Design

Plants That Provide Structure in the Garden

Fine Gardening – Issue 203

In An Architectural Approach to Gardening, author, architect, and gardener Fred Bland explains how he moved from planning buildings to planning a garden:

“Although I am an architect, this was not my gardening path. Instead, I wanted to create a landscape where the plants themselves reigned supreme—not the hard edges of geometrical cleverness, with the plants playing a subservient role. The Architectural Designer Me continually duels with the Plant Collector Me, neither one ever winning. A balance of the two is rarely achieved in my observations of gardens, but this was my goal: a balance between the insatiable collector and the incurable designer. . . .

“Streets, squares, piazzas, gateways and portals, spheres and pylons, public streets with public buildings, hidden neighborhoods with private dwellings, axial urban vistas and curvilinear suburban geometries. This approach creates in my garden what many refer to as ‘bones,’ and it ensures four-season visual interest.” Read more.

“I see plants as buildings, and in order to create a successful and interesting city like New York, you need all types of buildings: skyscrapers, residential row houses, and low-slung factories. The following are some of my favorite plants for each type of architecture.” 

Residential row houses are generally medium-height perennials

‘Firetail’ persicaria (Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’)
Photo: Steve Aitken

1. ‘Firetail’ persicaria (Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’)

Zones: 4–7

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Himalayas, China, Pakistan

oat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus)
Photo: Michelle Gervais

2. Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus)

Zones: 4–8

Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide 

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; medium to wet soil

Native range: Temperate northern hemisphere

Hellebore (Helleborus spp. and cvs.)
Photo: Michelle Gervais

3. Hellebore (Helleborus spp. and cvs.)

Zones: 4–9

Size: 1 to 2½ feet tall and wide 

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

Native range: Turkey, Caucasus

 

Low-slung factories are represented by billowy perennials and ground covers

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)
Photo: Kerry Ann Moore

4. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)

Zones: 4–6

Size: 6 to 12 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide 

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Eastern North America

Epimedium (Epimedium spp. and cvs.)
Photo: Danielle Sherry

5. Epimedium (Epimedium spp. and cvs.)

Zones: 3–9

Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

Native range: Eastern Mediterranean to eastern Asia

‘Helen Von Stein’ lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Helen von Stein’)
Photo: Michelle Gervais

6. ‘Helen Von Stein’ lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Helen von Stein’)

Zones: 4–9

Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide 

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Native range: Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan

 

Skyscrapers can be tall evergreen shrubs, small trees, or tall perennials

‘Sky Pencil’ Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’)
Photo: Danielle Sherry

7. ‘Sky Pencil’ Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’)

Zones: 6–8

Size: 6 to 10 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Sakhalin Island, Japan, Korea

Variegated giant dogwood (Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’)
Photo: Michelle Gervais

8. Variegated giant dogwood (Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’)

Zones: 5–8

Size: 30 to 35 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil 

Native range: Himalayas, China, Korea, Japan 

Foxglove (Digitalis spp. and cvs.) 
Photo: Danielle Sherry

9. Foxglove (Digitalis spp. and cvs.) 

Zones: 4–8

Size: 2 to 5 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide 

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; fertile, moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Europe

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