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Containing his enthusiasm

Horticultural expert Nicholas Askew shares his creative thriller, filler and spiller technique.

Story by Hilary Kraus

Thriller: “Savannah Red” Geranium
Filler: Wave Petunias
Spiller: Creeping Jenny

It didn’t take much digging for Nicholas Askew to uncover his passion. After studying horticultural science at North Carolina State University and graduating in 2012, Askew moved to Charleston and soon began working with a designer creating plant and flower containers at the Battery and around town.

Along with beautifying Charleston, Askew continued to work on his cotton designs and wreaths, using cotton he’d hand cut from White Oak Farm, his family’s fourth-generation farm in Eure, N.C.

As fortune would have it, Askew’s unique cotton wreaths made their way to the retail shop Provisions at Palmetto Bluff. The interest in his indigenous creations led to Askew instructing an artisan workshop at Palmetto Bluff in November 2018.

“It was a great success. People were excited to use their cotton wreaths inside their home.” Askew said. “It brings me joy to know a piece of my family’s farm is a part of this beautiful area.” Askew met his first Palmetto Bluff client through the workshop and was hired to design the plant containers that add to the home’s beautiful landscaping.

Creating the ‘wow’ factor

Askew designs his containers using a technique he learned from a college professor called “thriller,” “filler” and “spiller.”

Thriller can be described as plants with height that add drama to the container,” Askew said. He explained that thriller plants are flowering or evergreens and are generally placed in the center or in the back of the container.

Filler plants have more of a refined texture and fill in around the thriller and spiller elements. They are used to hide the soil from showing in the container and tend to be more mounded plants.

Spiller plants usually are planted close to the edge of the container to ensure the plants complete the spiller effect. They generally cascade over the edge of the container.

“All three elements intertwine,” Askew said. “You can decorate with any color of plant using your imagination as long as it sets the color scheme of the design.”

Thriller, filler and spiller

Nicholas Askew’s plant and floral containers are based on thriller, filler and spiller design. In these pots he used Purple Heart and Creeping Jenny because both plants can take sun and shade, which is ideal for the environment at Palmetto Bluff. Find more at