Four Sample Garden Designs

By Paul O’Hara 

Blue Oak Native Landscapes


Here are four sample native plant garden designs based on an 18 foot by 25 foot (5.5m x 7.6m) rectangular front yard. Mix and match the designs to develop an individual design for your front yard. Plant perennials fairly densely (at least 18 to 24 inch centres) to create a richly textured garden with little visible soil and/or mulch.

1. Neat and Tidy with Rain Garden

A conservative native plant garden with foundation plants, rain garden and a medium to large tree.

• Three foundation shrubs (suggested species include chokeberry, American hazel, bush honeysuckle, Carolina rose, maple-leaved viburnum or ninebark)

• One foundation evergreen tree (e.g. red cedar or white cedar)

• Woodland/woodland edge perennials (suggested species include foamflower, early meadow-rue, wild geranium, marginal wood fern, false Solomon’s seal, plantain-leaved sedge, blue-stemmed goldenrod and white wood aster)

• A line of moss phlox on border of grassed area for spring colour or a good spot to plant annuals

• Amedium to large native tree with a widely mulched circle; use a non-coloured, high quality pine or cedar mulch to a depth of 4-6 inches

• Rain garden in drainage swale on shared property boundary to allow water to infiltrate into the water table (suggested species include swamp milkweed, golden ragwort, porcupine sedge, fox sedge, tussock sedge, swamp aster, bottle gentian, boneset, blue flag iris, cardinal flower, blue vervain, sneezeweed, rough goldenrod and bee-balm); a rock border can be added to protect plants and add a decorative touch.

2. Woodland Garden with Small Patio

A suitable design for a shady front yard with a large existing tree (e.g. Norway maple or little-leaf linden) that creates dry shade conditions.

• Small to medium-sized deciduous tree planted near house (e.g. ironwood, redbud or showy serviceberry) with a spikenard planted in corner;

• 3 foundation shrubs (e.g. bayberry);

• Flagstone patio that could accommodate a small bistro table with 2 or 3 chairs;

• 1 multi-stemmed pagoda dogwood or chokecherry planted near entrance to patio; 1 red-osier dogwood or red-berried elder planted on opposite end of patio; 5 horizontal junipers planted under existing shade tree for winter interest;

• Woodland and woodland edge plants throughout the garden (suggested species include woodland phlox, wild geranium, foamflower, wild columbine, Virginia bluebells, Solomon’s seal, early meadow-rue, Christmas fern, marginal wood fern, maidenhair fern, harebell, bee-balm, common milkweed, blue-stemmed goldenrod, zig-zag goldenrod, heart-leaved aster, plantain-leaved sedge and stellate sedge);

• Shallow square-cut stone border (about a foot high) along the front of the garden to accommodate the addition of topsoil for the new plantings; be sure that the new grade maintains positive drainage away from the house.

3. Neat and Tidy Formal

A formal native plant garden for those wanting a more conservative design that still feeds local pollinators.

• Five prairie grasses along foundation (e.g. big bluestem, switchgrass or Indian grass)

• Small multi-stemmed tree in corner (e.g. pagoda dogwood, serviceberry, chokecherry, blue-beech or pussy willow) with 4 or 5 high-value perennials planted under it (suggested species include common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, sky blue aster, smooth aster, New England aster, blue-stemmed goldenrod, dense blazing-star and/or black-eyed Susan);

• Five yews for winter interest along foundation

• Rectangle of grass separating foundation bed and sidewalk bed

• Five shrubby St. John’s wort or shrubby cinquefoil planted in sidewalk bed

• Ground cover like moss phlox planted under the yews and shrubby St. John’s wort adjacent to the grassed area for some spring colour

• Starry false Solomon’s seal or your favourite annual planted between the shrubs and the boulders near the sidewalk

• Small boulder border at front of garden.

4. Knee-High Prairie

A 2-3 foot high prairie garden for those that want to get a little wild but still maintain curb appeal.

• Clipped yew hedge along foundation as an evergreen anchor

• Four medium to large boulders in garden for winter interest

• Medium to large shade tree (e.g. red oak, white oak, shagbark hickory, basswood, or black cherry) plus one shrub (e.g. Carolina rose, fragrant sumac or American hazel)

• Prairie grasses and wildflowers planted throughout; core grass planted throughout is prairie dropseed (and/or little bluestem) with broad-leaved sedge and black-fruited sedge tucked in here and there; suggested wildflowers include hairy beardtongue, pussytoes, nodding wild onion, harebell, butterfly milkweed, black-eyed susan, cylindric blazing-star, hoary vervain, sky blue aster and gray goldenrod.