While designing a perennial flower bed, you get to be creative while adding personal favorites and touches to the garden. A few years before my grandmother passed, she asked me to help her design the flower bed along their south-facing deck. My vision for the area was a cottage-style garden – a mix of color, texture and shapes. Though we were not necessarily following correct “garden design rules,” we enjoyed picking our favorite perennials to include. Some that I picked are still my favorites 15 years later. I have found these plants to be tough, dependable and beautiful.
Blue false indigo
Blue false indigo is a native Illinois plant. The 3- to 4-foot tall blue-green foliage adds great color and texture to the garden. It grows best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Once established, blue false indigo is drought tolerant. Purple lupine-like flowers appear in June. Newer varieties have various shades of purple, yellow or white flowers. The brown, grape-sized dried seed pods add texture to the garden during the summer. Blue false indigo is a long-lived perennial that has been reported to be deer and rabbit resistant.
Catmint makes an excellent border plant, reaching 18 to 24 inches tall and 30 inches wide. The blue-gray, fragrant foliage forms a loose, mounding habit. The blue or white flower spikes adorn the plant from May to August. This plant thrives in the summer heat and is drought tolerant once it is established. To keep catmint looking tidy after it blooms, cut the foliage back by half. Many pollinators, especially bees, love the blooms.
Garden phlox is a clump-forming perennial, reaching 3 to 4 feet high, adding height and structure to a garden. Large clusters of flowers appear on the upright stems from July to September. Bloom colors vary from white, pinks, purples, red and even bi-colors. Remove spent flower panicles to extend the bloom period. Phlox needs good air circulation to avoid powdery mildew issues, though newer varieties of phlox, like “David” and “Miss Lingard,” provide good resistance to it. Plants may need staking for support when in bloom.
Hibiscus is a tropical-looking plant that is a perennial in Illinois. There are many varieties of this plant with various heights (2-8 feet), foliage (green or purple) and bloom colors (white, pinks, purples, red). The dinner plate-size flowers bloom from July-September among the shrub-like habit make this plant a show stopper. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer in the spring for optimal growth and blooms. This plant grows well in wet areas in full sun to partial shade. Hibiscus is a long-lived perennial but is always late to emerge from the ground in the spring which causes many to think it died over the winter.
Liatris adds a unique shape and texture in the garden with its vertical habit and fine-textured foliage. When grown in moist, well-drained soil, liatris will grow 2 to 3 feet tall and may need staking to maintain upright. The flower spikes open from the top down in July and August and can be found in lavender, purple or white varieties. These bright, nectar-rich flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden too.
Although my grandma and I had limited time to enjoy the garden together, designing the flower bed, selecting our favorite plants, and planting the garden was an experience I will always treasure. Try your hand at designing a mixed perennial bed or border in your backyard with some of my favorites mixed in with your favorites to enjoy for years to come. For more information about perennial plants, go to University of Illinois Extension’s Gardening with Perennials website at web.extension.illinois.edu/perennials.