Whopper perennials

Tall bloomers steal the spotlight in beds and borders
Sharon Cohoon

Bold candles of bloom rising from beds and borders are like starlets on the red carpet. You'd notice them, wouldn't you, no matter how pressing the crowds around them? Tall, staunchly upright plants ending in an explosion of blossoms are hard to miss: Their aerial displays generate a level of excitement that ground-level blossoms just can't match.

Flower towers have other virtues. They provide a welcome contrast to the round, mounding silhouettes that predominate in most landscapes. Because they are mostly vertical, and shrink down to tidy clumps of foliage when not in bloom, tall perennials provide lots of color in very little space.

So don't be afraid to use them. Every garden deserves at least one superstar.

Landscape uses

Accent
A single tall plant with bold foliage brings seasonal surprise to low beds. Surround a yellow verbascum with santolina, lavender, and yarrow, or add a red kangaroo paw to a bed of low-growing succulents in blues and greens.

Mass
Fill a small garden bed with one type of tall perennial ― foxgloves, for instance. Or, combine several varieties, each reaching a different height: 5- to 8-foot Pacific delphiniums behind shorter Blue Fountains delphiniums, for example.

Floral screen
Plant them against a wall at the back of a border. Or use them to define a personal retreat.

Our favorites

These seven whopper perennials are surefire attention-getters.

 

Beard tongue
(Penstemon)
Perennial. Tubular pink, red, or purple flowers spring or summer. Sunset climate zones vary by species.
Uses. Combine with desert zinnia, blackfoot daisy, and other drought-tolerant desert perennials, or mix with wildflowers.

 

 

 
Foxglove
(Digitalis purpurea)
Biennial or short-lived perennial. Four-foot-tall flowering stems rise from rosettes of hairy green leaves. Tubular flowers in shades of pink, red, purple, or white in spring or summer. Zones 1-24, A2, and A3.
Uses. Pair with bearded iris, campanula, catmint, cranesbill, or roses. Or plant among waist-high ornamental grasses such as Deschampsia or Molinia.

 

 

 
Hollyhock
(Alcea rosea)
Biennial or short-lived perennial. Usually grown as annual. Saucer-shaped flowers 3 to 6 inches wide above sturdy stems. Wide range of colors, from pastel to nearly black. Can reach 9 feet tall. Prone to rust. Zones 1-24.
Uses. Grow against a fence or garage wall, or plant in a border behind old-fashioned flowers such as zinnias, cosmos, and summer phlox.

 

 

 
Kangaroo paw
( Anigozanthos hybrids)
Perennial. Sulfur yellow, orange, or rusty red fuzzy flowers emerge from clumps of dark green, swordlike foliage. Blooms from late spring well into fall. Choose a tall-stemmed type like 'Big Red' (3-4 ft.). Zones 15-24.
Uses. Vertical accent in a Mediterranean mixed border; makes an airy privacy screen.

 

 

 

Liliies

Torch Lilies

(Kniphofia hybrids)
Perennial.Cone-shaped clusters of slender tubular flowers on 3- to 6-foot-tall stems above grassy foliage. Red, orange, or yellow summer flowers. Zones 2-9, 14-24.
Uses.Combine with ground-hugging blue-flowered perennials like campanula and cranesbill (Geranium).Mix with succulent rosettes, such as aeonium. Also a good poolside plant.

 

 

 

Foxtail lily
( Eremurus species)
Perennial. Imposing lily relative grown for its 3- to 9-foot spires of blooms. Closely massed bell-shaped flowers cover up to half the stems in late spring and early summer. White, pink, yellow, or orange blooms. Needs winter cold to bloom well. Zones 2-10, 14-16, 18-21.
Uses. Mass them against a wall, solid fence, or dark green hedge.

 

 

 
 
Mullein
( Verbascum species)
Biennial and perennial. Summer-blooming plants send up tall spikes closely covered with yellow circular flowers. Foliage and stems are woolly and powdery gray. Many in the 5- to 6-foot range. Zones vary by species.
Uses. A great complement to lavender, rosemary, santolina, and yarrow in Mediterranean-style gardens.