Native Plants for the Formal Garden

As fast as native plants’ popularity grows, so do the possibilities for creativity and exploration in the garden. But what to do if your style tends to a more structured, architectural style of garden, rather than the flowing, earthy designs natives flow so naturally into? Fret not, the vast selection of natives offers an endless well of potential for even the most elegant of gardens.

Here, just a few of the possibilities. Both the perennial and ornamental grass categories offer a wealth of inspiration. Bonus: Many are butterfly and bird magnets!

In our choices we’ve hearkened to a paler palette, as lighter pinks, purples, whites and greens soften the hard lines of the formal garden, compared to brighter tones like yellows, oranges or magentas.

Many of these are best used within the geometric evergreen backbone of the formal garden’s architecture. While they likely wouldn’t all be used together within the same garden, they would be great choices in pairs or alone.


Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’

The glory of autumn, these natives are widely adapted and nearly pest-free.

Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’ offers masses of purple flowers with bright yellow centers from early fall through till frost. ‘Purple Dome’ is a definite butterfly and bird attractor and looks great in borders and mass plantings. Grows to 18 in. in full sun and is hardy in Zones 3-9.

Baptisia australis

2010 PPA Perennial Plant of the Year!

Unquestionably one of the loveliest perennials with its striking flower and leaf color combination, Baptisia australis creates an impact with indigo blue or violet blooms atop regal flower spikes. It reaches 3-4 ft. at maturity, is easily grown in full to part shade and hardy in Zones 3-9. Great for backgrounds and borders.

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Sikes Dwarf’ showcases cone-shaped flowers that emerge white and turn pink as they mature. Handsome foliage takes on rich purple-red tones in fall. At about half the size (2-4 ft.) of most in the species, it fills large tubs or urns beautifully, bringing changing color and texture to any setting in sun to part shade. Especially disease and insect resistant and hardy in Zones 5-9.

Liatris spicta ‘Kobold’

Strong, sturdy, attractive, dark green, grass-like foliage.

Liatris spicta ‘Kobold’ adds a great vertical accent in the garden. Multiple, tall, feathery light, rosy-purple flower spikes open from top to bottom in early summer and continue until fall. ‘Kobold’ boasts strong, attractive, dark green, grass-like foliage. A native to the eastern and central United States, it requires full sun and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. ‘Kobold’ reaches 18 in. in height and is hardy in Zones 3-9.


Use on steep banks for erosion control, in rock gardens, and edging flower beds

Inject a dense carpet of color with the star-shaped blooms and petite appeal of Phlox subulata. A few favorites: ‘White Delight’, with snowy white blooms; ‘Snowflake’, a more pristine white option; the distinct ‘Candy Stripe’ with its pink-striped white petals; and ‘Emerald Blue’, with masses of delicate lavender-blue flowers. Reaching only 4-6 in., all thrive in full sun to part shade and are hardy in Zones 2-9. Stimulate new growth by shearing plants back after flowering (no later than mid-August).

Sisyrinchium angustifolium Lucerne

This superb edging plant has iris-like foliage and blue star shaped flowers.

Sisyrinchium angustifolium ‘Lucerne’ is a superb edging plant with iris-like foliage and blue star-shaped flowers. Multiple blooms flower for more than two months. It stays a petite 8-10 in., spreads only 6-9 in. and prefers full sun to part shade. ‘Lucerne’ is hardy in Zones 5-9.

Stokesia laevis 'Divinity' (Stokes Aster)

Blooms stand serenely over neat mounds of broad, rich green, strap-like leaves, and shine like stars in a shady garden.

Stokesia laevis ‘DivinityPPAF blooms beginning in June and can linger into September. The beautiful, large feathery flowers open with subtle yellow centers, soon mellowing to a pure white. ‘Divinity’ produces mounds of green, strap-like leaves. It prefers sun to part shade, reaches 12-14 in. tall and is hardy in Zones 5-9.


Carex pensylvanica 'Pennsylvania Sedge'

Use as a ground cover, single specimen, or in a container.

Carex pensylvanica offers delicate reddish-brown, thimble-like seed capsules above bright green narrow foliage that elegantly arches to the ground. For fall the foliage turns to a lovely sandy/tan color. Deer resistant and drought tolerant once established, this east and central North American native stays 6-12 in. tall and spreads just 9-12 in. Great for part to full shade and hardy in Zones 4-9.

Juncus effusus 'Big Twister' (Giant Corkscrew Rush, spiral rush)

Large, spiraling foliage, resembling giant corkscrews twisting and turning creating a dramatic effect over water.

Juncus effuses ‘Big Twister’ creates a dramatic effect with large, bold yellow-green, spiraling foliage that resembles giant corkscrews twisting and turning. More upright than ‘Spiralis’, it prefers very moist to wet conditions in full sun to part shade. ‘Big Twister’ grows 18-24 in. tall and is hardy in Zones 5-11.

Juncus ensifolius is a charismatic and unusual dwarf Rush bearing charming seed heads. Reaching 10-14 in. tall, it provides interest all summer long for moist borders. Delightful for planting at a pond’s edge, J. ensifolius loves full sun and is hardy in Zones 3-10.

Panicum virgatum 'Hot Rod' (Switch Grass)

Start your engines! This cultivar revs up into the red zone earlier than other switch grasses.

Panicum virgatum ‘Hot Rod’PPAF showcases a strong, upright column shape and revs up into the red zone earlier than other switch grasses. Blades emerge blue/green, reddening rapidly until the whole plant is rich, deep maroon. Though the foliage is the real star, lovely tan flower heads appear in late summer to early fall, imparting additional interest. You’ll see the best color development in full sun. Hot Rod grows 36-40 in. tall and is hardy in Zones 4-10.

For these plants and many more varieties please visit

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Every gardener needs a COVER STORY

Sorry, we don’t supply alibis. Covering your tracks is not our business.

But groundcovers? That’s another story! Our low-growing spreaders solve problems in the garden. Sun or shade, damp or dry, there’s a cover story to fit any plot.


Ceratostigma plumbaginoides makes for a great low, creeping boarder plant.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides “Leadwort” is an underappreciated workhorse, and a pretty one! Electric blue flowers persist for months, even when cool nights turn the vigorous green foliage autumn red for a unique, contrasting color combination. Hardy in Zones 6-9.


Pathways pop with Acorus gramineus ‘Pusillus Minimus Aureus

Acorus gramineus ‘Pusillus Minimus Aureus’  “Sweet flag” looks like a grass, grows like a grass and works like a grass. Spoiler alert: it’s not a grass at all. This sweetly fragrant, bright-gold pretender is the 24-karat real deal for moist areas in sun or shade in zones 4 – 11!


Sedums make low-maintenance groudncover

Sedum Sunsparkler® series Sedum is the perfect protagonist for today’s succulent-loving market. Three of our favorite characters, ‘Cherry Tart’, ‘Dazzleberry’ and ‘Lime Zinger’, are available separately, or as a trio in our best-selling “Triple Play Mix.” So versatile, they’ll carry your garden narrative anywhere, from Zone 4 to 9.

Got ground to cover? Spread the news: A happy ending to your non-fiction cover story comes right to your door from!

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Marvelous Monochromes

Maximize your hue with a view that just won’t stop
Put some purple power behind your program with one of this year’s hottest hues. Traditionally suited for royalty but perfect for anyone fit to be king, shades of violet complement virtually any container or garden. A quick glance at the palette shows a bevy of variety ready to work in your toolbox.

Pennisetum First Knight

Pennisetum ‘First Knight’

Pennisetum ‘First Knight’ boasts the deepest, darkest, blackest purple foliage. The center stays upright; outer leaves arch gracefully. Great disease resistance and garden- or container-friendly height of 48-54 inches. Thrives in heat. Full sun to partial sun. USDA Zones 8-11.


Pennisetum ‘Royal Lady’

Pennisetum ‘Royal Lady’ bears blades that emerge green, then darken with heat and sun to maroon and finally royal purple with a red midrib. Assertively upright, yet full and graceful. Height 4-5 feet. Full sun to partial sun. USDA Zones 8-11.

Pennisetum Majestic 1

Pennisetum ‘Majestic’

Pennisetum ‘Majestic’ raises long, broad, rich purple-red leaves. Its color deepens even in bright sun, strong heat and humidity. Reaches about 6 feet tall. Full sun to partial sun. Hardy in Zones 7 to 11.


Pennisetum ‘Regal Princess’

Pennisetum ‘Regal Princess’ adds a jewel to the crown with its beautiful striking purple color and enhanced disease resistance. Reaches just 3 to 4 feet high and stuns in gardens and containers alike. Thrives in the heat. Full sun to partial sun. USDA Zones 7-11.

arc-Andropogon g Red October SB WEB

Andropogon ‘Red October’

Andropogon ‘Red October’ PPAF has deep green foliage that darkens to purple in late summer, then vivid scarlet in autumn for spectacular late-season color. ‘Red October’ loves sun and reaches heights of 5 to 6 feet. USDA Zones 3-8.

Pennisetum Noble 'Tift 114' gdn2

Pennisetum ‘Noble’

Pennisetum ‘Noble’ impresses with upright, dark blades so deep purple they look black. With thinner and darker leaves, ‘Noble’ boasts a 6 foot height in a rounded clumping habit. Full sun to partial sun. USDA Zones 8-11.


Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’

The wildly popular Pennisetum xadvena ‘Rubrum’ offers a winning combination of striking burgundy-red foliage and foxtail-like plumes that catch the breeze and add interest to landscapes and containers alike. Fast growing and prolific blooming, this tender perennial is everything an annual should be.

eaton canyon

Pennisetum ‘Eatons Canyon’

Another hot annual grass, P. xadvena ‘Eatons Canyon’, is like a slightly shorter version of ‘Rubrum’, topping out at under 3’. Vibrant red-brown flower plumes rise above stunning narrow red-bronze foliage. With its finer, greener foliage and dwarf size, ‘Eatons Canyon’ is the star of the show in mixed containers or small gardens.

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Bright Spots for Shade

Think that dank, dark shady spot is the cross your garden has to bear? Think again—color and shade don’t have to be exclusive.

How about Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’? Only the second grass to be named the Perennial Plant Association’s Perennial Plant of the Year. This cascading Japanese import forms a waterfall of bamboo-like leaves. Graceful yellow-green variegated foliage in the spring, highlighted with hints of pink and red in the fall.


Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

And ‘Hello Yellow’! Here’s a Belamcanda bursting to brighten. Belamcanda chinensis ‘Hello Yellow’ stuns with beautiful clear yellow blooms on fan-shaped leaves. Known as the blackberry lily, but is actually in the Iris family. After flowering, clusters of shiny black seeds are exposed when the seed capsules split open, hence the name blackberry lily.


Belamcanda chinensis ‘Hello Yellow’

Ugly name, beautiful plant – leadwort spices up your shady spots. Ceratostigma plumbaginoides boasts brilliant gentian-blue flowers from late summer until the first hard frost. It spreads to form a dense mat of zig zag stems with leathery, oval leaves that have beautiful fall color.

ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

What’s shade without a fern? Athyrium Metallicum is one of our favorites, a Japanese Painted Fern with delicate fronds touched in silver with green highlights and subtle burgundy veination.

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Metallicum’

Athyrium Metallicum

Texture and motion reign supreme, especially in shade, and Chasmanthium latifolium, or northern sea oats, delivers in spades. Seed clusters resembling oats dangle from bamboo-like foliage. Fall colors will surprise as seeds and foliage morph into bronze and copper tones.


Chasmanthium latifolium

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ gets gardens and pots glowing. This beautiful golden chartreuse shrub is sure to brighten your shade garden. Extra points for extended seasonal interest too, thanks to its summer swell of white blooms and fall rush of dark purple berries—favorites of our fine feathered friends.

Aralia Sun King gdn

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

And finally, add a perennial that keeps on giving! Stokesia ‘Color Wheel’ sends up branched bloom stalks that open almost pure white. As the days progress, the same bloom cools to lavender, then to deeper lavender and finally to purple. It’s pure pleasure watching its palette progress!

stokesia colorwheel 1

Stokesia ‘Colorwheel’


Pick your own palette, or paint by numbers with one of our pre-planned shade gardens. Questions? Call 1-866-681-0856 or e-mail

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The Magic of Moon Gardens

If you’re like us, while you’d rather be deep in the dirt ’round the clock, you’re more likely to gaze at your garden in the wee hours rather than in the light of day, at least during the workweek. So why not conjure up a collection of nature’s most delightful night-dwellers, and plant a moon garden? Night-blooming gardens are beautiful by day, luminescent by night. Dusk draws out a whole new appeal for these carefully curated collections.


Start by mapping the moon’s path through your garden. Pinpoint the location where it shines the brightest and is the most visible to you, whether you’re planning on enjoying from the house or the patio.

But don’t be fooled by the name—moon garden plants still yearn for light. Choose a sunny spot that affords partial or full light for most of the day, to recharge the plants’ nighttime potential.

Many moon garden plants are trailers, happiest when they can climb or creep, something to consider when you’re settling on a spot. Trellises, lattices and fences all offer creative carte blanche.

Plan for the masses—plant clusters of plants rather than single plants whose blooms will be swallowed both by foliage and night.

Finally pick your palette, sticking with pastels and whites for maximum glow power. Weave in your own brand of magic with not only flowers but foliage that glows. Think silver, blue-gray, variegated or veined. And speak to your senses with scent—there’s something magical about a delicate aroma wafting while you wind through the garden.

Not sure how to begin your spell? Tip things off with a few of our faves:

Phlox paniculata ‘David’, a 2002 PPA Perennial Plant of the Year with wonderfully fragrant, clear white, giant flower heads


Phlox David

Aquilegia caerulea ‘Songbird Blue Bird’, a super-large columbine with showstopping heavenly blue blooms that face upward


Aquilegia Songbird Blue Bird

Dianthus ‘Early Bird Frosty’, with pure white double flowers and wonderful fragrance

Dianthus Early Bird Frosty

Dianthus Early Bird Frosty

Artemisia stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade’ with its silvery cut-leaf foliage. Bonus: deer resistant!

Artemisia stelleriana 'Silver Brocade'

Artemisia Silver Brocade

Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’, a lamb’s ear prized for its dense rosettes of thick, soft, velvety, silver-gray leaves


Stachys Silver Carpet

Iberis ‘Snowsurfer’, a candytuft featuring dark green uniform mounds of shiny leaves frosted with drifts of snow white flowers in spring


Iberis Snowsurfer

Digitalis purpurea ‘Dalmatian White’, a foxglove that spikes upright columns of beautiful bright white bells with maroon spots



Digitalis Dalmatian White


Questions? Call 1-866-681-0856 or e-mail

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A-Bee-Cs for Pollinators

Bee-witched by pollinators?
…but bee-wildered by how to help them?

Not long ago, many folks saw bees as scary bugs to flee or exterminate.

Now that we all know how vital pollinators are, it’s just good gardening practice to welcome them with open blooms.


And it’s not just about bees: Butterflies, moths and hummingbirds like the same blooms. They’re the “flying flowers” that bring your garden to life in a whole new dimension.

So, how do you garden for pollinators? It’s as easy as ABee-C!

Aster: Honeybees and bumblebees love heavy-flowering ‘Purple Dome’. So will you.


Aster ‘Purple Dome’


Buddleia: It’s called “butterfly bush” for good reason. They can’t resist those fragrant florets.

Asian Moon


Coreopsis rosea ‘American Dream’: Another butterfly magnet, this native benefits from a haircut after flowering.


Coreopsis American Dream

Already growing those? There are 23 more letters in the alphabet, y’know.

Gaillardia, Monarda and Sedum are all loved by pollinators.

Help our fluttering, buzzing, hovering, nectar-loving friends with easy-to-grow, ready-to-plant perennials from Santa Rosa Gardens.



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Time to Garden

Time to Garden!!! from Santa Rosa Gardens on Vimeo.

Posted in Mark Babikow, Ornamental Grasses, Perennials, Uncategorized, Videos | Leave a comment