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Casting for the Right Role, How Do I Plant a Garden by Height?

Casting for the Right Role, How Do I Plant a Garden by Height?

Who is the star of the show in your garden? We all love the leading character, but when the cast of characters is so diverse and beautiful, how do we share the spotlight so that every player shines?

In the garden, we want each plant to thrive and find its own space to grow without overshadowing the others. It can be challenging to pick and place plants with varying heights and spreads.

Here are three of my favorite ways to incorporate tall plants into the garden:



Tall Kids Stand in the Back

When looking to create a classic formal garden, go from short borders to tall background plantings. This design gives plants a place to be noticed. Whether they look fabulous at the front of a flower bed or leaning casually on a trellis or a wall, perennials like Katie's Dwarf Ruellia create a low clean edge without skipping on the lush leaves or flowers. Or consider a ground cover for the front of your bed. Plants like Horseherb or Silver Ponyfoot help to hide mulch and soil while still looking cute when they spill over an edge. They are now considered the supporting co-stars when you want a semi-lush plant to fill the space without blocking others. Salvia greggii is a great character to have on the scene. Available in a multitude of flower colors (from whites, reds, pinks, and violets), they can flower for months on end. Best of all, they support without taking away the limelight by only reaching about 2.5 feet tall. Now we can’t forget about the plants that live in the backdrop. It's easy to forgo the height in favor of vibrant annuals, but trust me, it's better to go wild with the tallest plants in the back! My favorite plants for a backdrop are Turk's caps, Oakleaf Hydrangeas, Common Tree Sennas, and even Switchgrasses or Bluestems. Whatever is towering and flourishing.

The View

Using ornamental trees, shrubs, or taller flowering plants is the perfect trick for framing different parts of your space for the ideal view. We want our actors to play with the set, not block off the background. Looking at your area, what do you want to highlight? Do you have an existing tree that needs some attention? Or some beautiful features of your house you want to emphasize? This framing technique works in front of or behind the object you are trying to draw focus. Simply draw a “V” around the area you want to frame and plant by the height of the design. Russian sage is tall and overflowing, perfect for the apex of your “V.” However, if you want more of a supporting actor that isn’t so lush, thin, tall blooms like the Giant Coneflower are a must.

Organized Chaos 

In this design option, we add height, texture, and chaos. Don’t worry, this is a good kind of chaos. Natural landscapes are a great example of this technique. The goal is to create pockets to place plants of varying sizes, colors, and textures. This design works incredibly well for island-style plantings that are surrounded by pathways. I start by placing the larger plants throughout the bed, pushing some further back and pulling others forward. Now, this is an excellent time to experiment with companion plantings. Try mixing herbal plants like Rosemary 'Upright' with  flowering shrubs like the Martha Gonzales Rose. After the big players have been planted, add some energy to your garden with stalky plants that explode upward but have a smaller spread. Plants like,  like Blue Gama, Agastache, Tutti Frutti, or our favorite Fall Obedient Plant

The Closing Curtain

With all these different characters in our cast, it can be overwhelming to place them into the right roles. But with every passion project, there is the freedom to do what you love! Ad libbing is encouraged. This garden is your stage, try out some of these techniques and play with the plants you want. Combine techniques, experiment, and watch the show as it unfolds.