How to get a great layered look

For terrific garden borders, group plants by height
Debra Lee Baldwin

The secret to a fantastic border lies in careful layering of plants. Take the one planted eight years ago by nursery owner Mia McCarville in Norm and Lynn Ginsburg's Southern California garden. It covers a gently sloping 25-foot-deep plot beyond the Ginsburgs' lawn. "We wanted low-water plants that would bloom much of the year, complement existing yellow daylilies and white Jupiter's beard, and attract birds and butterflies," Lynn says.

Forming the border's highest level are spreading, treelike butterfly bushes ( Buddleja 'Lochinch') and mallows ( Lavatera 'Barnsley'). The middle level contains Salvia 'Indigo Spires', lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus), 'Apple Blossom' penstemon, yarrow ( Achillea 'Moonshine'), Salvia leucantha, Loropetalum chinense 'Monraz', and kangaroo paws ( Anigozanthos 'Pink Joey'). Low growers, such as Convolvulus 'Compact Blue' and 'Dark Thorn' morning glory, and Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue', line the front.

McCarville praises the Ginsburgs for their willingness to plant sparsely and wait for results. "So often, homeowners want instant gratification," she says. "But it's important to space plants so they have plenty of room to grow."

The Ginsburgs' border filled in by its third spring. Now it provides a pretty view and a home for visiting wildlife.

DESIGN: Mia McCarville, Cedros Gardens (9-5 Mon-Sat and 10-4 Sun until Apr 1, then 9-5 daily; 330 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach, CA; 858/792-8640)