Landscaping with Perennials

Ever notice that some landscapes just look flat and boring, and no matter how many plants are present, nothing stands out to catch the eye?

Here’s the secret to avoiding this in your own landscape: Whether your ornamental garden is big or small, you can create depth with plants that stairstep in height, repeat colors, and create visual boundaries between each “room” or “vignette".

This isn't an exhaustive landscaping guide, but read our tips and you're sure to feel more confident when planting your perennials this spring.

Shown here: Carolina Jasmine (left) and Coral Honeysuckle (right).

Add vertical interest or separate a landscape into "rooms" with strategically placed vining plants. These climbing beauties can screen chain link and picket fences to hide neighbors or other distractions for most of the year. They can climb birdhouse poles or sturdy trellises to create a backdrop for shorter plants. What's the advantage of these two scenarios? In both cases, the vines are making our eyes focus and take in the plants in front of us without skipping ahead.

(Watch out: When planting on a trellis next to a house, be wary of vines that have aerial roots that can peel up or damage your siding. Vines like Coral Honeysuckle and Carolina Jasmine can be safely planted near houses because they do not have aerial roots.)

Pockets of Color
Shown here: Various heights of Sedums, Nepeta, Lychnis, Rudbeckia, Monarda, and more.

Plants in their native habitats rarely exist alone; they usually spread to form colonies or are surrounded by their offspring. Even if you don't want your landscape to look as "wild" as the actual wilderness, we can take a few tips from mother nature to echo this organic look at home.

Groups of even numbers usually look unnatural or staged to our pattern-seeking brains. Instead, create flowing clusters of perennials by planting in odd numbers of three or five. Stairstep them throughout the landscape, with tall plants in the back and shorter plants toward the front, so you can view the full bounty that your garden has to offer.

All odd numbers tend to work for this, except for one. The occasional focal plant is fine, but be wary of planting 'one of everything' as it can make your garden look noisy and disjointed.

Edging and Ground Covers
Shown here: Stachys 'Big Ears' (left), and Creeping Phlox, Ajuga, and Sedum (right).

These repetitive shapes and colors form the glue that brings an ornamental garden together. You can define the edges of flower beds with perennials like Carex, Lambs Ears, and Dianthus. These plants have the benefit of being low-maintenance and reliable.

Create a cohesive understory of color beneath shrubs or liven up pavers with ground covers. Common ground covers include Ajuga, Green and Gold, Sedum, and Creeping Phlox. Avoid ground covers that may spread invasively in your climate, because they can eventually become a nightmare for you and surrounding plants. It is generally safe to stick with native species or varieties that creep slowly rather than run.

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