Container Plants for Contemporary Perennial Schemes (Growing Tough and Hardy Perennials)

Echinops make excelent perennial in a Comtemporary planting scheme
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In this article, container plants for contemporary perennial schemes will be discussed in great details. This article will focus on tough hardy perennials and grasses that are used to give colour and textures to your container garden.

When creating your perennial scheme, you need to use a limited colour spectrum of species, which comes together to form large swathes of contrasting heights and shapes. This will make such beautiful and aesthetically pleasing designs.

Echinops make excelent perennial in a Comtemporary planting scheme
Echinops make excellent perennial in a Contemporary planting scheme

Normally, it is recommended for large container gardens but it can be adapted to smaller container gardens if the number of species is reduced but still planted in large groups. This scheme is about having a large number of the same species interspersed with a large number of different plants of different species.

You have to try plants that allow other plants to be visible through the gaps in the plants in front, something like Verbena bonarcensis. Use plants of different shapes to add more interest such as flat-topped achilleas, spiky salvias, and rounded echniaceas, along with some tall grasses. It is best to leave seed heads to add interest over winter, then cut back in early spring.

The following plants are recommended to be used as part of a contemporary perennial scheme in containers:

ACHILLEA FILIPENDULINA

Achillea filipendulina
Achillea filipendulina

This is a 1.4m tall upright perennial that has deeply divided, pale, green leaves. In summer, dense domed heads of golden yellow flowers appear. Grow this plant in moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in full sun. The spent flowers can be allowed to dry on the plant or you can use them as part of a dry cutting flower arrangement.

ACTAEA RACEMOSA (Black Cahosh)

Actaea racemosa
Actaea racemosa

A tall, upright perennial that has deeply divided green leaves. On top of this, branched white bottlebrush-like spikes of flowers appear in midsummer. Grow this 1.5m tall plant in moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in partial shade. The dried seed heads look attractive so leave them as a point of interest over winter.

ACTAEA SIMPLEX (Bugbane)

Agastache_anisata
Agastache_anisata

This upright perennial has divided, green leaves, where it will grow up to 1.2 in height. In autumn, white tinged, purple flowers appear. Grow this perennial in moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in partial shade. It is best to use this green-leaved plant to contrast behind other sun-loving perennials. ‘Brunette’ is a purple leave variety and is a popular choice.

AGASTACHE FOENICULUM (Aniseed Hyssop)

Agastache anisata
Agastache foeniculum

This 1.2m tall upright perennial has green, oval, aromatic leaves that taste and smell like liquorice. Plant this perennial in the front in a container full of multipurpose compost in full sun, where tall spikes of fluffy, lavender-blue summer flowers appear. The flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies.

ALLIUM ‘Purple Sensation’

Allium 'Purple Sensation'
Allium ‘Purple Sensation’

This 80cm tall perennial bulb produces sturdy stem of domed shaped heads of purple flowers in early summer. Plant the bulb in groups between perennials in autumn in multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade. In this way, the other perennials will disguise the strap-like green leaves, which fades as the flowers appear.

ASTER CORDIFOLIUS (Blue Wood Aster)

Aster cordifolius
Aster cordifolius

This 1.2m tall perennial has small, green leaves, where from late summer to autumn, masses of daisy-like, blue-white flowers appear. The plant will add colour and texture to the back of a contemporary perennial garden scheme. Grow this perennial in moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade.

ASTILBE ‘Fanal’

Astilbe 'Fanal'
Astilbe ‘Fanal’

This perennial has broad green leaves that are divided into small leaflets. In summer this 60cm tall perennial produces upright feathery, red flowers, which turns brown and keeps their shape in winter. Grow this plant in moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade.

CALAMAGROSTIS BRACHYTRICHA (Korean Feather Red Grass)

Calamagrostis brachytricha
Calamagrostis brachytricha

A 1.4m tall upright, deciduous grass that has arching, grey-green leaves, which turn straw-coloured in winter. In summer tall, feathery pink-tinged, silver flower heads appear, where it proves to be a backdrop to colourful blooms. Grow this plant in a large container full of moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade.

CENTRANTHUS RUBER (Red Valerian)

Centranthus ruber
Centranthus ruber

A perennial that should be grown in containers as it can be very invasive. It has grey-green leaves and from late spring to early autumn, rounded clusters of small, red flowers appear. Grow this 90cm tall plant in containers full of multipurpose compost in full sun or the shade.

CRAMBE CORDIFOLIA (Greater Sea Kale)

Crambe cordifolia
Crambe cordifolia

This tall perennial has masses of dark green foliage where it grows up to 2m in height. In summer tiny, white, fragrant flowers appear on sturdy stems. The flowers can be used in front of the container garden, where it prefers to be grown in multipurpose compost in full sun.

CYNARA CARDUNCULUS (Cardoon)

Cynara cardunculus
Cynara cardunculus

This huge upright perennial growing up to 2m in height has spiny, silvery leaves. In summer large, thistle-like flowers with purple head appear. It will provide interest at the back in containers, where it will combine well with other sun lovers. Grow this plant in larger containers full of multipurpose compost in full sun.

ECHINACEA PURPUREA ‘Rubinstein’

Echinacea purpurea
Echinacea purpurea

This is an erect perennial that has oval, dark green leaves, where it will grow up to 80cm in height. In summer to mid-autumn large dark pink, daisy-like flowers appear. It will need to be deadheaded to encourage more flowering. Grow this perennial in multipurpose compost in full sun. Other possibilities include ‘White Swan’

ECHINOPS RITO

Echinops rito
Echinops rito

This beautiful upright perennial has prickly. Heavily divided, dark green leaves, where spherical, spiky, metallic blue flower heads appear in late summer. This 1.2m tall plant will fill gaps left by alliums as these plants fade away. Grow this perennial in a pot full of multipurpose compost in full sun.

ERYNGIUM GIGANTEUM (Sea Holly)

Eupatorium Purpureum
Eupatorium Purpureum

A 90cm tall upright perennial that is often short-lived has marbled, heart-shaped, grey-green leaves. In summer, tall stems appear that are topped with cone-like flowers in blue with spiky bracts. Grow this plant in multipurpose compost in full sun.

EUPATORIUM PURPUREUM (Joe Pye Weed)

Eupatorium Purpureum
Eupatorium Purpureum

A tall upright perennial has coarse, green leaves, which can grow up to 2.2m in height In late summer to each autumn, fluffy, purple-pink flower heads appear. Plant it at the back of container displays in moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade.

GAURA LINDHEIMERI (Wand Flower)

Gaura
Gaura lindheimeri

A tall upright perennial that produces spoon-shaped, green leaves. On these pink-tinged flower buds are produced that open to reveal small, white flowers that appear throughout the summer months. Grow this perennial amongst flat-headed flowers such as achilleas. It prefers to be grown in multipurpose compost in full sun.

GERANIUM SYLVATICUM (Wood Cranesbill)

A clump-forming perennial that has lobed, mid-green leaves, and from which, round, white-centred, blue-purple flowers appear

Geranium sylvaticum
Geranium sylvaticu

from late spring to early summer. Grow this in groups in containers in front of moisture-retentive compost in partial shade, where it grows to 75cm in height.

 

GEUM RIVALE (Water Avens)

Geum hybrid
Geum rivale

This rosette producing perennial has rounded, green leaves, where it grows up to 60cm in height. In late spring to summer, bell-shaped, pink or orange blooms appear on tender stems. Use it as a part of a front container display where it prefers to be grown in a moisture retentive compost in full sun.

GILLENIA TRIFOLIATA (Bowman’s Trifoliate)

Gillenia trifoliata
Gillenia trifoliata

A 1.2 m tall spreading perennial that has lobed, prominently veined, dark green leaves. From late spring to late summer sprays of red-budded, starry white flowers appear. Place it in the middle of container displays, amongst group of upright, colourful blooms. Grow it in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost in partial shade.

HELENIUM (Sneezeweed) ‘Moerheim Beauty’

Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'
Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’

This upright perennial had oval, green leaves, where in summer, daisy-like, dark centred red flowers are produced. Looks great in the middle of a container display, where it will provide an eye-catching focal point. Grow this 1m tall plant in multipurpose compost in full sun.

HEMEROCALLIS (Daylily) ‘All American Chief’

Hemerocalis 'All American Chief'
Hemerocalis ‘All American Chief’

An upright, clump-forming perennial that has arching green, sword-like leaves. Throughout summer bright red flowers with yellow throats appear, where each bloom lasting a day. Plant in containers full of multipurpose compost in full sun and not to move it from its container, as the plant hates roots disturbance,

KNAUTIA MACEDONICA (Macedonian Scabious)

A medium tall (75cm in height) perennial that has lobed, green basal leaves. In summer button-like crimson flowers appear in succession on wiry stems. Plant in small groups in containers as part of a frontal display, where you can grow this perennial in multipurpose compost in full sun.

LIGULARIA PRZEWALSKII

Ligularia przewalskii
Ligularia przewalskii

A very tall (2m in height) perennial that has large, round, deeply cut, dark green leaves that are very graceful appear. From mid to late summer tall, narrow spikes of yellow, spidery, daisy-like flowers appear. The plant will need supporting and deadheading. Grow it in moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in full sun.

MONARDA (Bergamot) ‘Cambridge Scarlet’

Monarda ' Cambridge Scarlet'
Monarda ‘ Cambridge Scarlet’

A 1m tall clump-forming perennial that has aromatic, dark, green leaves. In summer, trumpet-shaped, red blooms with whorls appear. Use it as a foil plant to pale coloured plants and to attract bees. Grow it in moisture retentive multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade.

NEPETA RACEMOSA (Dwarf Catmint)

Nepeta_racemosa
Nepeta_racemosa

A short, 30cm tall, spreading perennial that has small, green, aromatic leaves. In summer spikes of violet-blue flowers appear. Grow it in front of container displays, combining it with red and yellow flowering plants to give a contrast. It prefers to be grown in multipurpose compost in full sun.

OSMUNDA CINNAMOMEA (Cinnamon Fern)

Osmunda cinnamomea
Osmunda cinnamomea

This attractive, deciduous fern has tall, mid-green, upright fronds that emerge from a central base. This makes the fern look like a shuttlecock. In summer reproductive fronds appear that are covered with rusty brown spores. Grow this plant in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost in partial shade or total shade. Can be used in containers where bright sunlight is a premium.

PENSTEMON DIGITALIS (Husker Red)

Penstemon digitalis
Penstemon digitalis

A 75cm tall upright perennial that has lance-shaped, dark red young leaves that turn green as the plant matures. White, tubular flowers appear that contrast the leaves and branches very well from late spring to mid-summer. Plant in front of container displays in multipurpose compost in full sun.

PERSICARIA AMPLEXICAULIS (Red Bistort)

Persicaria amplexicauli
Persicaria amplexicaulis

This vigorous perennial has oval, green leaves, where it will grow up to 1.2m in height. On tender spikes, white or pink flowers appear from summer to early autumn. Grow this in the back of container displays in moisture retentive multipurpose compost in partial shade.

PHLIOX PANICULATA

Phlox paniculata
Phlox paniculata

This is an upright perennial that has lance-shaped green leaves. In summer to autumn large clusters of white, pink, or mauve flowers appear that creates a lot of colourful displays. Grow this 1.2m tall perennial in moisture retentive multipurpose compost in full sun.

RUDBECKIA HIRTA

Rudbeckia hirta
Rudbeckia hirta

This is a 90cm tall upright branching, short-lived perennial that is often grown as an annual. It has lance-shaped, mid-green leaves and from summer large, daisy-like brown centred, yellow flowers appear. Grow this plant in multipurpose compost in full sun.

SALVIA NEMOROSA (Balkan Clary)

Salvia Nemorosa
Salvia Nemorosa

A 75cm tall, upright perennial that has lance-shaped, wrinkly-green leaves. In summer to early autumn, spikes of violet-blue blooms appear. Sprinkle reds and other colourful plants with salvia in your container displays. Grow it in multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade.

SANGUISORBA OFFICINALIS (Great Burnet)

Sanguisorba officinalis
Sanguisorba officinalis

This tall, up to 1.2m in height, clump-forming perennial has thin, green leaves, divided into oval leaflets. In summer to autumn, clusters of tiny, dark red flowers appear. Grow it in front of container displays with other colourful plants in moisture retentive multipurpose compost in full sun.

SEDUM (Stonecrop) ‘Herbstfreude’

Sedum
Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’

A clump-forming perennial that has oval, fleshy grey-green leaves, where in late summer red flowers appear that are followed by brown seed heads. Grow this perennial next door to salvias in containers full of multipurpose compost in full sun.

SEDUM TELEPHIUM (Orpine) ‘Atropurpureum Group’

Sedum telephium
Sedum telephium

This is an attractive perennial that had domed, pink-white clusters of flowers from late summer to autumn. The plant has dark purple stems and leaves, which can be used to contrast with green leaved plants in front of the container display. Grow this 60cm tall plant in multipurpose compost in full sun.

STIPA GIGANTEA (Golden Oats)

Stipa gigantea
Stipa gigantea

This is a very tall (up to 2.5m high) clump-firming perennial grass that has large, arching green leaves. In summer tall spikes of purple-tinted, oat-like flowers appear which ripen to a beautiful golden colour. The plant which you can see through can be grown in front of other containers in your display, grow it in multipurpose compost in full sun.

TYPHA MINIMA

Typha minima
Typha minima

A deciduous, 60cm tall, perennial plant that has grass-like leaves, where in late summer, spikes of rusty brown flowers appear. These are followed by rounded seed heads, which look stunning. Grow this plant in damp multipurpose compost in full sun, which should keep this rampant plant under control.

VERBENA BONARIENSIS (Purpletop Vervain)

Verbena bonariensis
Verbena bonariensis

A tall, 1.5m high perennial that has long branching stems of dark green leaves. In midsummer to autumn, domed clusters of scented, purple flowers that create accents at the front of container displays or in the back planted in groups. Grow this perennial in multipurpose compost in full sun.

VERONICASTRUM VIRGINICUM (Culver’s Root)

Veronicastrum virginicum
Veronicastrum virginicum

A very tall upright perennial that has long stems of lance-sharped, dark green leaves, topped with purple-blue, white or pink flowers appear in late summer. Use this plant as a backdrop to darker flowers in a sunny or partial shade location. Grow this 2m tall plant in a moisture retentive compost in full sun or partial shade.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article, plants for the containers to produce contemporary perennial schemes have been discussed. As you can see there are numerous plants that can be used to give beneficial displays of differing height, forms, and colours. All the plants that I am recommending are all hardy, tough and will survive the harshest winters.

Although the planting scheme normally favours large container displays, but with some tweaking and by using a smaller number of plants, you can use it to give a stunning, contemporary perennial display.

Remember to use plants which you can see-through as this will offer interesting talking points. This is not called ‘contemporary’ for no reason.

If you have a question that you need answering or a perennially important comment you need to make, please do so in the comment box below.

Thanks.


12 thoughts on “Container Plants for Contemporary Perennial Schemes (Growing Tough and Hardy Perennials)”

  1. This is a very good starter guide for anyone that is beginning to be a gardener or even expert gardeners to use as a reference guide. As someone who is not a gardener whatsoever, I found this to be an excellent starting point. I didnt really know the difference at first between container plants and plants that are placed in the ground so this was incredibly informative. Great post!

    1. Hi Nightwulf

      Thank you for stopping by and yes, my website is about getting people involved in container gardening, as you do not need a real garden to start doing it. You may start very soon, you never know.

      Thanks

      Antonio 

  2. Oh my God! All these are beautiful and pleasing to the eyes. Growing perennials sometimes come as a daunting task because of the little stress involved in them but when they bloom, all the sweat are forgotten because their radiance covers for the pains went through to nurture them. Personally, if I have my way, I would grow the CYNARA CARDUNCULUS (Cardoon). It is so beautiful and I cannot help but imagine the sight it would be to see them in masses. Wow! I’m getting excited already

    1. Hi Shelley

      A lot of people do not know what contemporary perennials can be grown in their garden, as they do not want old fashioned styles but plants that are tough as boots, and give many years of service. This is why this article was written.

      Thank you for the valued comment 

      Antonio

  3. Hi Antonio, I love your site, I am redesigning my backyard and I am struggling with the plants that I want to put in and what the best way to go about it is. You have given me some great advice and also some lovely choice of plants to work with. I really appreciate the effort you are putting in your site, great work.

    1. Hi Eric

      Putting a website together takes a lot of time and effort, so when somebody like you takes their time to comment on it, it warms my heart. I have written this article because so people do like growing old fashioned design, but want more updated, contemporary designs, which fits better into modern housing. I will be writing future articles on this. Keep visiting.

      Thanks

      Antonio 

  4. Your post has piqued my buried interest in container gardens. I live in an apartment so a container garden is the closest to a real garden that I can manage. I can see how less can be more. One small container of the taller plants can be a very striking background for a foreground of smaller and medium plantings, for example. Since I am sensitive to scents, I am curious to know how the various plant scents would work together. Are there plants that go well together aromatically? Maybe a future post on that. 

    1. Hi Maria

      Thank you for those kind words, and all my suggestions in all my articles, go well together. In this design we are together about large groups of plants planted in containers that is tailored to your own available space. Larger garden more plants, smaller garden less plants. The beauty of container gardens is that you can happily rearrange them to your own heart’s content. I have written an article on fragrant plants Plants for Producing Fragrant Flowers Container Displays (Bringing Scent to the Garden).

      Thanks

      Antonio

  5. Oh, this is very nice. It’s actually the first time I’m hearing about the contemporary perennial scheme although I must have seen some of this types of garden in movies because of the way you explained it. My mum runs a small container garden at home and I know a few of the plants you have mentioned. It won’t be a bad idea to try them out. I’ll put in mind your advice to use small amounts and keep spaces too. Thanks!

    1. Hi Henderson.

      Thank you for your kind comments. Some people like to be different and like, good, hardy plants, which require little looking after. This is why this article was written and I hope you and your mum gets a lot out of it.

      Thanks

      Antonio

  6. First off, I wanted to say thank you.  I’m just getting started with container plants in general but I want to have something beautiful on my patio.

    One of my biggest concerns was what plants to choose and how limited my selection might be.  The list you’ve provided here is amazing.  Now I just have to see about layout and so on.

    Do you offer any recommendations or example images of some of your preferred groupings?

    Again, thank you.  This is perfect for my needs.

    Scott

    1. Hi Scott

      The individual groups is so much depending on you and what your prefer. The best recommendaton is to have the tall plants at the back, the short in the front, but this is contemporary gardening, do convention goes out of the window. You can have tall plants on front, as long as you can see plants in the back, then you can go for any design possible. 

      Thank you for the comment.

      Antonio

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