A vibrant container display can bring instant colour and impact to your garden. But it can be hard to know which plants will work well together. To help you create gorgeous pots every time, we've created a recipe for success, it's called 'thriller, filler, spiller'.


By following this formula, you can be sure you have all the elements to create a beautiful pot, and you can mix and match to suit your taste and the plants you can find. Each month, we'll bring you a selection of the best plants to grow in pots, using this formula. Simply choose at least one plant from each section, opting for complementary or contrasting colours, for show-stopping pots guaranteed.

More container planting ideas

Follow our formula for creating gorgeous containers, that look their best in May:


This is your star plant, so you're looking for something that will give your pot colour and impact. Choose something that instantly catches your eye, as it'll set the tone for your whole container display.

Thriller: Geum

Geum 'Mrs J Bradshaw'
Geum 'Mrs J Bradshaw'

These vibrant hardy perennials can flower from late spring right through summer, and their flowers are usually shades of red, orange or yellow. They're a favourite plant of RHS Chelsea Flower Show designers, brightening up show gardens and containers alike. Most geums will cope in sun or partial shade. Keep well watered in pots.

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Thriller: Drumstick primrose

Primula denticulata
Primula denticulata

Most primulas make great container plants, and the drumstick primrose produces pretty, purple pompoms of flowers from April to June. This perennial plant is hardy and will grow in sun or partial shade.

Thriller: Senetti

Senetti Blue Bicolour
Pericallis Senetti Blue Bicolour

These plants are smothered in masses of spectacular, large blooms right through spring and into early summer, in shades of pink, blue or purple. Also known as pericallis and cineraria, they're tender, so need to be protected from frost, and will flower best in a sunny spot. Keep them well watered, feed with tomato fertiliser and deadhead to prolong flowering. Once the flowers have faded, trim the plants down to around 10-15cm tall and they'll often produce a second flush of flowers later in the year.

Thriller: Aquilegia

Aquilegia vulgaris

With flowers in almost every shade of the rainbow, there's an aquilegia to suit every container display. These perennials flower through May and early June and are perfect for brightening up a partially shady spot.


This is likely to be a less showy plant than your thriller, but makes the whole display look fuller and more interesting. For a harmonious display, choose a plant in the same or a similar colour to your thriller, or for a bolder look opt for a contrasting colour.

Filler: Phlox

Phlox divaricata 'Clouds of Perfume'
Phlox divaricata 'Clouds of Perfume'

Compact varieties of phlox, such as Phlox 'Clouds of Perfume', are ideal for growing in pots in a sunny spot. Many are deliciously fragranced and will produce a haze of long-lasting flowers from May to July.

Filler: Lysimachia

Best lysimachia to grow – Lysimachia atropurpurea 'Beaujolais'
Lysimachia atropurpurea 'Beaujolais'

This hardy perennial will produce its dainty spires of flowers, which are loved by butterflies, from May until September. It will flower in sun or partial shade. Keep well watered when growing in a pot and deadhead to keep it flowering. Take a look at our recommended lysimachia to grow.

Filler: Euphorbia

Euphorbia x martini
Euphorbia x martini

The long-lasting flowers of euphorbias, or spurge, will keep your container looking good for months. Choose from vibrant lime-green varieties, or dainty types with white flowers, such as Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost', and striking red-eyed specimens such as Euphorbia x martini.

Filler: Saxifrage

Saxifraga Mossy Group 'Apple Blossom'
Saxifraga Mossy Group 'Apple Blossom'

Saxifrages may look delicate, but most are hardy and reliable perennials that will produce low carpets of their lovely little flowers from May to July, in shades of white, pink or red. They thrive in pots or at the front of a border. Water moderately over the summer, but ensure they have good drainage over winter. Cut back after they've finished flowering.


These plants spill over the edges of the pot, giving the display a softer, more natural look and ensuring there's no bare compost on show. They're also useful for filling in any gaps.

Spiller: New Zealand wind grass

Perennial grasses to grow - Anemanthele lessoniana
Anemanthele lessoniana

This slender evergreen grass adds interest to containers all year round, and develops attractive tones of bronze, orange and red. Also known as pheasant's tail grass, Anemanthele lessoniana stays fairly compact.

Spiller: Calibrachoa

Calibrachoa Can Can Coral Reef
Calibrachoa 'Can-Can Coral Reef'

This cheery bedding plant looks like a miniature petunia, and comes in a similarly dizzying range of colours. It will happily spill over the edge of a container or hanging basket, acting as both filler and spiller, and flowers from May until the first frosts. Pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushy plants and feed regularly with tomato fertiliser for maximum flowers.

Spiller: Soft shield fern

Polystichum setiferum
Polystichum setiferum

Ferns make great container plants, adding an airy green backdrop to your display. The soft shield fern is evergreen, giving your pot structure all year round, and thrives in full or partial shade.

Spiller: Hosta

Hosta 'Halcyon'
Hosta 'Halcyon'

This lush-leaved perennial is invaluable for adding greenery to pots in shady spots. Growing hostas in pots also makes them slightly easier to protect from slugs and snails. Choose from glaucous-toned types, such as Hosta 'Halcyon', or for an added splash of colour opt for variegated varieties, like Hosta 'Patriot'.


Plan ahead for a summer of beautiful container displays