Nearly 60% of people who participate in food gardening in the US do so in 100 square feet or less. That’s not much space!

Especially for urban gardeners, that means a back porch, a balcony, a few window planters, or even a single pot is the entire garden space. But these limitations can lead to some amazing outcomes.

Small space, lots of food. Thrillers, fillers, and spillers are important features of edible organic landscaping. Strawberries, dwarf zinnias, and purple sage spilling; chard, lettuce, bush beans filling; lacinato kale and wheat thrilling.

Small space, lots of food. Thrillers, fillers, and spillers are important features of edible organic landscaping. Strawberries, dwarf zinnias, and purple sage spilling; chard, lettuce, bush beans filling; lacinato kale and wheat thrilling.

Just as twitter requires you to be selective about the 140 characters you can use to communicate, limited garden space requires you to:

  • Be more selective in the growth habits of what you grow (for instance, you’d be better off growing bush squash rather than vining squash);
  • Pay more attention to aesthetics since you likely live or have company in your garden areas.

Yes, you can create stunningly beautiful edible landscapes even if you’re just gardening in a single pot. And if you have a huge garden, you can still make your garden MORE attractive by adding planted containers/pots and other interesting features.

And we’re going to show you how!

A nice mix of pots and in-ground plants with a wide range of colors, shapes, sizes and textures at Tyrant Farms. And, of course, ducks. According to Aaron and Susan, every edible landscape should have heritage breed ducks (just kidding).

A nice mix of pots and in-ground plants with a wide range of colors, shapes, sizes and textures at Tyrant Farms. And, of course, ducks. According to Aaron and Susan, every edible landscape should have heritage breed ducks (just kidding).

Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers – Creating Your Edible Patio Garden (Or Attractive Large Garden)

As we say at GrowJourney, “plants are like people: they grow better in communities, than in isolation.” Not only will your garden perform better as you increase biodiversity, it will also LOOK better if different plants are grown together. Single rows of monoculture don’t do much to attract the interest of the human eye. However, interesting combinations of sizes, colors, textures, and smells captivate us.

Can you spot the thrillers, fillers, and spillers in this garden?

Can you spot the thrillers, fillers, and spillers in this garden?

And that’s where “thrillers, fillers, and spillers” enter the equation. Depending on your climate zone, season, the size of your growing space, and what you enjoy eating, your thrillers, fillers, and spillers may vary.

THRILLERS are the first thing you see: they’re the big, striking plants that provide architectural structure to a garden plant arrangement. These would go in the center of a pot, or on the back row of a garden bed. Examples of thrillers might be:

Japanese Yatsufusa peppers in front of scallions at Tyrant Farms. The contrasting sizes, shapes, and colors really draw your eye in.

Japanese Yatsufusa peppers in front of scallions at Tyrant Farms. The contrasting sizes, shapes, and colors really draw your eye in.

FILLERS are the visual “connectors” in the middle of an edible plant arrangements between the thrillers and the spillers. Their structure is mounding and full, so as to cover the base of the large thriller plant and fill in the empty spaces in the arrangement with attractive, colorful foliage and flowers. Good examples of fillers include (single or in combination):

  • red rubin basil
  • thai basil
  • bush beans
  • plants in the mint family
  • beets or other attractive plants with edible greens (upright red lettuces, etc)
  • colorful greens like purple kale

SPILLERS are the plants that cascade and “spill” out of your pots or fill in the edges of your beds. Ideally, your spiller plants have colors and textures that provide interesting visual contrast from your filler plant(s). Examples of spillers include:

  • nasturtiums
  • prostrate rosemary
  • sweet potatoes
  • cucumbers (especially Mexican sour gherkin cukes)
  • creeping thyme
  • mache
  • sculpit
  • ice plants
  • pole beans without trellis
  • golden oregano
  • ground cherries, passionfruit
  • tumbling tomatoes
  • strawberries
Not all edible garden plants HAVE to be directly edible by people. Zinnias make a nice summer spiller at Tyrant Farms. Zinnias aren't edible but honeybees, other pollinators and predatory insects sure love them. This means the cucumbers, ground cherries and other edible plants in this bed set more fruit and get extra protection from pest insects.

Not all edible garden plants HAVE to be directly edible by people. Dwarf zinnias make a nice summer spiller at Tyrant Farms. Dwarf or standard zinnias aren’t edible but honeybees, other pollinators and predatory insects sure love them. This means the cucumbers, ground cherries and other edible plants in this bed set more fruit and get extra protection from pest insects.

Seven Additional Thriller, Filler, Spiller Tips

  1. Use Organic Potting Soil – Don’t put regular garden soil IF you’re using planters or pots. This will form an impenetrable brick. Instead, use organic potting soil, which is much lighter in texture.
  2. Match Plants to Pot Size – For very large pots, use up to 3 filler species, but for smaller pots there is usually only 1 thriller and 1 spiller for a cleaner design. Also, don’t put huge thriller plants in small pots or small thriller plants in huge pots. Finally, if you use a large, “fountaining” plant (like a lemongrass) in a pot, you might want to devote the entire pot to the lemongrass and keep your fillers and spillers either in separate pots or plant them in-ground outside of the pot. That way, they won’t be shaded or smothered when the lemongrass (or thriller with similar growth habit) matures. Alternately, if you want to keep everything in a single pot, plant a vigorous spiller vine like sweet potatoes with your lemongrass and harvest a pot full of yummy tubers at the end of the season.
  3. More Water Than In-Ground Garden Plants – Potted arrangements require more water/irrigation than in-ground arrangements, especially during summer and as the plants mature and their water needs increase. We have to water our potted plants every morning in the summer.
  4. Added Fertility – Unlike in-ground plants, the roots and mycorrhizal fungi in a potted plant arrangement only have access to the nutrients inside the pot. That means you’ll likely need to apply an organic fertilizer once every few weeks, or more often if the plants’ leaves drop or take on a yellow hue (assuming they don’t naturally have yellow leaves, of course). Kelp emulsion, worm castings, or slow-release pelleted organic fertilizer work well.
  5. Pot Sizes, Shapes, and Colors – Don’t forget that your pots are part of the arrangement! A colorful pot(s) can really help bring visual interest to a less colorful arrangement. Conversely, if you want to immediately draw the eye to the colorful plants in your arrangement, a standard terra cotta pot will likely work best. Mixing in different sizes and shapes of pots can add visual interest as well.
  6. More Visual Interest – There are additional ways to add visual interest to your edible garden. Statues, water features, drift wood, large rocks, geodes, etc.. Get creative and throw in something extra to draw people in to your beautiful edible garden, no matter how small or how large it is!
  7. Color Wheel Theory – Need help picking out the colors of the plant combinations you’re going to grow together? University of Georgia Ag Extension has a great guide for plant selection based on the color wheel theory.
A lovely early spring edible landscape at Tyrant Farms. Mache provides a nice spiller plant with tiny white flowers and pansies fill in backing up to shallots and garlic patches. Mache is a delicious cold/cool weather green and pansy flowers are also a nice edible on their own, as a garnish, or as candied flowers.

A lovely early spring edible landscape at Tyrant Farms. Mache provides a nice spiller plant with tiny white flowers and pansies fill in backing up to shallots and garlic patches. Mache is a delicious cold/cool weather green and pansy flowers are also a nice edible on their own, as a garnish, or as candied flowers.

Additional Edible Landscape Reading Recommendations

Want to learn more about turning your yard into a gorgeous food oasis? We highly recommend these five edible landscaping books:

Just in case you’re not already a GrowJourney Seeds of the Month Club member, we’d love for you to give us a try (for free) to see if you’d like to start growing with us! And don’t forget: a GrowJourney Gift Membership also makes a unique and special gift.




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