Mid-sized Plants: Just Right for Your Garden Design

Not too tall but not groundcover either, mid-sized plants are just right. These bulbs, small shrubs, grasses and perennials can jump-start your creativity, and their speedy growth means you won't wait long for their rewards.

Shape and Texture

Some of the best midrange plants rely on their shape and texture for interest, rather than their flowers. Those with strong leaf shapes, such as leopard plant, bear's breeches, Rodger's flower and Hostas, can be grouped together for bold shapely plantings, or they can be used to separate plants with frothy flowers or foliage. Using contrasting shapes and textures throughout a planting design creates visual excitement, with no shortage of interest. Imagine the fine leaves of fennel against the large sculptural foliage of the globe artichoke, or the delicate but busy fizz of baby's breath against bold round pigsqueak foliage. Grouping plants with similar soft textures creates a different, much gentler, effect: try fennel with pheasant's tail grass, or tall purple moorgrass with goatsbeard or meadow rue.

This sloping site features layers of beautiful foliage textures and colors, including pompon alliums and feathery fennel (image 1).

The structural leaves of crocosmias give season-long interest, its late summer flowers a bonus (image 2).

Shrubby Structure

Many small shrubs are useful additions to herbaceous plantings because they add a degree of permanence and a change of character. Plant short shrubby evergreens at the front of a border to anchor perennials' seasonal comings-and-goings. Good front-line plants include wall germanders, hairy canary clover lotus, hebes and evergreen candytuft.

Once its small trumpet-like flowers fade in late summer, evergreen silverbush's leaves remain to balance out other perennials (image 1).

Low subshrubs, such as rock roses, provide useful low level structure and mix well with perennials, but they also make a reliable display on their own (image 2).

Block plantings of low evergreen hebes provide a weighty foreground that contrasts well with the lighter, airy grasses planted behind (image 3).

Flower and Leaf Color

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of gardening is the chance to play with color. If you include herbaceous perennials, the range of leaves and flowers can provide you with almost any tone or shade for your planting palette. When designing a garden plan, consider the effect each plant has on its neighbor and decide if you want to use complementary or contrasting colors.

In general, a mix of colors generates an exuberant, slightly wild feel to a planting. Single-color-themed borders look more sophisticated and have a satisfying cohesion; the restricted choice of plants also makes designing that much easier. Don't forget that just a hint of a matching shade in a flower or its foliage can be enough to link two plants.

Within a bigger border, color combinations using two or three plants are effective. These can be timed for seasonal display, say, yellow wallflowers with the near-black "Queen of the Night" tulips. For something more permanent, pale yellow golden marguerites, fronted by purple-leaved coral bells, surrounded by the tufts of Japanese forest grass.

A jumble of flower colors and textured foliage injects this border with a huge amount of energy. Adding some summer bedding will add to the overall excitement (image 1).

While still providing a perfect backdrop for other plants in the border, the large ribbed leaves of this luscious blue-green hosta make it a star in its own right (image 2).

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