Landscape Design

Landscaping Plants

Accessorize your outdoor space with vibrant plants

Outdoor rooms are mostly comprised of furniture and hardscaping, but it's important to remember why you're bringing indoor amenities out - to enjoy what nature and your backyard have to offer. Therefore, an important part of outdoor decor is the choice of plants you pick to accessorize your outdoor space. Flowers and plants don't only add softness, texture and life to your room; they also can attract welcome creatures like birds, animals and butterflies. An outdoor room, after all, doesn't really come alive until you've added a garden or two.

On this page you'll find information on landscaping plants, including:

You should think of your outdoor room as an empty canvas. Like a painting, a garden also has a foreground, middle and background, and they all need equal attention in order to make the setup work. Create layers of plants, integrating different colors, textures, height and fragrances. This will ensure there's always something going on in your garden at all times of the year.

If you have a small space, don't worry about covering every inch of the ground with plants. Think vertical and use a pergola, a trellis, a fence or even your home's exterior walls to support climbing plants that will provide color and texture to your outdoor room's "walls." Another idea to create height is to use planters on top of fences or walls filled with trailing plants.

If you have a large yard and are getting tired of trying to maintain a perfectly green lawn, it may be time to integrate some groundcover plants in parts of your yard. At the very least, it will cut down on your lawn maintenance and provide interesting colors and textures in your yard. Groundcover also works for small gardens where a patch of lawn can be extremely difficult to maintain.

In a garden without fences and shrubbery, privacy can be hard to achieve. Luckily, you don't have to spend a lot on building walls and fences to keep prying eyes out. Privacy plants will grow tall and thick to shroud you from the rest of the world while still allowing light and air to filter through. The best thing is that you can get perennials that will come back year after year so that you won't be stuck growing new "walls" every season.

If you go outside to enjoy the fresh air and sweet smells of the garden, then you'll appreciate fragrant flowers that will release their scent all summer. These can run the gamut from lightly-scented roses to heavy, sweet lilacs. Whatever flowers you choose, you'll always be able to cover up any bad smell blowing your way.

Your outdoor room will look great with lots of shiny hardscaping options, but it won't look alive without the soft greenery of plants and flowers. Add a little green to your space and you won't be the only one who enjoys it.

Climbing Plants

Look up, look way up

These days, many people are living in smaller spaces such as townhouses, apartments, condominiums or even just on small lots, so the space for garden growing is getting rather limited. It's becoming harder to have a sweeping green lawn and expansive gardens when all you've got is a postage stamp-sized patch of land and maybe a few hanging baskets. However, just because you only have a little lawn, it doesn't mean that you can't create the oasis of your dreams. Remember the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Take a leaf out of their garden and use your vertical space to create your own "living walls."

Climbing plants come in two categories - vines and lianas. Vines are thin-stemmed climbers that love to grow while basking in sunlight. Lianas are shade-loving climbers that often have leaves in the full sun. They grow around existing plants, often constricting them; other weedy vines are chlorophyll-deficient and will leech chlorophyll from their host plants. However, most climbing plants will happily scale an existing wall or trellis without causing a problem. Climbing plants are beneficial for creating privacy in yards that have frost fences or no fences at all.

If you're thinking of making a climbing garden, you can choose from many different plants, depending on your light situation. If you want your vines to come back year after year, you can consider perennial plants like:

  • Clematis
  • Climbing roses
  • Virginia creeper
  • Honeysuckle
  • Russian vine
  • Climbing forsythia
  • Magnolia
  • Wisteria
  • Ivy
  • Carolina Jessamine (the state flower of South Carolina)
  • Grapes

If you like to see your flowers change when the seasons do, you can consider annual climbers like:

  • Sweet peas
  • Morning glories
  • Climbing nasturtiums
  • Black-eyed Susan vine
  • Periwinkle
  • Mandevilla
Caring for Climbers

Climbing vines can be absolutely beautiful and make a house look old and established, but they do need some maintenance or they can get out of hand. While the vine is actively growing, it will need lots of water and occasional fertilizing. Just before it begins to grow again in the springtime, trim the dead vines and leaves off and the vine will grow more rapidly. Always make sure that the vine isn't clinging too hard to your wall, especially if it's stone - a climber can seriously damage a wall if it grows into the brick. If your vines and lianas start choking other plants out, it might be time to consider different climbing plants or seriously cutting them down.

Groundcovers

Carpeting your garden

When you think about creating your garden, you should think about planting different heights of vegetation so that you can create a contrast of textures and colors in your yard. Contrary to popular belief, a groundcover isn't just an unimportant bottom-feeding plant. It actually can supply an ecosystem and food for animals, insects and other plants, as well as provide interest and beauty to a yard where a patchy lawn may have been its predecessor.

Groundcover has many advantages, including:

  • Gives no room for weed germination, since most groundcover is thick and spreads fast
  • Holds soil in place and prevents it from washing away, especially on slopes
  • Builds up the level of humus in the soil
  • Insulates the soil in summer and winter
  • Provides an attractive and more easily maintained alternative to grass
  • In the case of shrubbery, can be used for privacy purposes
  • Great for small spaces

Groundcover works when you want to define a space and create an easy spread of flora around elements like ponds or decks. Many people use groundcover to cover an area where grass doesn't grow well, or where the soil is patchy and weak. Groundcover, like climbing plants, sometimes doesn't need much to grow quickly and spread. As well, groundcover can add another element to your garden décor, since it can grow anywhere from 6 inches to 4 feet tall. It especially looks striking on a steep bank or small hill - watching the wind ripple the shining leaves can be breathtakingly beautiful.

If you are building a garden, use groundcover as a foundation plant. Foundation plants are those that frame your house and anchor your flowerbeds. They can also be considered the first level of any garden.

Types of Groundcover

There are many different types of groundcover available for you to plant. Remember to keep in mind that some varieties are more invasive than others, so unless you're willing to be vigilant in maintaining them, you might want to avoid planting these. Many species of groundcover can also be used as herbs:/p>

  • Chamomile
  • Bearberry
  • Harebells
  • Pachysandra
  • English ivy
  • Some varieties of strawberry
  • Liriope
  • Hosta
  • Sedum
  • Thyme
  • Periwinkle
  • Cowberry
  • Violet
  • Lungwort
  • Creeping dogwood
Caring for Groundcover

Plant all species of perennial groundcover in the spring, in well-drained weed-free soil. Groundcover will only keep out weeds if there are no existing weed seeds in the soil. You'll probably have to weed for the first few seasons until the groundcover establishes itself. Because many varieties of groundcover are considered woodland plants, you'll want to choose a site under a tree or in a shaded area. Plant the plugs up to three feet apart for fast-growing groundcover, and up to seven and a half inches apart for slower-growing varieties. Beware - groundcover can harbor snails and other garden pests, so you might want to consider using an insecticide spray if you find that you have this problem.

Privacy Plants

Creating a natural fence

One of the worst disadvantages of having a small garden or unfenced backyard is the lack of privacy. Fencing can be expensive, not to mention isolating, and if you enjoy a more natural look, a six-foot fence isn't exactly the best way to achieve it. Privacy plants are plants and shrubbery with foliage that grows thickly, to create a fence-like effect without shutting you away from all of your neighbors. They allow light to come through the leaves and still leave you enough privacy to entertain and enjoy your backyard room.

Living Walls

The notion of a living wall is one that works in almost any garden. It allows you to build a barrier between two spaces using natural vegetation. You can buy a commercial living wall or simply build one with bamboo plants, shrubbery or tall plants. Commercial living walls are built to include places to plant annuals, so you can change them every year without a problem. Natural living walls are shrubs or tall plants that simply need trimming or can even be allowed to grow as they please, creating their own design. Bushes and shrubbery are either evergreen or perennial, so you don't have to worry about replanting every year.

Another idea for a living wall is a low stone or wooden wall topped with planters. These allow you to grow smaller plants to any height you like, while still maintaining a modicum of privacy.

Types of Privacy Plants

Often, the simplest privacy plants to use are climbers like honeysuckle, ivy or sweet pea. Simply build a trellis and let the plants climb. In time, you'll have a screen between you and your neighbors. If you have an existing frost fence, you can plant the climbers and they'll use your fence as a jungle gym. However, check with your neighbor first if it's a shared fence, because some people don't appreciate a plant climbing willy-nilly over their side.

If you choose to plant a shrubbery border, you can choose easy-to-maintain cedar or juniper bushes that will give off a lovely aroma while screening you efficiently. They may also attract wildlife that will eat the berries and nest in the trees. If you want higher security but can't afford a fence, you can buy and plant varieties with thorns or prickly leaves which will stop intruders from trying to push through. Many shrubs - such as privet and azalea - will flower, giving your yard some color and fragrance while still providing the privacy you need.

You can plant a bamboo fence for a relatively low cost, but remember, bamboo can be incredibly invasive. If you want to have bamboo forever, this is a good option; but if you don't, try to find varieties that won't take over your yard and your neighbor's.

Fragrant Plants

An air freshener for your outdoor space

Often, people plant gardens not only for the pretty and colorful flowers and foliage, but also for the scent of the blossoms on the fresh air. A fragrant garden can be the best part of your whole outdoor space, especially if you plant the flowers in staggered steps so that at all times of the spring and summer, there's always something blooming and giving off a wonderful smell. It can definitely make sitting outdoors a more pleasant experience.

Fragrant Plants Pros and Cons

Before accessorizing with fragrant plants, you should think about how many you want and how strongly they will smell. With some fragrant gardens, the scent can be absolutely overpowering, and that can turn off people who have sensitivities or allergies to odors. To avoid this, try planting a few flowers in an open-air location, away from the wind.

Some pros of fragrant plants include:

  • They give your garden a fresh, sweet smell.
  • They can cover up any unpleasant smells in your neighborhood (compost heaps, for example).
  • They are often colorful and are versatile (perennial or annual, shrub or vine).

Some cons of fragrant plants include:

  • They can be cloyingly sweet, and for people sensitive to smell, this can be uncomfortable.
  • The wind can increase or diminish scent, depending on where they're planted.
  • Some plants can be hard to grow and require a lot of care and certain planting zones in order to grow properly.
Types of Fragrant Plants

There are many different types of fragrant plants available for accessorizing. Depending on what you want, you can get perennials, annuals, vines or shrubbery. In our fragrant garden section, you can learn how to plant a beautiful garden and make use of all the fragrant plant choices. Some can even double as privacy or climbing plants.

Perennials and Bulbs:
  • Species of hosta - "Honeybells"
  • Some species of iris
  • Sweet violets
  • Hyacinths and grape hyacinths
  • Peonies
  • Lily-of-the-valley
  • Easter lily
  • Narcissus
Annuals:
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Sweet William
  • Sweet pea
  • Pot marigold
  • Nasturtium
Herbs:
  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Thyme
  • Artemisia
  • Rosemary