Architectural plants are big and bold, boasting large, often vibrantly coloured foliage and flowers that add drama, height or a focal point to the garden. Bamboo, ornamental grasses, certain hosta, ferns, cannas and yuccas all make a striking impression in beds and borders.
Architectural plants can be planted directly in the soil or potted up in large containers, adding elegance to entranceways, gates, front doors or garden beds. Use them to liven up a dull area of the garden or to add a sense of destination to the end of a pathway.
One of my newest plant acquisitions is an ‘Empress Wu' hosta, a bright green hosta which is named after China's only female Emperor and is said to be the largest hosta in the world. This beauty defines architecture, growing to an unbelievable height of four-feet with a spread up to six-feet! The solid green leaves are deeply veined and can measure 18-inches in width. Use it to add tropical flair to shaded pathways or nestle it under tall trees to evoke the lush landscape of Jurassic Park!
I'm also a huge fan of bamboo and several local nurseries are finally starting to offer a selection of interesting and hardy types that add a touch of the exotic to the garden. Blue fountain bamboo (Fargesia nitida) is a great bamboo for Maritime gardens and can reach a height of 10-feet, forming a dense clump in the garden. Because of this tight growing habit, they make exceptional hedging or screening plants.
Umbrella bamboo (Fargesia murielae) is another hardy type, but the 10-foot canes have an attractive arching habit that gives the plant its characteristic umbrella shape. Both of these bamboos do not have running rhizomes and therefore will not become invasive in the garden.
Ornamental grasses are extremely popular perennial plants that are both low maintenance and striking in form. Karl Foerster feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster') is a versatile plant with deep green shiny foliage and striking feathery flowerheads. As with most ornamental grasses, it is very easily grown, yet creates eye-popping architectural interest in the garden with its gorgeous form and lofty five-foot height.
Maiden grass tops my list of favourite ornamental grasses for architecture, and depending on the cultivar, can grow an incredible 4 to 8 feet tall. ‘Gracillimus' is a cultivar that grows about six-feet tall and has fine-textured, arching foliage and upright, feathery flowers that emerge in late summer and persist all winter long. "Morning Light' has narrow white bands that run down the length of the leaf, giving it a ‘glowing' effect in the sunshine. My tallest grass is Giant Chinese Silver Grass that easily grows over 8-feet tall and forms a lofty vertical clump of gently arching foliage in my perennial garden.
Many annual flowers can also be used to add impact to garden beds or large containers. Nicotiana sylvestris is a type of flowering tobacco that is often called White Shooting Stars for its fragrant star-shaped white flower clusters. Growing up to five-feet tall, this majestic plant shines when planted as a background plant in a flower border or as the centerpiece of a large container. As well as attracting gardeners, it also is a favourite of hummingbirds, butterflies and pollinating moths.
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.