'Ozawa' Japanese onion
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Brown
Many years ago, when I first spoke at a well-attended perennial conference, the person introducing me asked if someone had a box because I’m so “vertically challenged.” Short people always seem to be the butt of jokes and, in the words of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, “get no respect.” Not long after that conference, I recognized that short perennials were in the same boat. Large plants seem to get all the accolades. They’re often labeled as big, bodacious focal points and are celebrated for their superior architectural effects and textural features. The best that most gardeners have to say about plants for the front of the garden is that they’re short, diminutive, small-statured, or, heaven forbid, dwarf—a word that implies misshapen, which most edging perennials are anything but.
No garden is complete without low-growing plants, which beautifully accentuate bed lines, define path and bed boundaries, soften harsh edges, and counter large-scale plants for visual interest. To be worthy of being planted in my garden, perennial edgers have to work hard. They must flower for a long time, have interesting foliage color and texture from spring to fall, and show minimal disease and pest problems.
The ideal height of edging plants depends on how close you will be to the beds when viewing them. For beds that are viewed from a distance, 2-foot-tall plants work well. Of course, you can go taller than 2 feet if the plant is see-through (or airy enough to permit a view of the plants behind it). For beds that are observed up close, plants that are no more than 18 inches tall fit the bill. No matter where you view them from, the number of good candidates for sun and shade seems almost endless.