There’s a growing interest in cultivating perennials in almost every American garden, and it’s easy to understand why. Offering colorful blooms and year-round appeal with great variety of foliage and textural effects, perennials can serve as the workhorses in your garden and satisfy just about every design need you may have. But with all the thousands of types that are available, it can be overwhelming to choose what’s right for your garden. Here are a few tips that might help.


This perennial Hosta provides a wonderful touch as a potted plant next to seating.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Echinacea purpurea

The informal effect of this purple coneflower on either side of the fence is enchanting.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing


Chives can serve as a terrific perennial for the front of the border – and be cut for cooking.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

I’m big on mixed plantings. No more 100-foot-long beds of nothing but perennials or roses or dwarf evergreens! Monoculture breeds monotony. It also encourages pest or disease problems to come in and decimate your entire garden. The name of the game should be “interplanting.” Perennials can beautifully coexist with shrubs, trees, bulbs, annuals, vines and even vegetables.

Think of designing your garden like decorating a room: The trees and overhead garden structures can be the ceiling, the groundcovers and the lawn are the floors, vertical structures and plants used for architectural purposes can be the walls. I think of shrubs, small trees, annuals – and especially perennials – as the furniture.

You should consider height, seasonal interest, color, texture and plant combinations when conceptualizing your garden room. Most importantly, you have to make sure the plants you choose are well-suited to the area of the garden you’re thinking of planting them in. You wouldn’t put a baby grand piano in the bathroom, right?

I always tell my design clients to get to know their landscapes thoroughly before they begin the design process. What areas are sunny? Where is it dry or wet? What places need color – and which is the best color for those particular areas? Most of all, are the growing conditions in the garden right for the plants that are being chosen?

Know yourself as well! If you’re mainly going to enjoy your garden in the evening after work, then emphasize white-flowering plants that shine at that time of day. Are you a formal person or an informal person? Follow the architectural clues of your house, as well – your garden should reflect the style of your home, or at least be in harmony with it.

Group perennials in drifts – they like to socialize, too. Unless you actually live in the English countryside and can grow a proper English cottage garden, with one of this and two of that over there, don’t! Narrow your choices to the right plants and then make an impact by planting lots of them.