One of the easiest ways to add drama to your garden is to include architectural plants that offer bold vertical interest. Architectural plants may be grouped together or placed alone to draw the eye and anchor the garden. Here are a few of my favourites:
Giant Chinese Silver Grass - I bought my first Giant Chinese Silver Grass about five years ago when it had just three measly stalks. Fast forward to last summer when the plant was five feet in diameter with well over 100 stalks! Yet, this isn't an invasive grass that will spread throughout your garden, but rather a clumping type with incredible 10-foot tall stalks and even taller flower plumes in autumn. The ends of the leaves arch, giving the plant a unique waterfall appearance and when combined with its lofty height makes this an exceptional architectural plant.
Hardy Bamboo - There are many interesting and hardy bamboos that are perfect for adding exotic flair to the garden. Blue Fountain Bamboo (Fargesia nitida) is a tall growing bamboo that reaches a height of 10-feet and is one of the hardiest bamboos, surviving to zone five. The tall culms are very upright, but arch at the top, creating an attractive fountain effect. Use it as a hedging plant or to create drama in a partially shaded spot. Umbrella Bamboo (Fargesia murielae) is another outstanding bamboo, but this type bears 10-foot weeping canes that create a beautiful umbrella shape. Both of these bamboos do not have running rhizomes and therefore will not become invasive in the garden.
Joe Pye Weed - A popular perennial, this late blooming native plant can easily tower over seven-feet! The burgundy-rose blooms are produced in sizable, dome-shaped clusters that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and pollinators to the garden. There are compact types available, but if you wish to attract attention, look for those that tower over their neighbours. Good planting partners include brown eyed Susans and ornamental grasses like maiden grass.
Inula helenium ‘Goliath' - A statuesque perennial herb that is hardy to zone five, ‘Goliath' produces towering flower stalks that can grow up to 200 cm tall! It's often called Elf Dock, Wild Sunflower or Scabwort (perhaps the least attractive name), but it offers a long season of eye-catching colour to the garden. The flowering period begins in early July and continues through August with the plants offering an abundance of bright yellow, doubled blossoms. ‘Goliath' is also a good choice for a damp or slightly shaded spot in the garden, growing happily in a wide variety of conditions. Seed is available from Richter's Herbs (www.richters.com).
Cardoon - Cardoon is a Mediterranean plant - and an artichoke cousin - that produces large silvery, toothed leaves. Steven Biggs, a garden writer in Toronto is a big fan of growing cardoon in his urban front yard for the attention the plants attract. In fact, in the latest edition of Garden Making magazine (Spring 2013), he offers a fun article on his adventures growing this ‘Promethean' plant. Here in Nova Scotia it is grown as an annual, started indoors in late March on a sunny windowsill. The edible stalks are considered to be a gourmet treat by foodies, but I'd recommend blanching them first by wrapping them in newspaper for a week or two before harvest to decrease bitterness. Find Steven Biggs online at www.stevenbiggs.com.
Niki Jabbour is the author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 Book Award from the American Horticultural Society) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio programme, which will be back for season 7 beginning on Sunday May 19th from 11 to 1 pm. Find her on facebook, twitter and atwww.nikijabbour.com.