Designing Perennials for Height, Texture, and Foliage

Each perennial has a flowering height and a foliage height. A plant's flowers are usually held up much higher than its leaves. As you design your perennial garden and plan the placement of plants, arrange the garden so that the flowers show and are not covered up by the foliage and flowers of plants in front of them. When the plants in bloom finish flowering and are deadheaded, the unfolding foliage and flowers of other plants help to camouflage the remaining foliage. Long, narrow bands of the same plant give you the most oomph in the least space, as one species supplants another.

Goldenrod
Goldenrod gives your garden height and texture.

Consider these varied aspects of your perennials' appearance when designing your garden:

  • Form: Plant shape is an important consideration when designing with perennials. If you select plants with varying forms, the garden will be more interesting. Ground-hugging mats; tall, spiked growth; and arching or rounded plants provide visual variety whether the plants are in bloom or not.

  • Texture: A variety of textures adds to a garden's beauty. Placing plants with feathery foliage next to ones with large, bold leaves will produce a more dramatic garden. To test how plants will look when planted together, place potted samples side by side and evaluate them.

  • Pattern: Some plants have foliage or flowers with stripes, spots, and splotches of color, which provide variety to the basic forms. Some flowers are two-toned, with outer petals of one color and inner ones of another, or with several colors on the same petal. Others, like iris, may have upper petals of one color and lower ones of another. Anthers or other flower parts may have colors that contrast with petals.

Another factor is the attractiveness of the foliage itself, with more and more attention being paid to having gardens of leaves of many colors and forms. There are wonderful gardens composed mainly of hostas. Late-emerging hostas combine well with spring wildflowers and bulbs that bloom before the hostas come up. Then the hostas hide the dying foliage of the ephemeral spring plants. From mats of ground-cover ajuga or ginger to towering canna lilies with striped leaves, foliage is a great element of design.

If you want an informal garden design, a meadow garden might be right for you. Keep reading to learn about using perennials to create a meadow garden.

Want more information about gardening with perennials? Try these: