Garden Plants and Flowers
Learn how to discover which plants underscore and help define a specific garden design style.
Choose the right plants to pull off a perfect garden design. It sounds simple enough. But the reality is that matching garden plants with garden design styles requires a little homework—or at times even a lot. For experienced greenthumbs, selecting the right garden flowers for their growing region may be a cinch. But plugging the right plant into the right garden style can prove tricky.
An easy—and mostly goofproof—way to start the process is to focus on the design style name. In a Japanese garden, you can safely assume that garden plants like Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), Japanese water iris (Iris ensata) and Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica) belong.
But other garden plants, like dwarf mugo pine (Pinus mugo pumilio), hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) and flowering almond (Prunus glandulosa ‘Rosa Plena’) also complement Japanese garden style, introducing beautiful symbolism with roots in the Shinto religion. Sometimes to learn what kinds of plants suit a certain garden design, you can't beat old-fashioned research.
For a cottage garden, studying plant lists can help you perfect a proper plant mix, but simply reviewing photos of cottage gardens works, too. By examining photos, you can get a feel for the ways plants combine in this over-the-top garden. You’ll also spy certain blends of plants—classic roses, including Shrubs and Hybrid Teas, and familiar garden flowers like lavender (Lavandula spp.), shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum), forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) and peony (Paeonia spp.).
Airy plants play key roles in cottage garden designs, which is easily deduced from cottage garden photos. The see-through plant troupe includes tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and gaura (Gaura lindheimeri).
Many cottage garden flowers easily segue into English garden design, including daylily (Hemerocallis spp.), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Canterbury bells (Campanula medium) and larkspur (Consolida ambigua). Other great garden plants for English designs offer more formal growth patterns, such as boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’), privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) or wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys).
Vines also earn a spot in English garden designs, whether climbing roses or hummingbird-luring trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). To include annual flowering vines in your English garden, consider the more unusual cup-and-saucer vine (Cobaea scandens), black-eyed susan vine (Thunbergia alata) or moonflower (Ipomoea alba).
Visiting gardens that feature the design style you desire is another wonderful way to familiarize yourself with garden plants that suit the design. Many garden clubs sponsor tours of privately owned gardens, and that’s a great way to discover plant selections that perform well in your region.
Or you might plan a trip to public display gardens. If you visit in summer, you’ll probably encounter tropical flowering plants you might want to consider for your home garden. Many garden centers that offer landscape design showcase their wares in on-site display gardens. These gardens also provide a great place for inspiration. Take plenty of photos to record the plants and combinations you like best.