Filling planters with holiday arrangements marks the start of the Christmas season for me. I’ve been busy doing just that for the past couple weekends, and love how just a few supplies can be combined to create something beautiful and festive.
I’ve already written about what not to do when creating a winter arrangement and regretted it fully when I didn’t heed my own advice and had to deal with a frozen urn filled with summer plants last weekend (yes, buckets of hot water do help but it’s mucky, messy and cold. Ugh.) And I showed you how to make your own decorative accents. But I don’t believe that I’ve never written about how to actually put together a planter arrangement. Until today.
Design Guidelines for Holiday Arrangements
The same design principles apply to filling planters with greenery for the winter as with filling them with plants for the summer—the only difference is that your greenery isn’t going to grow, so you don’t have to calculate any of that. Great planters have thrillers, fillers, and spillers. For winter planters, evergreen boughs can be used for all three functions, or you can use other natural materials, or you can use a combination of materials. Generally, the more textures and colours you add, the more interesting your arrangement will be.
Thrillers are the tall branches that give your arrangement height—I often use pine branches or, if it’s a large planter, a small cedar tree, but you can also use tall coloured sticks (red dogwood, curly willow, thin birch branches, or spray painted branches)
Fillers are the bushy branches placed to make the middle of the arrangement full and lush. Cedar and shorter pine branches work well for this, or you could use something like euonymous or magnolia leaves.
Spillers are the branches that drape over the edges of the urn. I tend to use juniper, cedar, or pine (or a combination of all three) for this.
Step by Step – How I Make An Arrangement
When I make up an urn I start by laying out all of my materials first. I usually do this on a tarp, to make cleanup easier later. Having everything laid out makes it easy to find the right size and shape of branch, and lets me quickly see if I’m running low on some element. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to make a matching pair of planters–it’s easier to divide your materials first than realize halfway through that one is going to be a lot fuller than the other.
Then I empty the urn/planter of any leftover plants from the summer. I usually leave all of the soil in and use it as the base to anchor my winter arrangement. If I was starting with an empty urn I’d fill it with sand–not only is it heavy enough to keep your planter from toppling over in winter winds, it also does a really great job of holding branches of greenery in place. However, I rarely start with an empty urn so it’s easier to just keep the potting soil in it and push the greenery stems down a little deeper. Once the planter freezes nothing is going to move.
Next, I start my arrangement by placing a few branches as thrillers and spillers first, and then building out from there. Some people prefer to start with spillers and work upwards. Whichever method works for you is the right one!
Once you have your basic structure then you can add in more fillers, and keep building on the basic shape you’ve created:
Then I start adding in decorative accents. My goal is to have most of the visual weight of the arrangement at the base, but to also have elements that are integrated with the whole arrangement, and draw the eye upward.
This one has an off centre, triangular line to it–I find this works well when you have a square planter.
For a more traditional urn, I like to keep the design symmetrical: