A thriller, a filler and a spiller A thriller, a filler and a spiller

Use the three word rule for your balcony pot planting this summer and you can’t go wrong.  Wise words from gardening guru Sarah Raven as she gives Weston Homes readers a peek at her new book.

Garden supremo Sarah Raven is the undisputed queen of container planting. The garden at her home in Perch Hill, Sussex, where she trials and tests hundreds of plants for her online nursery, is packed with pots that fizz with colour and ebullience. Happily for us, in her new book, A Year Full of Pots, Sarah details all her top scoring, pot-worthy plants suited for every season. However, you don’t need to know the names of plants or be a knowledgeable gardener to create dazzling containers – just follow Sarah’s can’t-fail formulas.

For instance, her holy trinity for spectacular, centre-stage containers is this: a thriller, a spiller and a filler. Each fulfil different roles. The thriller, an upright central plant, is the head turner, such as a dahlia; the fillers are the plants that froth and fill the gaps such as snapdragons, and the spillers are the trailers, such as calibrachoas and verbenas, that tumble over the edges of pots, softening edges. So for this time of year – and for colour that lasts through summer and beyond – you might consider purple Salvia Amistad (a thriller), pink pelargoniums (filler) and violet rhodochiton (a spiller).

Phlox drummondii in front of Petunia hybrida 'Tidal Wave Silver'
Full-on Petunia power

Colour is, of course, hugely important. The key to successful colour combining, according to Sarah: “Avoid the liquorice all-sorts look, all thrown in together resulting in pots competing with each other.” She sticks to a set of rules which are based on four colour palettes, and advises that to play safe, stick with one palette because the colours will always be compatible: Dark and Rich (conker brown, crimson, deep purple, indigo and vermilion); Boiled-sweet Brilliant (raspberry, strawberry, orange, blackcurrant, lemon and lime); Soft and Warm (peach, milky coffee, ivory, smoky pink), and finally, the calm palette: Soft and Cool (mauves, soft blues, primrose yellows and shades of white), which she calls the chicest – very crisp and smart.

The easiest rule of Sarah’s is to have a single plant in a single pot. So you could have a mass of shocking pink Verbena Sissinghurst in a wide, low trough as a centrepiece, you might choose to showcase one spectacular powderpuff dahlia or, as Sarah does, plant solo the ever-flowering white Mexican daisy in a series of identical terracotta flowerpots down the garden table: the power of repetition.

Centre stage pot of Salvia and Pelargonium
Scented pot of Phlox and Heliotrope

Another option is to make families of pots each containing a different plant, but all in a matching colour. A favourite duo of Sarah’s is to partner a pot of Tidal Wave Silver petunias with a pot of Phlox 21st Century Blue Star so that the larger silvery-white petunias billow to the smaller, silvery-white flowers beneath, one echoing the other in both colour and shape; very simple, very effective.

Option three is to choose your favourite colour from one palette and go all out, using two or more same-coloured plants in a single container. At Perch Hill, Sarah’s many multiple-plant combos include an all-purple pot of French lavender, phlox and heliotrope, a ‘summer fruit salad’ bowl of hot orange calibrachoa with purple nemesia and a crimson confection of dahlia Dalaya Devi with Petunia Red Velour, which Sarah says flowers from May or June right until the end of October, providing double delight.

Whichever formula you adopt this summer, make sure you follow Sarah’s ‘cast iron’ rule: More is most definitely more.

A Year Full of Pots: Container Flowers for All Seasons is out now (Bloomsbury Publishing, Hardback, £27).  Photos by Jonathan Buckley