Question of the Week: What Should I Plant in This Raised Bed?

On my parkway there are two raised beds on either side of a young hackberry tree. On the west side of the tree, the raised bed is full of species tulips in early to mid-spring. Later in the summer, it is mostly anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and brown eyed susan (Rudbeckia triloba). Some have suggested this is because I can’t stand to throw volunteers on the compost pile, or because I am cheap. No comment.

Parkway from street with raised bed behind Rudbeckias.

These are fine plants, but I have come to feel that they are a little tall (4′ even after they are cut back in spring) and wild for a parkway garden. Given that I have a lot of truly enormous plants toward the back of my front yard, I think it would be better to have lower growing plants in the parkway. This is for my own aesthetic sense as well as to help along the comfort level of the neighbors.

The raised bed is built from pavers and is about 6′ long and 4′ across at its widest point. It gets lots of sun and the soil is loamy but a little on the dry side. To the North of the bed, there is Rudbeckia fulgida, then the curb and street. To the South, there is wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana – outside the raised beds the parkway is mostly covered with this is a groundcover), then the sidewalk.

I have put together a rough plan – and I’d like to know what you think. I’ve done a graphic but for some reason I can’t upload it into the post.  So instead I’ll give a brief description of the bed as I envision it.

Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’. I have a bunch of this in the front yard opposite the parkway. ‘Tschelda’ is like this but shorter and the leaves have a “felty” texture.

Edging the sidewalk side of the bed, spilling over the pavers: Either Geranium renadii ‘Tschelda’ or Dianthus ‘Rose Zing’. ‘Tschelda’ is a blue geranium like ‘Johnson’s Blue’, but shorter. I like this possibility because it would echo some Johnson’s Blue on the other side of the sidewalk. On the other hand, I love red, and I don’t have any Dianthus anywhere.

Salvia ‘May Night’ in front yard along sidewalk.

Center/back of the bed: Salvia ‘May Night’ and Downy Phlox (Phlox pilosa). These should provide nice contrasts of color and form. Downy phlox is a prairie wildflower growing to 2′. It’s bright pink flowers and more mounded form should provide a nice contrast to the blue spires of the Salvia. These should provide color in the late spring/early summer. Also, the Salvia will provide repetition for the Salvias along the other side of the sidewalk.

Downy Phlox. Photo: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

East end of the bed (facing hackberry). Here I’d like to put some Dwarf Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) to provide interest through summer and fall. This is a perennial I’ve been wanting to try.

Fountain Grass. Photo: University of Illinois Extension.

West end of the bed. At the very end, I’m thinking some Prairie Dropseed (Sporobulus heterolopsis). Just inside the Dropseed, I’d plant some false mallow (Sidalcea ‘Party Girl’). The Sidalcea is basically a miniature hollyhock (growing to about 3′) with pink to rose flowers that would provide a focal point in summer. OK, I know I said I didn’t want plants that are too tall, but at least a couple of plants can be moderately tall.

Prairie Mallow. Photo: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

So, what do you think? Do these sound like good choices? Once concern I have is that the color is mostly in spring and early summer. On the other hand, there’s all the Rudbeckia fulgida between the raised bed and the curb, which will provide late season color. Then there’s the Sidalcea and the grasses which provide interest later in the season.

Make free with the advice, criticism, and opinions. Talking over garden plans with equally obsessed gardeners can be as much fun as gardening itself.

27 Comments on “Question of the Week: What Should I Plant in This Raised Bed?

  1. I’m not great at design, so I really don’t feel qualified to respond! But everything you mentioned sounds delightful, I particularly like how you will be mixing colours, but maybe I would add some more things that would give structure like foliage or seed heads, but that might be taken care of in your other boarders…..

    • For more seedheads, was thinking of putting in a single specimen of a compact Panicum cultivar that’s supposed to grow to 3′ – ‘Cheyenne Sky, but I was afraid of too many plants. I’ll think about it some more.

  2. Wow! I wish I was more thoughtful about what I plant in my beds like you are. I tend to plant things willy nilly and then make more work for myself when I have to move stuff around, so I don’t think you want me to help with design. I do like grasses in my beds (I really like my Pennisetum) and one grass I LOVE is Pink Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) for fall color. I am also a big fan of white in my beds. I don’t get home until evening and as is gets dark, the white flowers really stand out. I usually accomplish this with sweet alyssum but that is an annual. I also like it because it smells like honey. mmmm

    • Believe me, my gardening if more often than not random impulse buys. Which Pennisetums do you use? Some of the ones I liked weren’t hardy in zone 5. What about Pink Muhly – and can it take a lot of sun without a lot of water?

      • I have Pennisetum alopecuroides but it’s only hardy to zone 6. What about a Miscanthus? I have the M. sinensis ‘Little Zebra’ and it is hardy to zone 5. It holds up very well in the sun and high humidity and it was pretty drought tolerant this summer. the muhly grass is only hardy to zone 6 also. Darn! It really surprised me that it did so well in the heat and VERY little water.

  3. The hyssop you already have should not be discarded from the bed. Pollinators enjoy it and the scent as walkers brush it as they go byare wonderful features of this plant. Just keep pinching it!

    I think the grasses will get just about as big as what you have there now. For a short grass, blue fescue ‘Elijah’ is one of my fav go-to grasses. An it is so clump forming. I grow it with lavender ‘Munstead’ for a nice blue combo.

    I guess as it looks fairly nice I would just edit rather than re-do. I might add liatris. white calamintha, maybe giant penstemon, or a veronica like Waterperry Blue. Some nicer salvia would be ‘Purplelicious’ or ‘Caradonna’. ‘May night’ gets so eaten up and beat up after it blooms, where as ‘Caradonna’ does not, has pretty purple stems, and a complete flush of new growth and possible additional flowerings. The bloom time on ‘Purplelicious’ is something like 8 weeks.

    I like the downy phlox, but phlox ‘Carolina’ or wedding phlox is a nice white that would bloom early but a couple weeks later and add a bit more early season bloom.

    And of course the penultimate hellstrip plant is catmint ‘Walkers Low’.

    • I have one long bed whose western edge is almost all catmint. I do love the anise hyssop, though I have it in other beds. I’ll think about just pinching it back more … I’ll check out ‘Elijah.’ Only thing is I’d like something cascading and full-looking, which has not been my impression of fescues, but I could be wrong. Thanks for the tip on ‘Caradonna’, that sounds good. Judy would be with you on the Liatris, she never thinks I have enough. Not familiar with the giant penstemon or veronica, but will check them out, along with the ‘Carolina’. I originally wanted to put in white calamintha, do you think it would be good as an edger?

  4. I actually like all those plants! As far as Geraniums go…how about ‘Rozanne’, same color, but blooms from June until frost (although they do get spread out quite a bit)! I love the grass choice…it will make a nice anchor…and maxes out at 2.5′ tall for me. Perhaps you could add some Sanguisorba officinalis for summer/autumn color & texture. Also, it’s always nice to have a Sedum of some sort…my current fave is ‘Matrona’, which has great foliage color. I might also have one plant that is taller than all the others…as a “statement” plant…something tall and narrow…perhaps a Panicum…’Shenandoah’ tops out at 4′ tall…but that top foot or so are just the blooms, which are pretty airy. Do let us know what you plant!

    • For some reason ‘Rozanne’ has not done well when I’ve planted it. Shenandoah sounds good. I thought about Sedum … I’ll google Matrona. Thanks.

  5. I can understand not wanting to annoy passersby with grabby plants. I like to see my driveway shrubs spill out of their beds – until they scratch my car. I have ‘Hamelin’ and for many years, it was well-behaved. But now clumps of it pop up everywhere – great if you want to start a ‘Hamelin’ farm, but otherwise a bit annoying.

    • Well, it can join all the others trying to turn my garden into a plantation for their species. Odd that your Hamelin started to self-seed only after many years.

  6. I like the Fountain Grass. I was thinking grasses when I started reading this post, and I was glad to read you’re including one. Good choice of plants, and the Rudbeckia will provide a nice compliment to the blue blooms.

    • Only thing is, have you found the compact fountain grass varieties growing a lot taller than they’re supposed to? I was warned about that.

    • I know – so many hardy geraniums, so little space. I’m agonizing over sticking with my original choice, going with Brookside or a similar blue, or maybe Biokovo, or a Bigroot Geranium … so difficult to choose!

  7. The Olbrich used the white calamintha as an edger 3-4 years back and it was very nice. Matrona is one of my fav sedums as Scott suggested, thumbs up. If you would like some seed from giant penstemon, let me know. It is a great wintersowing seed and hard to mistake because of its distinctly blue leaves. It would probably not bloom the first year, although if your winter sowed it, it might. It is a native…

  8. Jason, I think almost any planting is improved by the right hardy geranium. I’ve also not had good luck with Rozanne in my Maine garden (although it thrives in my Pennsylvania garden). I think the virtue of Rozanne is that it is very heat tolerant — but it is not very cold hardy. For my Maine garden, I like Brookside, which has a much longer bloom period than Johnson’s Blue and is cold hardy where Rozanne is not. (BTW, I’m also someone who cannot bear to throw perfectly good volunteer plants on the compost pile. :-|)

    • So many hardy geraniums, so little space. I agree they are wonderful and extremely useful. I’m agonizing over my original choice, or maybe Brookside or a similar blue, or maybe Biokovo or a Bigroot ,,, so difficult to choose! My criteria are I’d like something blue or maybe white, something short that will spill over the edge of the bed, and something with foliage that won’t shrivel in the summer sun.

      • Jason, Biokovo would certainly meet your criteria as long as you don’t mind something with a shorter bloom period (compared, for example, to Brookside or Rozanne).

  9. I understand about the Rudbeckias. They always seem like a good idea. They really do look best out in a wild part of the yard if you have it. Your plan sounds lovely. I have several of the dwarf fountain grass and I love their shape as well as their winter interest. It’s going to look great!

  10. Very inspiring for those with or without hell strips. Maybe because it’s a local prairie wildflower but I have to wonder if you’ve considered kim’s knee high coneflower for that later flowering interest you’re pining for. I’m big on flower color and form echoes in a small garden so E. Magnus should also be on your short list. With the lingering flowers on Rozanne, both could make some nice combos. Good luck on your continued success.
    Best, Patrick

  11. Thanks, Patrick. I’m a little reluctant to use echinaceas because lately they’ve been susceptible to aster yellows. I do love them, though.

  12. Front gardens are for making bold statements, that’s why I have a whole load of hollyhocks in mine that have grown to produce cathedral spires of colour over 10′ high this year. People have even stopped to photograph them, which is nice. I don’t think you should tone it down for the sake of the neighbours (hopefully it’ll encourage them?). For lower growing plants that we also have in the front, take a pick from lavender, hebes and dicentras. For all-year round green that’s very low and virtually no maintenance, there’s Bergenias and periwinkles.

  13. I love hollyhocks. I stopped growing them because of problems with rust. I agree that front gardens should make a bold statement, but I prefer to have the really tall plants closer to the house (the back of the front, if you get my meaning). I do have dicentras, but have wanted to try lavender – I’ve never grown it.

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