Shape up your garden
Amateur Gardening|March 27, 2021
Plant architectural perennials now to inject borders with drama and structure. Here are some great examples and ideas on where to place them, says Hazel Sillver
Hazel Sillver

ARCHITECTURAL plants have flowers or foliage with strong, sharp, or dramatic shapes. Garden designers use them to add interest and theatrical structure; their bold forms act as foils for softer plants, as well as creating visual accents that draw the eye and make a garden more captivating. And architectural perennials can be planted now.

Some are dramatic giants that live at the back of the border. For instance, the 2m-tall Eryngium pandanifolium ‘Physic Purple’, which has sprays of dark-red cone flowers above a mass of spear-like foliage. And the waterside giant Gunnera manicata, which grows into a mound of dinosaur-sized leaves every single year.

Other architectural perennials are more compact. The yellow candles of Kniphofia ‘Bees’ Lemon’ and the sword leaves of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ grow to 39in (1m) tall, while the immense firework heads of Allium schubertii and the heartshaped leaves of Hosta ‘Francee’ only reach 60cm. And tiny houseleeks (Sempervivum) are some of the most architectural plants in the garden.

Positioning and perspective

But size doesn’t matter if plants don’t block the view. Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’, for instance, forms slender 24in (60cm) spikes of amber-fawn flowers, and looks great near the front of the border because the plants behind can be seen. Likewise, the drumsticks of Allium sphaerocephalon act as accents that draw the eye and allow a view of the plants beyond, in turn creating layers.

In shadier parts of the garden, the sharp contours of architectural perennials produce striking silhouettes. The arrow foliage and white funnel flowers of arum lilies; the leaf whorls and green flowerheads of Paris polyphylla, and the huge leaves of hostas cut out wonderful shapes in the dappled gloom.

They work in pots too

Back out in the sunlight, plants that boast impressive structural foliage and flowers work well in pots on the patio or flanking a doorway. For instance, Agapanthus ‘Twister’ or Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’: both have strappy leaves and bold flowerheads that draw attention and don’t require a medley of plants to show them off.

Wherever you put them, the addition of architectural perennials is sure to make your garden more impressive and exciting come summer.

Plant partners

SHOW off architectural perennials by combining them with contrasting textures, shapes, and colours. For example, Allium cristophii with Nepeta x faassenii; Eryngium giganteum with Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’; plume poppy with bronze fennel; and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ with Eryngium pandanifolium ‘Physic Purple’.

9 Architectural flowers

Cool blues

Eryngium x zabelii ‘Big Blue’ AGM This fabulous sea holly has electric-blue thimble flowers, surrounded by a ruff of spiky bracts, above silver-green foliage. Grow in very well-drained soil in full sun. H: 29in (75cm).

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