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How to Plan for A Perennial Garden

One of the fastest growing segments of landscaping is the perennial garden. Features such as low maintenance and excellent variety make perennial gardens a wise choice for those interested in unique beauty and low maintenance. Perennials offer a vast array of colors and texture that can meet any landscaping need. The proper choice of perennial plant material can mean beautiful blooms from spring through summer and into the fall. Perennial garden designs are only limited to your imagination. For the proper selection of perennial material visit your local garden center or retail nursery, they have lots of exciting plants and planting ideas.

Site Selection
There are several things that need to be considered when selecting a site for a perennial garden. Factors such as how much sun or shade the site is exposed to plays a big role in the types of perennial plants you can choose. Before you select your plant material determine how long the selected site receives sun during the day. This information will be invaluable to the Illinois Certified Nursery Professional who assists you with plant selection. Another key to proper plant selection is proper drainage. The site selected should have good drainage so the plants do not sit in water. A good way to determine if your site has good drainage is to dig a hole at the selected site and fill it with water. Let the water drain and fill the hole again. If the water drains out at less than 1 inch per hour then you need to ask your certified nursery professional what can be done to improve drainage on the site or which plant material will thrive in wet conditions.

Designing Your Garden
After you have selected the site and determined the needs of the site as explained above you can now lay out your garden. The easiest way to accomplish a flowing design is to take your garden hose and lay it out in the desired shape of the garden. When designing your garden keep in mind the shapes and textures of the garden's surroundings. If your garden is close to the house and the house has a lot of rounded corners you need to integrate your design so it fits with the house. If your design is away from the house you can be a little more creative but the design should create some harmony with the rest of the landscape. Whatever design you create be sure that it is one that you like and will enjoy.

Plant Selection
Plant for color from Spring through Fall. A well designed perennial bed will have waves of color. Since most perennials have a bloom period of from 2 to 4 weeks, you can't expect all the flowers to bloom at the same time, but you should plan for a succession of bloom. The idea is to select plants with different bloom periods, starting with Spring bulbs and ending with mums, asters, sedum or other late Fall bloomers. You need to mix the plants so no part of the season looks sparse, and to consider which plants are blooming at the same time. This is the fun of perennial bed planning: you get to choose perennials for the whole season, and to choose from among a wide range of changing color schemes.

Have a main theme for your garden. A repetition of theme colors can unify your bed. Also, think about how colors will blend or contrast with the surroundings (for example, a dark fence background). Light colors may brighten up a shady area, while blues and purples may be lost in the shade. Bright colors (such as yellows and oranges) draw your eye, add excitement, and may even draw people toward them along a path. Warm colors (red, yellow, orange) will make the plants seem closer. A bed viewed from a distance may need more warm colors, where a small bed viewed from close up may use more cool colors. Cool colors are often considered to be calming and relaxing. Foliage is an important part of perennials. Colorful foliage may be one way to have continuous color in your garden. There are many shades of even the basic green!

Have a Variety. Plant for some contrast and drama. This can be done with contrasts of color of bloom, but also colors of foliage. A variety of different plant heights, shapes, fragrance, and textures will add interest to your garden. (Texture can be from foliage or bloom.)

Plan Plant Placement-Plant in drifts and tiers. Perennials planted in drifts (groups of 3 or more) produce a more visual effect than individual flowers. You can have the shape of the drift mirror the shape of the bed, so the long side faces the viewer. Drifts can overlap for pleasing color contrasts, and to make beds look rich and layered.

Perennials show best when they are planted in tiers, or
according to height.
Small plants go in the front of the bed, medium sized plants in the middle, and tall plants in the back. In island beds, tall plants go in the center. Create a little variety by putting a few plants out of place. You can plant a few medium sized plants (perhaps with delicate foliage) in the front to break up the predictable pattern of tiers. Both tall and short vertical plants will add excitement to the bed by breaking out of the gardenŐs rounded form, taking your eye with it. They can be used to give parts of your garden emphasis.

Have a Focal Point. Just like a room should have a focal point, your garden should have a focal point. Take advantage of a natural focal point, or create one with a statue, birdbath, or fountain. Plants can be used to create a focal point, either using colors, texture, shape (especially verticals), or height.

Plantings along an inner curve can become a focal point, or a specimen plant can be used.

Site Preparation
For the most part perennials are planted in the spring or in the fall. Because of this time-frame you have plenty of opportunity to improve your planting site. Experts recommend that site preparation begin several months before the actual planting. If you plan to plant in the fall you can prepare your site in mid-summer. If your plans are to plant in the spring then begin your site preparation in mid to late fall.

Till your bed about one foot down and be sure to mix the soil thoroughly. The next step is add some type of organic material such as peat moss or leaf compost. Keep the soil loose until you are ready to plant. For more exact fertilizer requirements take a soil sample to your local garden center for analysis.



The plants listed often come in many different colors and can be purchased in different sizes. Remember to ask the size of the plant when full grown. See your local garden center and Illinois Certified Nursery Professional for a more complete list of available perennials.

Perennials for Sun and Part Sun

  • Achillea m. "Paprika" (Yarrow)
  • Alcea rosea (Hollyhocks)
  • Aquilegia alpine (Columbine)
  • Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed)
  • Aster alpinus (Alpine Aster)
  • Baptisia australis (False Indigo)
  • Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
  • Calthus palustrus (Marsh Marigold)
  • Campanula persicifolia (Bells of Heaven)
  • Catananche caerulea (Cupid's Dart)
  • Chrysanthemum luechanthemum (Ox Eye Daisy)
  • Delphinium "Bellamosa" (Larkspur)
  • Digitalis "Giant Shirley" (Foxglove)
  • Echinacea p. "Alba" (Coneflower)
  • Erigeron (Fleabane)
  • Gaillardia pulchella (Daisy Indian Blanket)
  • Geranium c. ballerina (Hardy Geranium)
  • Gypsophila "Pacifica" (Baby's Breath)
  • Hemerocallis (Daylily)
  • Heuchera (Coral Bells)
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus)
  • Iberis sempervirens (Candy Tuft)
  • Iris hybrids (Iris)
  • Liatris pycnostachya (Kansas Gayfeather)
  • Linaria vulgaris (Butter & Eggs)
  • Monarda (Bee Balm
  • Oenothera (Missouri Primrose)
  • Paeonia suffruticosa (Tree Peony)
  • Papaver alpinium (Alpine Poppy)
  • Phlox maculata (Garden Phlox)
  • Rudbeckia hirta (Black Eye Susan)
  • Salvia coccinea (Salvia/Sage)
  • Sedum (Stonecrop)
  • Sempervivum arachnoides (Hens & Chicks)
  • Stachys lanata (Lambs Ear)
  • Veronica incana (Speedwell)

Shade and Part Shade

  • Anemone hup. (Japanese Anemone)
  • Aruncas "Kneiffi" (Goatsbeard)
  • Astilbe c. "Pumila" (Dwf. Chinese Astilbe)
  • Bergenia (Morning Red)
  • Cimicifuga "White Pearl" (Bugbane)
  • Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley)
  • Fern-Athyrium Filix-femina (Lady Fern)
  • Filipendula vulgaris (Meadowsweet)
  • Geranium sanguineum (Hardy Geranium)
  • Hosta lancifolia (Hosta)




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