Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thinking Big!

The display garden at Lost Horizons Nursery. 

Between earth and sky there is a huge, creative canvas for a gardener to play with. 

Too often we gardeners to get wrapped up in the small stuff. It is easy to focus in on plants and miss the big picture. 

A garden at its best however, is a full environment, with layered plantings that reach skyward. In this post, I thought I would focus in on thinking big, with a perennial twist. 

Giant Silver Grass, Miscanthus sisensis 'Giganteus' in the display garden at Lost Horizons Nursery. Height: 250-300 cm Spread: 90-120cm Care: Full sun/part shade & average soil

When it comes to considering large scale gardening options, the natural tendency is to think of trees and shrubs.

Certainly trees, which tower over our heads, humble us with their sheer scale. It is impossible not to marvel at the grandeur of a forest's vaulted green cathedral. 

Additionally both trees and shrubs offer permanent architecture, which is especially invaluable in winter.

There is however, another often overlooked, option when it comes to drawing the eye upward. Tall perennials have a valuable contribution to make to the garden alongside that of trees and shrubs. 

Large scale plants are often slow to get going in spring and so fall is a great time to take a look at some of the alternatives. 

Miscanthus sinensis in the display garden at Lost Horizons Nursery. Height 150-210 cm, Spread: 80-90 cm Care: Full sun/partshade & average soil

There is something Jurassic-Park-cool about large perennial plants and grasses. It is easy to imagine dinosaurs in ancient times wading through drifts of similar grasses.

Let's face it, when something is this big, it just seems to demand your respect!

For whatever reason, I find tall plants particularly fasinating. I have been taking notes all summer with the hopes of adding more of these tall skyscrapers to my garden next year.

Now, I know many of you have small gardens and may think that these big-scale perennials will never work within your limited space. 

For sure, they do take up some room, but many like this Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia nitida 'Herbstsonne' have a V-shape. This often means that they don't take up much more ground room than standard perennials.

Others like this Culver's Root, Veronicastrum virginicum below shoot straight up on tall, lanky stems.

Culver's Root, Veronicastrum virginicum album in David Thomlinson's garden called Merlin's Hollow. Height: 120-180 cm Spread: 75-90 cm Care: Full sun in normal, sandy or clay soils.

And at Larkwhistle Garden.

Here is a quick look at some of the other attractive, tall perennials.

Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium purpureum is a perennial that springs immediately to mind when you think about tall plants. There are a number of tall versions of Joe Pye Weed, as well as dwarfs. Height: Dwarf grows 70-75 cm Larger varieties grow: 210-300 cm Care: Part shade to full sun. Prefers moist soil.

White Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium altissimum 'Prairie Jewel' Height: 90 cm Spread 40 cm 

Actaea Cimicifuga simplex Atropurpurea in Lost Horizons Nursery. Height: 180 cm Spread 60 cm Care: Full sun to part shade.

Mullein at Larkewhistle Garden

There are two varieties of Mullein are grown at Larkwhistle, Verbascum olympicum (Greek Mullein) and Verbascum bombyciferum (Turkish Mullein). 

Mulleins are a biennials plants, which produce leafy rosettes in the first year, and flowering stalks in the second year. Verbascum olympicum is the branching Greek relative of the North American native Verbascum thapsus, which can often be seen growing in fields of wild flowers. The second variety of mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum is thickly coated with downy wool and has clear yellow flowers. Both mulleins prefer sun and light, sandy soil.

Sneezeweed, Helenium at Larkwhistle Garden. Height: 75-80 cm 
Spread: 45-60 cm Care: Full sun, average soil.

You don't tend to think of perennials with small delicate flowers as having the potential to be tall, but here is a perfect example of one.

This is Meadow Rue or Thalictrum. Height: 150-180 cm Spread: 45-60 cm 
Care: Average soil. Prefers moist conditions.

Cup Flower, Silphium Perfoliatum at Lost Horizons Nursery. Height: 120-240 cm Spread: 60-90 cm Care: Full sun to part shade.

Ironweed, Vernonia Gigantea is another tall, North American native which has purple aster-like flowers. Height 180-210 cm Spread: This plant as a v-shape and is 90-100 cm tall 
Care: Full sun and average or moist soil 

Actaea Cimicifuga simplex at the gate leading to the display garden at Lost Horizons Nursery. 
Height: 1.1 m Spread: 1m Care: Part shade to shade.

A closer look Actaea Cimicifuga simplex

Can you smell the fragrance of this beauty right through the computer screen? 

The scent of these small white flowers carries on the slightest breeze...perhaps a mix of honey and vanilla, with the addition of some other mysterious spice. 



  1. I'm rather fond of grasses, not only do they look good, but you get that lovely rustling sound as you brush past them, or when the wind blows. The display gardens at Lost Horizons Nursery look particularly impressive.

  2. I think you can write and publish your own gardenbook Jennifer. Fantastic post and photo's.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

    1. Marijke, That is very kind of you to say.

  3. I would like to have some tall grass in my garden, but our climate is too cold for that. Great pictures!

  4. Stunning photos! I love statuesque plants too.

  5. Great examples of tall plants layered with others in the garden. I am surrounded by wild goldenrod that reaches 7 feet tall, and verbascum on a dry hillside, and other huge meadow plants, but in my tended garden I sort of wimped out and went with a lot of small moundy stuff at first. I am just now learning how much more impactful a few tall perennials could be, with the smaller rounded shrubs or flowers beneath. Beautiful photos in your post as always!

  6. Beautiful plants and garden! I agree about tall perennials, they are so satisfying. We also have Cup Plant, Joe Pye Weed, Ironweed, Culver's Root. We also grow Brown Eyed Susan, New England Aster, and perennial Sunflower. I don't have the meadow rue or Verbascum, but they are on my wish list.

  7. Gorgeous photos! I will have to make a 'must have' list for next spring, I don't think we have many of those at work right now...a few, but I already have those. Love this post!
    Debbie :)

  8. SO SO true! They do demand your respect! I am drawn to the Meadow Rue in particular. Your photos do a fantastic job capturing these plants in their glory! Great post!

  9. Hi Jennifer
    It's so true that large, tall plants can make a dramatic statement in a small garden or a big one. I have 3 Miscanthus grasses and 2 are already very large. THEN the plumes come up and make them almost double in height! You have shots of other very lovely, lesser known plants which I must investigate further. I'm really thinking about a trip up to Lost Horizons. It's not really too far away…..

  10. Being tall myself, I like tall plants around me, my favourite Miscanthus is Malepartus which has the most delightful purple plumes at well over 6ft. Eupatorum atropurpureum is inthe front garden covered in butterflies at about 8ft tall. We had a visit to a garden recently where there were some Rudbeckia Herbstsonne and they are now on my wish list. Lots of room for smaller plants in front, the gardens you have visited show this beautifully.

  11. Lovely tall plants, I like the grasses, Thalictrum and Verbascum. Cimicifuga is just starting to bloom here, a gem for autumn.

  12. Jennifer, I think the tall and big plants are very spectacular in a garden. But I was sometime wrong planting them in a mix border and had to replant them later as a second line after the small plants.

  13. The Actea are so sweetly scenting the garden right now, an unexpected delight near the end of summer. Your photos are fantastic and so inspirational. Having tall dramatic perennials give height to the garden and they look you right in the face...easy to sniff ;-) and yes, they demand respect! Very informative blog post.

  14. Oh, I love that meadow rue. I have heard of this plant, but I don't think I've ever seen it. And I planted a cimicifuga this past year - it died. But now that I've seen these pictures, I will definitely going to try again!

  15. I realized this summer I needed to add a few more tall perennials to a couple of spaces. I like the impact they offer, as long as the bed is balanced. Some of my beds are too shallow and it's been hard to find plants in the right scale for them. Maybe I'll just rip out more grass to deepen everything. :o)

  16. I agree with marijke, you could write and publish your own gardening book! With your own photos too of course.

    I have several tall perennials with a couple of giants: Panicum 'Cloud Nine' and Swamp Sunflower. Their size makes them a very commanding presence in the garden. For several years I had that meadow rue in my garden and I need to get it again. Big and dainty at the same time.

  17. the garden at Lost Horizon Nursery looks quite divine. I agree, tall perennials make a dramatic and useful statement. I am growing the Echium wildpretti, that is biennial. Most of time it won't be tall. Then it will be very tall. Then it will die. So you can't depend on it for structure. Your photos are beautiful, I love looking at them.

  18. Many native plants are tall and spread into large clumps. I like having them in the garden.

  19. A great post, Jennifer, with lots of good ideas for adding height. I'm especially glad you included some "skinny" plants for examples because I'm quickly running out of room for anything that takes up too much space in my garden. The sneezeweed really surprised me; I had no idea it could get that tall. Lost Horizons looks like such a wonderful place to visit. Beautiful photos!

  20. I want to have Ironweed in my garden, but knowing how large it will become, I need to figure out where to put it. We have such a downhill slope that placement is key. Love the Rue as well. Such a delicate bloom.

  21. It's funny that you should write this post. As you may remember I now have a 5 acre garden and need things which are BIG - scale, height, texture and quantity! When I had a small garden I seemed to be forever trying to find dwarf varieties. Now I have the opposite problem - it took me ages to track down the good old fashioned Eupatorium 'Gateway' this year for example. I needed 6-7' in height not the 3' 'Little Joe'!

    Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' is a well behaved, erect, clumping grass to about 6'. It's not wide like Miscanthus but lends a wonderful stature.

  22. Lovely post Jennifer, I am very fond of Thalictrum delavayi with its hovering flowers and Actaea was a new addition to our gardens this year although we need to site it in a better positon. Stunning series of photos.

  23. Jennifer girl your pictures here are again simply gorgeous !
    I just finished taking some pictures of my beautiful cimicifuga and trying to pin down what that fragrance is .. it is very hard ! .. it does remind me of an elderly lady's perfume from my childhood though : )
    I have many "big" plants in my small gardens .. full sized Joe Pye, Herbstonne rudbeckia, veronicastrum, bamboo (Green Panda) and now I finally know what my neighbor down the street has .. it drove me CRAZY ! they have the miscanthus sinensis giganteus ! .. it is awesome and one day I might work up the nerve to ask for a section ? LOL
    This is a great post urging a lot of gardeners to step outside their zone of comfort and grow BIG ! LOL
    Joy : )
    PS .. I had an astounding thalictrum a few years ago .. it was well over 6 feet, with those beautiful delicate flowers .. but one of our hard winters killed it .. I have been trying ever since to get one to grow for me again.

  24. Pachnie, pachnie i to cudownie. Dziękuję za nowa wiedzę i wspaniałe zdjęcia. Pozdrawiam.
    It smells, and it smells wonderful. Thank you for new knowledge and great pictures. Yours.

  25. Great post, great advice. That meadow rue is to die for!

  26. Lost Horizons must be a fabulous nursery! Only recently have I been thinking of some large scale perennials. The grasses you feature are fantastic, but Joe Pye Weed is definitely on my to-purchase list. Your photos are inspirational!

  27. Wonderful flowers, wonderful colours. I am greeting

  28. These big perennials are the perfect compromise for a small garden I think. They don't take over all your resources like a tree in terms of space or sucking up water and nutrients and they do offer lots of height and impact. Great post.

  29. What a wonderful place this must be!
    I never really considered big perennials for our gardens.
    Definitely going to have to consider adding some. It's a very different look, and I really like it.
    Your photographs are wonderful Jennifer.
    Thank you for taking us along!

  30. Love tall bloomers too Jennifer! I have some of the ones you featured but they don't get as tall in my garden ~ maybe not enough sun? I definitely need to move some things around to showcase the plants the best. Hope I get in the mood soon!

  31. I agree, Jennifer. Too often gardeners forget about the larger growing plants. Constantly selecting small varieties does not give the visual impact that the larger counterparts provide. Small gardens look better with large perennials. It is the same principle in interior design where one uses one large piece as a focal and to anchor a small space.

  32. So many of my favourites mentioned here - just one missed - Persicaria polymorpha 225cm - blooms from June until early September and smells like buckwheat honey - marvellous. The grasses are a great choice for winter interest as well. While I've never seen birds chewing on the Veronicastrum seeds, they certainly make for great photographs in bloom and in seed. Lovely post.
    p.s. Laking garden is closed! More road work - although everything else is still open at the RBG.

  33. I like tall perennials too. There is something magical that a clump of chilled roots under the ground in late winter gets to grow so tall in just a few months.


I love to hear from you. Thanks for leaving a comment.