Last post, we added shrubs to our backyard design to attract birds. Today, we will finish up the design by adding some perennials and a bench.
We could make the perennial plantings a lot more complicated and detailed then I will be doing here. Since we already have a pretty full plant palette with the numerous trees and quite a few different shrubs we are going to make our perennial plantings pretty simple.
Seedheads as winter bird food
The first plant we will add is a great one for the birds in the winter and the butterflies in the summer, the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Most everybody knows this perennial but perhaps you don’t know some of the benefits of this great plant. They include:
- easy to grow from seed
- middle summer blooms when flowers from trees and shrubs are rare
- grows in Full sun to Part shade
- tolerant of drought, heat, humidity and poor soil
- rebloom without deadheading
- freely reseed (good because they have a short life span).
The fact that they reseed easily is a problem if you have them in them in one particular spot in your flower bed.
They are better planted in either a mass (such as the photo above) or as a part of a naturalistic intermixed planting where they can move around a bit.
We will be adding them as a massing in front of the Serviceberry. This spot will get plenty of sun for them as it is next to the turf area.
It will look great from the house when in flower and will be far enough from the house that it won’t look that bad in the winter when the flower heads are left standing.
Plant breeders have gotten a hold of echinacea and have come up with lots of different cultivars. These include double flowered ones and ones of every color you could imagine. Skip them all for this purpose. We want the good old species. It’s the best, especially if we are going to leave the seed heads for the birds and reseeding.
If you just NEED more color than the purple pink, we could add black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckias) to our massing.
Adding a groundcover
Now lets add a ground cover plant to add some more interest.
While evergreen groundcovers such as Vinca minor and Pachysandra terminallis can add some nice color and texture in the winter, they are non natives that don’t add anything to our local ecology. They are also often buried under snow in my area so being evergreen is not really that much of an advantage.
So instead, we will choose the deciduous Canadian Ginger (Asarum canadense) that I wrote about a while back as our main ground cover plant. It will provide nice fresh green foliage every spring that will last until fall.
Adding an evergreen
I won’t completely forget about using an evergreen though. We will also inter plant among our ginger, native Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides). This EVERGREEN fern, is a nice stout performer that adds some green in those otherwise leafless months of December through March.
Ferns are often needy in regards to moisture. This one is not. It likes it’s soil dry to medium moisture. It does require some shade, so we will have to plant it only in shady areas of our design.
The Christmas fern will not spread or naturalize, however clumps will increase in size over time. Overall if you have some shade, this is a great native fern to add to your landscape.
We will add our ginger/fern combo under our redbud, serviceberry grove, and two of our three oak trees.
Adding perennials for the people
Lets finish off our plants by adding two perennials closer to the house not for the birds, but just to make our design more attractive. We will add two “waves” of them near our path between the backy and the side yards.
The fist one is we will add will be Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata). This native mat forming perennial boasts evergreen foliage that is completely covered in mid spring flowers. They look great in when in flower and kind of like a big moss then rest of the year.
The second perennial we will add is an outstanding hybrid geranium that typically grows in a mound to 20” tall by 24” wide. We will plant them in a mass that will bloom for most of the summer. These provide no value for the birds, but lots for people that like color in their yard.
Here is how our design will look with the final two plants added and a bench added in front of the Canadian hemlock trees to watch the action.
Here are a few notes/comments that I added to the design:
- Canadian Ginger should be planted on 1’ centers with Christmas fern randomly placed in the plantings. 80% of the plants should be Canadian Ginger and 20% should be Christmas fern.
- Scarlet Oak is an excellent shade tree with tolerance for high pH soils, excellent wildlife value and Fall color. It is underrepresented in plantings and should be used more. However, any or all of the three Scarlet Oaks can be replaced with other native shade trees of similar size to increase diversity. Possible examples for my area include Hackberry, Swamp White Oak, and Burr Oak.
- Bird houses and bird feeders should be added as seen fit.
Let me know in the comments below if you liked this long post series where I develop one design. If so, are there any other types of designs you would like to see done?
Vivien G says
I just came across this series – wish I’d had it 7 years ago when we bought this house! I was aiming for exactly your criteria in a similar space and it would have been so much easier to adapt your plan and perhaps have chosen some better plants. My yard is complete (except for the usual re-arranging that all gardener love to do) but this information is wonderful and I am keeping it for reference.
Thank you so very much.
I am glad you liked it. I am sure I would change it myself if I wrote it now.
Sue Olson says
Hello, I happened upon your posts today while scoping out a narrow, not too tall evergreen for my driveway border planting. I have a small city lot in a subdivision of 1960’s ranch homes. LOVELY to read about all your plantings and contemplate the Gorgeousness. The Sentinel juniper, MULTIPLE trees in my yard of different kinds, your crab apple laden with tons of beautiful bird food, THREE Oak Trees (!!), and the Forest Pansy I would kill or die for. I’ve lived on this ground for 32 years and honor constraints of boundaries (not allowing any of my plantings to encroach on surrounding neighbor yards), but your posts sure have me looking around my place ruminating possibilities I hadn’t considered before. Thanks You! I’m in Port Washington, Wisconsin, by the way.
Glad you liked it.
Richard Mertens says
Beautiful design. But what’s the scale? It looks like you need a pretty big space for this design. Also, what’s it going to look like in 10 or 20 years when everything starts to get big? Will it still work? Or will it require heavy pruning?
Thanks Richard, It was originally at 1″ = 4′ but I shrunk the image so it so it would not be so huge and long to load over the internet. The fence at the back of the yard is 90 feet long, so that should make the scale a little over 8 feet per 1 inch at max size.
The Redbud is shown at about 20 feet diameter. The Oaks are shown at about 25-28 feet diameter and they will eventually get larger, but most of the rest of the plants are pretty close to mature size.
The Crabapple by the house will need pruning to direct it’s growth away from the house as well as limit it’s size a bit. The Serviceberry and shrubs will need some periodic thinning and maybe some rejuvenation pruning eventually. I suspect the Redbud might get a bit big in 20-25 years, but by then it might just be nearing the end of it’s life and can be replaced by something smaller. The oaks shade should be providing some shade to the patio by then.
So in general, yeah this is a pretty big lot, but the plants should fit together without the need for super heavy pruning.