Plants for a Layered-Style Garden

Fine Gardening – Issue 201
layered-style garden
Photo: Rob Whitworth/

As you design with a layered approach, it helps to have a sense of what your options are. Here are some examples of the types of plants that can create each layer.

Planting plan details

illustration of the different planting layers separated

1. Design layer: Structural plants

These plants are the bones of the design, ensuring year-round presence.

2. Design layer: Seasonal theme plants

Using a wide variety of plants with peaks at different times of the year ensures continued waves of interest.

3. Functional layer: Ground cover and filler plants

This layer functions as a living mulch—one you don’t have to replenish yearly.

Structural plants

  • Autumn Sun black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, Zones 5–9)
  • Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii and cvs., Zones 3–8)
  • Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis and cvs., Zones 4–9)
  • Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana, Zones 2–9)
  • Ironweed (Vernonia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9)

Eastern redbud
Eastern redbud. Photo: Jennifer Benner

Daylily. Photo: Stephanie Fagan

Seasonal theme plants

  • Bluebells (Mertensia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8)
  • Bluestar (Amsonia spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9)
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis cvs., Zones 3–9)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8)

Filler plants

  • California poppy (Eschscholzia californica, Zones 7–10)
  • Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis, Zones 3–9)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis and cvs., Zones 3–9)
  • Gaura (Oenothera lindheimeri and cvs., Zones 5–9)
  • Red campion (Silene dioica, Zones 5–9)

California poppy
California poppy. Photo: Michelle Gervais

Moor grass
Moor grass. Photo: Michelle Gervais

Ground cover plants

  • Foam flower (Tiarella spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9)
  • Golden groundsel (Packera spp., Zones 3–8)
  • Meehan’s mint (Meehania cordata, Zones 4–8)
  • Moor grass (Seslaria spp., Zones 4–9)
  • Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis, Zones 3–9)

More on naturalistic gardens:

Steve Aitken is editor at large.

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