Herbaceous Ornamental Plants

Herbaceous ornamentals---those that don't develop permanent branches---are the perennial, annual and bulb plants that stamp your garden design as your own. Choose these ornamentals according to their seasons of bloom and dormancy for a continually changing garden palette. Select plants that will be happy in your local climate and soil, and you'll have a high performance garden for a minimum of effort.

Bugleweed "Toffee Chip"

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is a perennial ground cover native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa. Hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it spreads quickly to form a heavy ground cover of dark green, shiny leaves with spring spikes of pale blue flowers. "Toffee Chip" is a bugleweed cultivar with variegated new leaves of brown and khaki green. Later in the summer, the foliage becomes greenish-gray with creamy white or gold edges. "Toffee Chip"'s violet-blue flowers stand 6 to 8 inches high. Use this herbaceous ornamental, suggests the Missouri Botanical Garden, as a small space ground cover, in rock gardens, or along border edges. Plant it in full sun to partial shade and loose, averagely moist soil. Bugleweed needs adequate air circulation. Plants in heavy, wet soils are subject to crown rot.

Copper Globemallow

Copper globemallow (Sphaeralcea angustifolia), another perennial herbaceous ornamental, grows wild on the plains, prairies, grasslands and hillsides of the central and southwestern United States. Standing 2 to 3 feet high, plants have narrow, wavy-edged 1- to 2-inch green leaves. Cup-shaped, five-petaled flowers occur most frequently between June and November. With adequate rainfall, plants may bloom more than once. Flower colors, ranging from light pink to lavender, include shades of red and salmon. Get this easy-to-grow ornamental partial shade and dry soil, advises the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It's not particular about soil type.


Canna (Canna) is a bulb plant hardy to 0 degrees F. Among the showiest of herbaceous ornamentals, it stands from 18 inches to 8 feet high and spreads up to 6 feet wide. Paddle-shaped leaves may be solid shades of green or bronze, variegated or striped. Cannas provide garden drama even without their eye-catching July and August blooms. Similar to gladioli, the trumpet-shaped flowers open on tall spikes. Canna flowers may be creamy white or various shades of yellow, pink, red or orange. Some are bi-colored. Use cannas, recommends the Missouri Botanical Garden, grouped in flowerbeds or as container plants. Give them full sun and fertile, moist and well-drained soil. Leave bulbs in the ground where the plants are hardy. Lift them for indoor overwintering where winters are cold.

Keywords: herbaceous ornamental plants, ornamental landscaping, herbaceous perennials, bugleweed, canna

About this Author

A freelance writer, Judy Wolfe has owned Prose for the Pros, a freelance writing business, since 2006. She's been an inveterate traveler since 1961 and draws on her travel experiences to provide articles for such websites as Chincoteague Island Vacations and Berlin Dude. Wolfe holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from California State University at Pomona.