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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Blue plumbago, top, white petunias, red geraniums and blue lobelia fill out this container designed by Young’s Greenhouse and Flower Shop.

Patriotic planters

Red, white and blue garden options abound

What do you get when you combine thrillers, fillers and spillers?

Fourth of July fireworks – of the floral kind.

Independence Day, unlike Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, isn’t typically thought of as a floral holiday. But why not? It’s not too late to find bedding annuals, and it’s certainly a time to spruce up outside for holiday visitors to barbecues or pool parties.

It’s also easy enough to put together a new container garden with a patriotic color scheme – the red, white and blue combination that looks beautiful and has been the bread-and-butter of florists for decades.

When you buy your plants, your first decision should be whether your container will be in full sun or shade, says Andy Force, horticulture supervisor at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, 1100 South Calhoun St. You can then select proper plants by checking their hang tags.

From there on in, it’s a matter of combining a tall, dramatic plant or two for the center of the container (thrillers) with a couple of midsized, bushy plants (fillers) and plants with a trailing habit, he says.

Red and white are easy to come up with – begonias, impatiens, petunias (including candy-cane striped ones) and geraniums all qualify.

Many are available by the six-pack for about $1.50 this time of year as garden centers clear out their inventory, says Doug Hackbarth, owner of Broadview Florists and Greenhouses, 5409 Winchester Road.

But blues “are a little harder to find,’ ” says Brian Young, staff member at Young’s Greenhouse, 4131 N. Clinton St.

“Your best blue out there is lobelia – it’s an honest-to-God, true blue. If nobody’s got lobelia, there are petunias, which come pretty close, or there’s always ageratum,” he says.

Blue also tends to disappear in floral arrangements, so try mixing it closely with white.

For design, think in thirds – your container should be one third of the height of your garden, with the tallest plant rising about two thirds above its top, Force says.

Fill the middle third with your filler plants and the bottom third with the spillers. The width of your garden will look pleasing if you stick with the same proportions, he says.

Force says to look for a container with one or more drainage holes – or punch them yourself in a plastic pot. Don’t overfill with plants, he cautions – you want a little space for them to grow into.

For a picnic table buffet centerpiece or a prime spot on porch or patio, a 10- or 12-inch clay pot will do just fine, he says. Fancy it up, if you wish, with ribbon and a bow, pinwheel or mini flag.

You may need a few spoonfuls of potting or garden soil or a few pebbles in the bottom to fill a very deep pot. But we’re betting you can do the whole thing for less than $10 – with some plants left over for a second container or those holes in your flower beds.


Thriller: Red geranium

Filler: White or candy-cane-striped petunias

Spiller: Blue ageratum and white sweet alyssum


Thriller: Red Wizard Sun or Molten lava coleus

Filler: White begonias

Spiller: Blue lobelia and white sweet alyssum


Thriller: White snapdragon

Filler: Blue lobelia

Spiller: Red and white mini-petunias


Thriller: Victorian Blue salvia

Filler: Red begonias

Spiller: White portulaca, also known as moss rose


Thriller: Red Bonfire begonia

Filler: White marigolds

Spiller: Blue and white scaevola aemula, also called fan flower

Part-shade to shade

Thriller: Red and white Betty Fuchsia

Filler: Red, white or red-star impatiens

Spiller: Blue browallia