Ultra-Thriller Plants Worthy of Michael Jackson!

by Patrick 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

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