Most of our blogs from Big Tex Urban Farms have been about farming, but we still do a lot of work on the ornamental side of horticulture as well. With spring in the air, I wanted to share some information about some of the work we do to help make Fair Park beautiful for example, creating pretty combo planters. In this blog, I’ll pass along some design tips and plant choice ideas so you too can make your own pretty creations!
Create Your Own Combo Planter
Creating combo planters is the process of using multiple varieties of plants in the same pot to create a unique display. Normally, at least three types of plants are used in combo planters, but this isn’t always the case. In order to create an eye-catching planter, plants of different colors, textures, and sizes are used together. Some folks just have a natural knack for doing this, like my Urban Farms “Second-in-Command,” Barron Horton. Creating great combo planters isn’t something I was always good at but I’ve studied and worked really hard to refine my skills. So you too can create awesome combo planters, I want to share with y’all what I have learned.
Thrill, Fill, and Spill
As you start your adventures into creating combo planters, a common phrase you will hear is “thrill, fill, and spill.” In fact, you may hear that over and over again in your favorite gardening magazines. This refers to your plan on how to build your planter:
- Start with the “thrill.” The idea is to base your design around a plant with “wow” factor. It can be a shrub in full bloom, a really fragrant plumeria or even a cool colored foliage plant. Anything that will make ’em say “wow!” Ideally, your “thrill” plant should have a little height, so it rises over the other plants in the combo planter.
- Next, the “fill” is what you will use to fill up most of the empty space left in the pot. These choices don’t have to be boring. For instance, colorful flowers make great filler plants. Some of my favorites are petunias and marigolds for spring and Graffiti pentas or dipladenia for summer. I also recommend begonias, impatiens, and caladiums for shady spots. These can be single or multi-color, and more than one type of flowering plant can be used as filler.
- Lastly, the “spill” are plants you will use to cascade over the edge of the pot. Ideally, you want to have at least three points of “spill” in your combo planter, but nothing is set in stone. Plants like ivies, lobularia ‘White Stream’, calibrachoa, and sweet potato vine make great spillers.
A Different Approach
Here is another approach to take when designing combo planters – one that I use quite often. Start with a plant that has some height or at least a strong vertical element. A small tree like a Japanese maple, an upright plant like an iris, or an ornamental grass is a great place to start. Plant it in the center or towards the back of the pot. Next, decide where you want your three to five points of spill to be, and plant those plants as close to the edge of the container as you can. Lastly, fill all of the open soil in your pot with whatever flowers you decide on. Pay some attention to color choice and try to pick colors that look good together. Feel free to use simple color schemes or mix it up with many colors and textures. Be creative and have fun with the process!
Combo Planters at the Fair
Come Fair time, you will see all sorts of our combo planters on display. We make combo planters out of everything, like our 100-gallon custom concrete pots, hanging baskets, and glazed pottery throughout the grounds. Next year, when you visit the State Fair of Texas, come see the hanging baskets in front of Grand Place, the glazed pots in any of our dining spots, and our large colorful concrete pots across the fairgrounds to see examples of combo pots in action. Many of the participants in our landscape contest display combo planters as well.
Of course, you can also use edible plants in combo planters. At Big Tex Urban Farms we use corn and okra in Cattle troughs in combination with flowers to decorate our livestock department during the Fair. In the winter months, I use dinosaur kale as the thriller plants in three of the glazed pot arrangements in front of the State Fair of Texas Administration building. I’ve also been known to use Citrus trees as combo planter centerpieces and highly recommend them if you want to add some citrus to your garden.
Combo planters are all the rage this spring and for good reason – they’re fun to make! I hope my tips help but above all I say, get out there and be creative. I’ll be back soon with more tips and tricks for your urban garden. Until then, happy gardening!
Director of Horticulture, State Fair of Texas