Perennials with feathery, gauzy shapes

yutopia(6B)June 22, 2014

Hi all,

I am thinking of completely reworking my largest flower bed, which is only in its second year. I have a hard time with spacing and figuring out placement for plant heights in a large, undifferentiated bed.

I have made a list of cottage-style flowers to grow, but I want more plants with shapes that are tall and feathery, like liatris. I've also been admiring Chinese meadow rue "Hewitt's Double."

What are some of your favorites? I'm in Pittsburgh, PA, zone 6. The plants don't need to be tall themselves. I like the long, feathery, Piet Oudolf-style gauzy plantings, and would really like to incorporate more of that texture.

I am thinking of including: liatris, gelber herold foxglove, black hollyhock, antique flemish poppies, reblooming tall bearded iris, masterwort, delphinium, monkshood, dahlia, silene, and columbine. Any observations about any of these plants, or to round out the bed, would be great, too. I have a hard time working out spacing and heights.

Thanks for reading and for any suggestions.


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Agastache (hummingbird mint) if it grows there

And some of the fluffy grasses native to your area.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 10:30AM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

Gaura (short lived)
Crambe cordifolia
Scabiosa ochroleuca
Chamerion angustifolium (spreads, so for wilder areas)
and definitely some grasses! ;-)

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 11:37AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Elizabeth, I love that photo. Is that of a garden you are trying to reproduce and trying to identify the plants in the bed?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 12:04PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Veronicastrum is one of the plants in that picture and a very attractive plant! It's the one with the distinct tiers of leaves, with the flowers as a collection of spikes on the top.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 12:10PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I'm interested in what that 'cloud' in the middle of the photo is? I recognize the Veronicastrum on the right side of the cloud. Is the tallest one in the back Meadow Rue?

Would it be correct to expect these plants need moisture?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 12:19PM
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^Sea Lavender (Limonium) can give that cloud-like effect.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 1:11PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

I'll add Russian sage, scabiosa of any kind, and pasque flower (not sure if that would work in your zone).

I think grasses are key though.

I have one of Piet Oudolf's books and I like that look. I'd never thought to design with that in mind, but it's a great idea for the theme of a planting.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 2:51PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Oh here I go again, banging the drum for umbellifers.....and there are literally dozens of them, from the dainty little torilis to the rampageous hieraceums - for sun - orlaya, ammi visnaga, anthriscus sylvestris, various eryngoes.fennel....for moist soil - pimpinella, chaerophyllum, astrantia, sweet cicely, for shade - cenolophium denudata, angleica sylvestris purpurea......

Also of note - valerian officianalis, gillenia, achilleas, gaura, saxifrage urbium, obviously grasses, stachys, indigofera, lespedeza, lathyrus (many) campanula lactiflora, thalictrum, linaria purpurea, scabious columbaria, althea cannabina.....

I also love these airy perennials (can you tell?)

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 5:11PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Don't forget annuals - such as nigella, l;arkspur, gypsophila, nicotiana...........

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 5:13PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

There are some artemisia that give a feathery texture . There are so many of them. Some better behaved than others. I find A. ludoviciana "valery finnis" behave here. And A. frigida and filifolia to be very lacy but needing a semi arid or arid area or one with perfect drainage.

Here is a link that might be useful: Artimisia

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 8:09PM
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Campanula UK Z8

How did I forget filipendula rubra?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 8:10PM
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I'll second Gaura lindheimeri/wandflower 'The Bride' but question if it's "short-lived" given my experience. It's up again in my west-facing bed this year, grown from seed via winter sowing in 2010 and shows no sign of expiring.

Are astilbes too common or short to suit you? I have so many of them--pink, white, rose, dark purple. They've been workhorses in my part-sun beds since 2008; I wouldn't be without them. Same goes for black snakeroot (Cimicifuga racemosa) which is quite tall & Japanese painted fern (which is quite short).

If you have sufficient sun, Caryopteris/blue mist shrub is quite delicate-looking.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 8:59PM
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That meadowsweet/filipendula might have frothy, airy flowers but it is a positive thug in my garden...pops up everywhere and grows to over six feet! I pull out a lot.

Anyone like linum/blue flax?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 9:07PM
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Wow, what great responses! The picture is of a Piet Oudolf planting that just came up in a Google image search. I really love the textures-- it feels like a very emotional planting. I can recognize a few of the plants, but many are unknown to me.

Thanks for the great suggestions-- I have a lot to look up and plan out.

I had a mullein grow in the middle of the bed this year, and it had seeded a bit by the time I identified what it was. The foliage looked a lot like foxglove, just humongous. The flower spike was prehistoric looking, very dramatic, so I was sad to find out that it had to go. Once I identified it I discovered that it can be quite the reseeder, and the seed is viable for a very long time. I appreciated seeing it grow and flower because of its strangeness, but I might feel a whole lot differently at this time next year...

I found some astilbe at a plant sale this spring, and the flowers have just started. It is quite lovely and delicate.

My purple vitex bush grows these incredible feather-like flowers, although it died back to its base after our cold spells this winter. The vigorous leafing that started in early June (frighteningly late-- thankfully I read someone's post on GW and didn't pull it for dead!) should produce some flower this year.

So many grasses are invasive, and many others that I like are not hardy in my zone. My bed is sloped and quite well draining, but Pittsburgh's climate has a lot of precipitation in the spring and fall, and longer dry spells in the heat of the summer. I'm trying a dracula lily in there this year and hoping the good drainage will hold it through the winter. I lost my agastache and spurge this winter. I've also had no luck with lupine, although I'm trying again this year. Wish me luck!


This post was edited by yutopia on Mon, Jun 23, 14 at 0:46

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 12:44AM
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The grass in the center is probably Deschampsia cespitosa. It is quite spectacular in bloom and glows when backlit by sun, very ethereal and fluffy. It blooms early in the season through summer since its a cool season grass. Keep in mind it helps when a photo is by someone like Saxon Holt and shot with perfect backlighting.

Other billowy, cloud-like grasses include:
Aristida purpurea
Panicum virgatum
Melica ciliata (silky spike melic)
Foxtail Barley

Silver foliage plants also add a nice airy feeling and give an area color variety & definition when flowers wane. Interesting seed heads are great for winter interest in gardens such as this one, especially among the grasses.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 12:59AM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

As grasses go, how about Muhlenbergia capillaries and Indian rice grass (Oryzopsis hymnodies). Muhlenbergias do not seed out to easily. The seed are viable only for a short time. I like Stipa barbatos for extreme featheriness. Stipa pennata is good also. Its called European FEATHER grass.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 1:34AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

I'm sure Calamagrostis Karl Foerster would work--no reseeding from a number of plants after many, many years in my gardens and in bloom now--very feathery.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 6:08AM
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Don't forget amsonia hubrichtii!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 8:11AM
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Bronze Fennel
verbena bonariensis

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 9:21AM
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After careful research & observation, I grow just three types of grasses. For shade, Carex morrowii/variegated Japanese sedge grass 'Ice Dance;' for sun Pennisetum alopecuroides/dwarf fountain grass 'Hameln' and the above-mentioned Calamagrostis Karl Foerster. Other than a spring haircut, they're completely maintenance/care-free and add an elegant form to the garden. Critters ignore them which is just one more vote cast in favor of including them as is the fact they ignore the vagaries of weather, be it very wet, very dry or very cold.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 9:54AM
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catkin(UDSA Zone 8)

Achillea *The Pearl*. Looks nothing like most Achilleas but is IMO, lovely! Spreads a bit in my border but not a lot.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 11:35PM
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My all time fave is Verbena bonariensis. The lacy blue/purple flowers move in the slightest breeze. It reseeds freely for me, but easily removed if it comes up where I don't want it. Bees, butterlies and goldfinches love it. I'm in Atlanta area and mine has been blooming for 6 weeks, still going strong.

Have a large clump just in front of my vitex, which is just starting to bloom. I cut the vitex way back and thought I'd lost it, but it's going to be wonderful. Hooray! It's another favorite.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 6:20AM
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