As garden designers we have to show ourselves on each new job. When constructing new walls, terraces and lighting systems realtors and homeowners invest a lot. And there is a lot necessary to keep these things, especially if they are poorly built or if inferior materials are selected. When it comes to plants, I have discovered that not all are created equal.
In his publication The Exuberant Garden and the Controlling Hand, landscape designer William H. Frederick, Jr., refers to select plants as aristocrats, for their refined character that amuses itself without much intervention. Others might call them thugs for their competitive, carefree nature.
Whatever you call them, these plants allow for gardens to thrive on a grand scale without a lot of maintenance. See which of those below could work for your landscape.
A backyard of the scale, in this place, could not be built with finicky plants commonly found in garden centers. This backyard borders a stream that feeds the Brandywine River in Philadelphia, and it is littered with undesirable weed seeds continuously trying to find a house. Aggressive, carefree plants make this project sustainable and manageable.
Caution: As with any self-seeders, check with a local native plant society before planting to make certain your choices are noninvasive in your area.
Golden ragwort (Packera aurea or Senecio aureus, USDA zones 3 to 8) is a very competitive seeder. You can cover a massive area in a couple of years by starting with just a small number of plants. In my own garden, I have been experimenting with underplanting hot- and – cool-season blossoms with perennials such as this to suppress early cool-season weeds with great success.
Name notice: Now this plant is called Packera aurea, but I have loved it as Senecio aureas, and thus the name stands for me.
Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens
Raydon’s favorite (Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’, zones 3 to 8) was described by a friend as bulletproof. This plant seeds and spreads out to the backyard readily in a variety of lands and explodes from the autumn with vibrant purple, as most other plants are beginning to take in their mellow fall colors.
Yes, another aster for you to consider. I can’t say enough about these plants. Tartarian aster (Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’, zones 4 to 8) has become more available recently. Launched by Rick Darke and Skip March in Japan from the Jin Dai Botanic Garden, it could grow taller. It also spreads via rhizomes, making it a worthy foe to most weeds.
Ginkgo Leaf Studio
Gooseneck loosestrife (Lysmachia cletheroides, zones 3 to 2) is misunderstood — or, dare I say, loathed — by many gardeners who want to keep eclectic gardens. This plant is a tremendous ground cover and will have to be planted amongst other strong plants to help keep it in check. If you want to transform a large area to a backyard, this is an amazing plant to utilize.
Donald Pell – Gardens
Fleece flower (Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’, zones 4 to 7) doesn’t seed outside, but it does manage to stand strong in the landscape. This plant could become fairly broad in moist soils, but I have also used it over shallow bedrock with success. It grows in full sun and more shade than you may think. Its sexy pink blossoms appear red in the shade and will bloom from July on, until the frost knocks the plant down.
Layout Farm Group
Lily turf (Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue’, zones 5 to 10) has stuffed the racks of several retail outlets. However, the species I find truly successful is Liriope spicata (zones 4 to 10). This plant gradually spreads across the ground plane and creates masses so thick, I have found myself laying in its relaxation with my little ones. Go ahead and try it ; the plant won’t mind in the least! Summer flowers are a bonus for this unique plant.
Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC
I have yet to understand gardens in bright places without grasses, also I feel the same about woodlands and ferns. Ferns are older, simple and graceful plants which can be particularly effective when sited nicely.
Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris, zones 3 to 7) could be one of the most competitive spreaders. It’ll live forever in dry soil but tends to look ratty when it dries out, therefore site it into a moist, rich soil where it could take over. For dry woodlands try hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula, zones 3 to 2).
The Carter Rohrer Co..
Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinesis, zones 4 to 8) is a great addition to the backyard. As a summer bloomer, it grows thick, glossy foliage in typical garden soil, so long as the soil does not get too dry.
‘Purple Candles’ is one of my favorites, but try ‘Visions’ or ‘Pumila’ for quite a low ground cover.
Bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis, zones 7 to 10) grows in huge clumps on rhizomes, making for very simple branch. It has grand purple blossoms and dark, leathery foliage. These plants create bold ground covers when set in drifts and will keep the most tenacious weeds at bay. Acanthus hungaricus (zones 5 to 10) is a near cousin and equally as striking.
Van Zelst Inc
Bee balm (Monarda didyma, zones 4 to 9) has come to be a favorite operational perennial of mine. I have used this plant to battle latent bud seed spikes of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense, zones 3 to 7) with little maintenance.
Though this plant is susceptible to powdery mildew, it actually looks bad to me en masse. If it’s a bother to you, cut it into the ground and see it push out new, clean foliage the same calendar year.
Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC
Windflower (Anemone x hybrida spp) cultivars distribute aggressively. These plants are very effective in shade and sun, as long as they do not get overly dry. Windflowers bloom in the late summer and have what might be one of my favorite blooms. They are downright mesmerizing.
Dead nettle (Lamium purpureum, sets 3 to 2) can disperse in dry shade, in rugged outcroppings, under pines, in dense woods as well as in some shade. It can be effective at handling erosion, even as it spreads from rooting stems. I have seen this minimal spreader find its way through wood a lot and also hold its own against stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum).
Donald Pell – Gardens
Hard to find but worth the hunt, drooping sedge (Carex pendula, zones 5 to 9) is a monster among the sedges. This plant has been semievergreen, based on vulnerability, and can consume turf grass — like in this picture, where it was planted in my yard since an experiment. Within two decades most of the grass had expired, buried under the color of the big leaves with minimal weeding.
With so many great plants out there to consider, I invite you to look for and adopt aggression in your garden. Plants such as barrenwort (Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’), comfrey (Symphytum), houttuynia (Houttuynia cordata), plume poppy (Macleaya cordata), blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium ‘Gateway’) have places in the backyard.
The most important lesson I hope I can impart is that gardening does not have to be pricey. If you are mulching or weeding, stop and query your methodology and planting selections. The perfect plant in its appropriate place is the right solution!
More: Why mass plantings work much better in the landscape