)

So here's the result, a series of containers running up my front steps, with a 'Ray aesthetic':

(click on the pictures for larger, more detailed versions)

Thrillers: Ornamental corn (original seed from Burpee - Steve says the kernels can be popped - I grow them for the multicolored leaves, though, and Fall decorating with the black ears). Lemon grass - an herb used in Thai cooking to give a citrus flavor to the dish. A second year Rosemary bush, successfully overwintered in the unheated, but enclosed upstairs porch, and though not intended as such when originally planted, the cilantro going to flower.

Fillers: a variegated english thyme (from Renfrew's Earth Day), several basil plants, parsley (my own starts), black pearl and peruvian purple pepper plants acquired at the plant sale, a sage plant that overwintered outside in its container, and came back beautifully, and some of Steve's container eggplants, peppers, and, of course, tomatoes - check out the wispy, elegant foliage of the 'Silvery Fir Tree' variety.

Spillers: two varieties of ornamental sweet potato vine, 'Marguerite', the chartreuse one, and 'Blackie' the black one. Bacoba, and some wave petunias from the leftovers after Steve planted the containers around the Extension Office (a perk from volunteering to work in the greenhouse - think about that next year when the call goes out.)

You also might notice a couple zinnias, some dahlias, and a lemon calendula tucked in there, also part of Steve's leftovers.

Looks pretty good and mostly edible.  Maybe some cukes and zukes as spillers for next year?  I wonder if they have some variegated-leaved ones, yet?

Update: July 5th 1:45 PM - I didn't like the first picture at the beginning of this post, so I replaced it and added a couple more from different angles. Here's the original one that I didn't like:

Update 2 July 24:  Here's a closeup of the ornamental corn Zea mays var. Japonica


  1. I've used millet from time to time in my containers. The birds love it and it also got a rise out of my retired farm women neighbors!

  2. Yes. There's a black one and a chartreuse one. I think the chartreuse one was featured last year at Landisville. I'd love to do one next year with the contrasting chartreuse and black of the sweet potato vines, mirrored oppositely with the same colors in the millet. Then use the black pearl peppers and Thai basil as fillers. I think I've gone over to the dark side ...