Ultra-Thriller Plants Worthy of Michael Jackson!

by Patrick Muir on April 16, 2014


That this is thriller, thriller night

‘Cause I can thrill you more than any other ghoul would ever dare try

Thriller, thriller night

So let me hold you tight and share a killer, diller, chiller, thriller here tonight.

Michael Jackson, Thriller 1982

Most gardeners are aware of the simple formula to create the perfect container. Thrillers, fillers and spillers is the often repeated mantra.  The thriller is the big, bold, headlining plant often found in the center. Fillers are the complementary plants to the thriller that fill out the center of the pot. And finally spillers just tumble out of the pot and help to marry the combination to the suitable container.

But I believe there are some thrillers that are so dramatic they have no need for fillers and are best complemented with only spillers. I have bestowed upon this subset of thrillers its own moniker: the ultra-thrillers. As the name implies, an ultra-thriller plant deserves a large pot for water retention on long, hot days. If you had a greenhouse you could over winter some of these your ultra-thrilling selections. But in my book, treating them as an expensive annual can be justified based on the high-impact drama they’ll deliver through the first killer frost, which if we’re lucky holds off until October.


Strap Me Down Oleanders My first experience with this when I found two standard shaped oleanders. An oleander features bold, strap-like leaves with engaging single-petaled flowers in white, pink and red. But please be aware all parts of the plant are poisonous. You mighty be able to find standard that was created by removing all the side shoots of a plant to create a solid trunk and allowing the plant to grow out on top creating “a ball on a stick” effect. Since the trunk of the oleander extended so high, no filler could do it justice. So I skipped the filler and went to alyssum ‘Snow Princess’. But the more commonly found bush form of oleander works just as well as an ultra-thriller, too.


Just Touch Me Tibouchinas Also known as the princess flower, this beauty features bold 3-inch, 5-petaled flowers with bold white stamens.  One respected blogger described tibouchinas as having the impact of an orchid on a bush with felt-like leaves that I think just scream out to be touched. According to my beloved Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, tibouchinas can be moved to a cool bright room and treated as a houseplant where they will bloom through the winter but I have not tried this but would be worth a try to create an even bigger thriller for next season. Some trailing torenia in purple tones would make a great spiller for this worthy plant.


Dare We Do a Dahlia? While I believe pink flowers are overused in general gardening, the ‘Park Princess’ dahlia is one of the exceptions every great gardener should grow sometime in their lifetime.  The daring cactus-form flowers that are around 4″ wide, sport varying pinks from pale to rich vibrant pink depending on temperature and moisture according to Brent & Becky’s Bulbs. What really sets her apart is the preponderance of blooms on the bush at any one time that you’ll be tempted to bring inside as they make wonderful cutflowers. But resist the temptation, as they’ll last longer in the container. Pair with yellow caibrachoa as there is some yellow in the center of the dahlia.


Canna or Can’t You Die From Boldness? We’re talking big pots like whiskey barrels here, but two outstanding cultivars here stand ahead of the crowd. Named after my beloved native land, Canna ‘Australia’ from Plant Delights sports 4′ leaves of deep burgundy, almost black leaves. , The bold leaves are topped with eye-catching, might I say, shocking, red flowers that are a magnet for hummingbirds? Surrounded by the alyssum ‘Snow Princess’ at the base, you could have some nice black and white interaction  before ‘Australia’ gets too tall. Heads up: ‘Snow Princess’ can be a water hog but it’s worth the effort to me.


Canna ‘Phaison’ from Plant Delights will shock and awe you in delight but it may overwhelm some topping out over six feet. But if you want real impact, she’s well worth the effort. With big purple leaves streaked in red and gold, you’ll be amazed at its potential impact. Some trailing Sunpatiens at base could be quite dashing.

angels trumpet

Angel’s We Heard On High! If you want a plant sweetly singing o’ver the (strike plains) patio, then you must try brugsmanias, or angel’s trumpets. Talk about high impact with boisterous (can angel’s be boisterous? — Hell’s angels???) blooms hanging down 10″ with a gorgeous scent. Placing them in large containers allows the fragrance to waft heavily in the night air. You simply have to see this in person just once!


Hibiscus ‘Creole Lady’ — Logee’s Greenhouse

Say HI! Again to Hibiscus! So hibiscus has lost a lot of respect since legions of people from the middle class (no knock here, never have seen to be able to get out of it myself) could afford to take Hawaiian vacations and came home and just had to have one. Odds are it was a dowdy pink one that struggled to put out sporadic blooms in a room with insufficient light. But, oh, how it loves our hot, humid summers and you can pick a stunning hybrid that will enchant you all summer. How do you like this little cajun number above?

You should be able to find plenty of large-sized selections at your favorite independent garden center. But if you want to start with a young pup from Logee’s, grow it by itself this season and overwinter it in the brightest room with next year in mind.

The scaveola (fan flower) ‘Surdiva’ and its lavender flowers spilling over a large pot would look great all summer with most of the hibiscus colors you’ll find out there.

What do you think about the concept of ultra-thrillers? 


Patrick's Garden

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

New Hampshire Gardener April 16, 2014 at 4:36 pm

I agree, especially when the container is near an entryway. I only have one container near the front walk but it is big and is also in the shade. I usually put something dramatic in it. Sometimes coleus, sometimes heliotrope, sometimes New Zealand impatiens.


Patrick April 16, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Hey BHG,
Glad you’re validating the concept. Sometimes you throw some concept out there and the readers are thinking – Say what??? Haven’t had much luck with heliotrope because I think it gets too hot but I envy you enjoying that delicious fragrance all summer, You have some nerves mentioning New Zealand in front of a true blue Aussie when I’m sure you’re talking New Guinea impatiens. But you get a consolation nod as you were in the right part of the world, my friend.


New Hampshire Gardener April 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Oops-yes, I meant New Guinea imps. Not sure where the New Zealand came from!


Patrick April 17, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Can understand the brain fart. Happens to me all the time.


snowbird April 17, 2014 at 11:37 am

Some lovely thrillers there, I’d be loath to put them in a pot in case they dried out. I loved the Canna ‘Phaison’ and this post has reminded me that I have ordered some Angel’s trumpets which haven’t arrived yet…..so I have that to look forward to! xxx


Patrick April 17, 2014 at 11:45 am

Thanks for visiting SB. Yes some of these would take a big commitment to water. Enjoy your angel trumpet’s this summer, my friend.


Shirley April 17, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Great container ideas. I love Brugmansia and grow several different ones in containers then take cuttings to winter over. Can’t beat Cannas for thrillers in a container arrangement. Have you seen Canna Intrique? Great leaf shape to go with the bronze foliage. This year’s Hibiscus is Chinese Lantern which is anything but boring.

Oleanders grow huge in South Texas so one season in a container would be about it.

Look forward to seeing your ideas this year.


Patrick April 19, 2014 at 8:36 am

Some beautiful choices you’ve noted here. I see why landscapers love Intrigue and will put Chinese Lantern on my bucket list.


Pauline April 18, 2014 at 1:35 am

You have some wonderful ideas there Patrick, I obviously must try harder with my pots which don’t look anywhere near as lovely as the ones you have shown. I hadn’t thought of Cannas for pots, but you have got me thinking!


Patrick April 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Glad to be an idea starter for you. I think a canna would be a challenge but well worth it for drama’s sake. We’re all about being dramatic, in my book.


Alistair April 20, 2014 at 3:53 am

Great ultra-thrillers you show us today Patrick. I particularly like the Oleander, wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving in Aberdeen, I wonder if I could get away with it in my new location.


Patrick April 22, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Glad you enjoyed this post, my friend. Oleander is worth it as a glorious summer annual (at the right price, that is.)


Greggo April 20, 2014 at 3:28 pm

The Creole Lady is my favorite. They too are such water hogs however.


Patrick April 21, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Thanks for stopping by my fellow Kansan and for the heads up on their water needs.


Donna April 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Too many lovelies in this post, Patrick. I love potted standards in the garden and the Oleander is an eye catcher. I am usually not taken with Canna, but Phaison is a quite the stunner. Cute post too.


Patrick April 21, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Wish I had a few standards and a conservatory but now I think of such as really expensive annuals. Glad you liked my tribute to MJ.


Jason May 2, 2014 at 2:13 am

I’ll take the Tibouchina and a few of the Australia Canna lilies.


Patrick June 28, 2014 at 12:20 am

Good choices, buddy. Can’t believe this Australian hasn’t grow my country’s namesake, but maybe some day.


Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome June 28, 2014 at 6:03 am

I planted some cannas in pots this year. We’ll see how it goes! Love scaveola in containers too–just discovered it last year.


Patrick June 28, 2014 at 10:36 am

Will look out for reports on the cannas. Can’t believe you’re just discovering scaveola, also known as my native Australian fan flower. Am growing a lot of the white variety this year in combinations with Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ as another spiller.Thanks for stopping by.


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