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’ 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.
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’ 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.
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’ 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’PPAF 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 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 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’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 SantaRosaGardens.com