Recommended Perennial Plants For Small-Space Gardens

by Suzanne DeJohn

If you're gardening in a confined area or in containers, it's usually best to look for plants that are relatively compact as well as those that have multi-season interest. The following perennials are ideal for small-space gardens. They're smaller than other varieties, they have attractive foliage, and/or they have a particularly long bloom period or bloom in two seasons.

Having a small footprint does not limit your ability to make a big statement with plants – in fact, just the opposite! Whether you need to beautify a side bed, patio border, city courtyard, or other small space garden, there are plenty of options for bringing color and mood to your home.

Here, we've gathered our favorite options for compact plants that play nice in small spaces. In addition to these, when you're looking to enhance your cozy garden with container plantings, be sure to view our container favorites here!

Consider these the 'highlights' of small space gardening. Here we show just a few examples of the countless perennials that can make your gardens shine.

Small Space Gardens: Spotlight on Beauty

In a small garden, details that might get lost in a larger setting suddenly move to center stage. For example, consider the aptly-named bleeding heart (Dicentra spp). A relatively common garden perennial, its greatest attributes– the heart-shaped flowers that hang delicately from fine blue-green foliage – are often overlooked when planted in masses in larger spaces. When bleeding heart is set in a smaller garden, we have an opportunity to explore the interfolded intricacies of this weird, tender flower.

Other examples of common perennials with uncommon flowers are lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis), and turtlehead (Chelone obliqua).

Interactive Combinations in Small Spaces

Small gardens are perfect spaces to try new color and texture combinations. Since we’re not so concerned about breaking our backs or our bank accounts with the compact plants we purchase, we can go ahead and have fun experimenting!

Do you love mixing loud complementary colors? If so, try inserting one of our many purple-flowered perennials into your matrix of bright yellow ‘Evergold’ Carex. Or if you’re into more of a subdued color palette, some deep blue ‘May Night’ salvias congregating around a cool ‘Halycon’ hosta may be just the thing for you. The possibilities are endless!

Flowers for Intoxicating Fragrance

One of the most romantic aspects of any garden is its fragrance, and small gardens are truly winning when it comes to indulging this sense. As you plan your season, try adding a few extra lavender cultivars to your beds or containers. ‘Silver Anouk’ is an especially endearing cultivar, with two-toned flowers and silvery foliage. It works well situated among the similarly drought-tolerant and aromatic dwarf dusty miller ‘Silver Mound,’ or any mix of Agastache (anise-hyssop) cultivars.

Small Space Perennials with Playful Proportions

In a small space, it is surprisingly easy to create dramatic effect with common perennials. Need a handful of tall exclamation points to accent your low-lying bed of geraniums? How about Liatris or Veronica? If those aren’t beefy enough, try the strong flower displays of foxglove, or robust clouds of Astilbe.

If you’re looking for a carpet of foliage, you can grow thyme, phlox, or sedum. For rounded clumps and bursts of color, give yarrow a shot and, later in the season, Aster. Do you want spikey foliage? Go with fescue. Something to sway in the breeze? Little blue stem or fountain grass. Whatever size, texture or effect you’re looking for, you can find a plant that will provide a big impact for a small space.

A Small Space Garden to Match Your Lifestyle

Perhaps you’re the kind of gardener who wants big splashes of color and texture with minimal labor input. If that’s the case, plant five hydrangeas and voila! Suddenly you’re halfway done with your garden. Fill in the rest with a mix of creeping phlox for the spring, Gaillardia for summer and Aster for the fall, and you’ll be all set.

On the other hand, maybe you love spending long summer afternoons quietly tending your garden. In this case, you’ll want more complexity and nuance; a garden that needs your attention as much as you need its attention. More diversity and less massing will give you the kind of mixed perennial combinations that surprise all season long.

Natural Friendships

A garden is nothing if not a place for building relationships. These include those hummingbird and pollinator friends that keep our planet buzzing and give our gardens character.

If you’re planning a garden, grow trumpet vine near a structure and guide its ascent up your wall, trellis, or post. It will soften the hardscape, beautify the scene and attract hummingbirds to your space. ‘Fireball’ bee balm is a compact Monarda that also attracts hummingbirds, as do many plants in the mint family. These are also favorites of honeybees, which add energy, movement, and meaning to your sweet retreat.

Still looking for more inspiration? Check out our perennial plants for small spaces, as well as our container-friendly bulbs!

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