Breaking the Rules of Garden Design Fine Gardening

Breaking The Rules Plant Identification

“Breaking some of the more common rules-such as spacing properly, sticking to a single color scheme, and separating sun and shade plants-can create a truly unique and personalized garden. David Ellis shares how to break the rules in Fine Gardening issue #156. As a bonus, here are the plant identifications included in his article.

  1. Euphorbia (Euphorbia cv., USDA Hardiness Zones 3–11)
  2. Hellebore (Helleborus orientalis cv., Zones 4–8)
  3. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea cv., Zones 4–8)
  4. ‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, Zones 5–9)
  5. ‘Royal Star’ star magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, Zones 5–9)
  6. ‘Moonlight’ Japanese hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’, Zones 6–9)

“One rule of garden design suggests that plants should be tiered–or layered–with tall plants in the back and shorter plants in front.  To made a garden feel more natural and unexpected, however, I suggest placing tall and bold-leaved plants near the front or middle of a bed and interspersing shorter plants throughout.  This allows the eye to flow to different areas, creating unexpected views around the plants and leading to interesting shadows and depth.”

“Place bold plants in front.  Bold-leaved plants, such as bear’s breeches and ‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea, in the front of this bed signal the rule breaking that lies within the rest of the garden.”

Fine Gardening, pgs. 24-25.

Euphorbia Euphorbia



If you’d like a low-maintenance annual for your beds, borders, or containers, it’s tough to find a better performer than euphorbia. This group of plants offers outstanding heat and drought resistance. Plus, they have a white, milky sap that animals don’t like, so they’re rarely nibbled on by deer, rabbits, or other critters. (Be warned, though: The sap can irritate sensitive skin.)

  • Light: sun/part sun
  • Annual
  • 1′ – 3′

Hellebore Hellebore



Hellebores are so easy and so pretty, they have a place in nearly every landscape. Their exquisite bowl- or saucer-shape flowers in white (often speckled), pinks, yellows, or maroon remain on the plant for several months, even after the petals have fallen. Deer-resistant and mostly evergreen, hellebores’ divided leaves rise on sturdy stems and may be serrated (like a knife) along the edges. Grow hellebores in shade where soil remains moist; some hellebores prefer acid or alkaline conditions, depending on variety.

  • Light: sun/part sun/shade
  • Perennial
  • 1′ – 3′
  • Spring Bloom/Winter Bloom




The tall spires of a stand of foxglove, rising up in the garden in early summer, is a sight to behold. Most are biennials, that is, they need two years to bloom and then die in the fall. But if you can get a stand going, they’ll reseed so prolifically it will seem they’re perennials.

To be successful with foxgloves, they must have rich, moist, well-drained soil and light shade, especially in the afternoon. (They’ll do fine in full sun in the northern third of the country.) These tall plants also need to be out of any wind. Plants may rebloom if deadheaded after the first flush of bloom.

  • Light: part sun/shade
  • Perennial
  • 1′ – 6′
  • Late Spring/Early Summer

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey' 1 flower Little HoneyHydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey' 2 flower

 Royal Star Magnolia


Moonlight Chinese Hydrangea Vine

Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’

Plant Description

This superb woody-stemmed, self-clinging vine is noted for its silvery, blue-green heart-shaped leaves and huge, lace cap hydrangea-like clusters. Creamy white flowers are fragrant and foliage turns yellow in fall. Slow to establish; not particular about soil types. Deciduous.

Breaking The Rules Plant Identification

  1. Mother of thousands (Saxifraga stolonifera, Zones 6–9)
  2. Farfugium (Farfugium japonicum, Zones 7–10)
  3. ‘Red Dragon’ knotweed (Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’, Zones 5–9)
  4. ‘Zhuzhou’ fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense ‘Zhuzhou’, Zones 8–9)
  5. ‘Ayesha’ hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’, Zones 5–9)
  6. ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ boxleaf honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’, Zones 6–9)
  7. ‘Needlepoint’ English ivy (Hedera helix ‘Needlepoint’, Zones 5–11)

“This bed demonstrates that you don’t need a lot of room betwee plants to have organization.” Fine Gardening, p. 25

“LARGE BOLD PLANTS make a stateent in the front of a border.  Placing tall, old, or large-leaved plants in the front of a border creates surprise.  Here are a few of my favorites–al of which serve as showstoppers in my garders.”

 Bear’s Breeches

  • Zones 7 to 11
  • 4′ – 6′
Bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis)
ah-KAN-thus MAWL-iss
Genus: Acanthus
Acanthus mollis is prized for its bold clumps of shiny green leaves topped with striking, 3-foot-tall spires of white flowers which are clasped by showy purple bracts. This is a great plant for an eye-catching structural element in a part-shade border.
Noteworthy Characteristics: A strong architectural accent, it is best placed at the rear of the border. [This article says to place in front for surprise.  It would need to be planted in a container and brought inside in my zone.]
Care: Best in deep, rich, well-drained soil. Plants need protection from hot afternoon sun. Hardy and evergreen to Zone 7.
Propagation: Sow seeds in spring, divide plants in spring or autumn, or take root cuttings in late autumn or early winter.
Problems: Powdery mildew, fungal and bacterial leaf spot.

 Little Honey

Oakleaf hydrangeas are already one of my favorite shrubs: They are tough and reliable; have great foliage, flowers, and fall color; and provide stems of dried flowers in winter. Just when I thought they could not get any better, chartreuse-foliaged ‘Little Honey’ came along. Creamy white flowers appear in summer, then dry on the plant for months of show. ‘Little Honey’ rarely requires pruning, besides some thinning or shaping. To brighten the shade even more, plant hot pink or orange flowers and bright purple-foliaged tropicals nearby. -Irvin Etienne, Fine Gardening #147 (October 2012), page 72
Noteworthy Characteristics: Bright foliage, touch plant, and amazing fall color. Also needs little pruning.
Care: Happiest in partial shade, ‘Little Honey’ will tolerate some sun. Give it moist, fertile, well-drained soil.

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Saxifraga stolonifera Harvest Moon 1.jpg Saxifraga stolonifera Harvest Moon 2.jpg


Winter hardy to USDA Zones 7-10. In the St. Louis area, plants should be grown in containers. Containers should be placed in part shade to almost full shade locations with protection from strong winds. Foliage will wilt in too much sun. When grown for foliage effect, some gardeners will remove the flowering stalks as they appear before bloom in order to emphasize the foliage quality. In areas where plants are winter hardy, they are best grown in humusy, organically rich, medium moisture soils in part shade to full shade. They prefer moist soils that never dry out, but tolerate less moisture than many of the related ligularias. Plants generally benefit from regular, deep watering in hot summers.

Red Dragon Knotweed

 Fringe Flower

Blackish maroon foliage maintains its color even throughout the heat of summer. Stunning display of fragrant deep pink flowers. Has a distinct, upright form with strong ascending branches even in its youth. Handsome peeling bark when mature. Evergreen.

  • Light: part sun/full sun
  • Perennial
  • 6′ Fast Growing Screen
  • Spring

Breaking The Rules Plant Identification

  1. Winter daphne (Daphne odora, Zones 7–9)
  2. ‘Ryusen’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Ryusen’, Zones 5–8)
  3. Paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha, Zones 6–10)
  4. ‘Ogon’ winter hazel (Corylopsis spicata ‘Ogon’, Zones 5–8)

Breaking The Rules Plant Identification

  1. ‘Oriental Limelight’ artemisia (Artemisia vulgaris ‘Oriental Limelight’, Zones 3–11)
  2. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea cv., USDA Hardiness Zones 4–8)
  3. Variegated potato vine (Solanum jasminoides ‘Variegata’, Zones 9–11)
  4. Honeysuckle (Lonicera cv., Zones 3–10)
  5. Passionflower (Passiflora cv., Zones 6–11)
  6. Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria, Zones 3–8)

Breaking The Rules Plant Identification

  1. ‘Toyama-nishiki’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Toyama-nishiki’, Zones 5–8)
  2. ‘Summer Skies’ delphinium (Delphinium ‘Summer Skies’, Zones 2–9)
  3. ‘Newport Pink’ dianthus (Dianthus barbatus ‘Newport Pink’, Zones 3–9)

Breaking The Rules Plant Identification

  • ‘Moonlight’ Japanese hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’, Zones 6–9)
  • Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria, Zones 7–11)

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