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
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.
- 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)
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)
- 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)
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:
- A Naturalistic Garden Is Better for the Environment and Requires Less Work
- Plants for a Matrix-Style Garden
- Thomas Rainer and Piet Oudolf on Naturalistic Gardens
Steve Aitken is editor at large.