Best Way to Paint Your Garden with Sculptural Plants

These are plants that by dint of their size, shape and texture have a dramatic influence on gardens. Some of them have giant, majestic foliage, others sword-like leaves and spartan stems, and a few have pretty, clustered flower heads.

Bold, spiky, long-leaved, dramatic or plain eccentric-looking, architectural or sculptural plants are the unsung stars of the horticultural firmament. Used imaginatively and well, they serve as the cornerstones of the garden landscape. Even a single plant can transform a dull border quickly and dramatically, keeping the garden alive and interesting at times when there may be little else to grab the attention.

Sculptural Plants Best Way to Paint Your Garden with Sculptural Plants

Impressive foliage

The list of plants that can spur a garden with their dramatic foliage is endless, but here is a selection of the best of them: Acanthus spinosus (bear’s breeches):

  • Statuesque herbaceous perennial with large, handsome, deeply-cut and spiny, dark green leaves. Bold spikes of white and purple flowers are borne on 45cm (1/2ft) long stems during mid- and late summer. Height: 90cm-1.2m (3-4ft) Spread: 90cm (3ft)
  • Gunnera manicata (giant rhubarb): Slightly tender herbaceous perennial with enormous, kidney-shaped, lobed and toothed, dark green leaves, sometimes 2.4m (8ft) or more across. Only plant it in a large garden, preferably beside an informal or wildlife pond. Height: 1.8-31m Spread: 2.4-4.5m.
  • Hosta sieboldiana (plantain lily): Herbaceous perennial with large, ribbed, glossy, mid-green leaves that smother the ground with foliage. Height: 45-60cm Spread: 45~75cm
  • Rheum palmatum ‘Atrosanguineum’ (ornamental rhubarb): Herbaceous perennial with upright stems bearing large, deeply-cut, purplish-red leaves. Tall stems bear deep pink or red, bead-like flowers. Height: 1.5-2.4m Spread: 90cm-1.2m

Sword-like leaves

These create dramatic features, especially around white-painted houses with an uncomplicated appearance. They also blend with patios formed of bright paving.

  • Yucca filamentosa (Adam’s needle): Dramatic evergreen shrub with stiff, usually erect, glaucous and mid-green, sword-like leaves that originate from a central stem. The variegated forms have greater eye appeal and include ‘Variegata’, with green leaves edged in creamy-yellow. ‘Bright Edge’ is another variegated form. Height: 60-75cm Spread: 75cm-1.1m
  • Yuccagloriosa (Spanish dagger): Forms a dense rosette of dark green leaves at the top of a slow-growing, woody trunk. During late summer and well into autumn it bears bell-shaped, creamy-white flowers on long stalks. Height: 90cm-1.8m Spread: 90cm-1.5m

Dramatic flower heads

Flower heads bring even greater drama to sculptural plants, and some of them even look good when their flowers fade.

Sculptural Plants 1 Best Way to Paint Your Garden with Sculptural Plants

  • Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii: A dramatic evergreen, soft-stemmed shrub with a woody base and narrowly lance-shaped, blue-green leaves. From late spring to mid-summer it bears large, terminal clusters of bright yellow-green bracts. It looks impressive when planted at the top of a flight of steps, alongside an old, weathered wall or by a wrought-iron gate or railings. Height: 1.2m Spread: 1.2m
  • Lysichiton americanus (skunk cabbage): Moisture-loving, clump-forming herbaceous perennial with large, green leaves and flowers formed of deep golden-yellow spathes, 23~45cm high, during late spring and early summer. L. camtschatcensis has pure-white spathes. Both plants are ideal for planting in a bog garden. Height: 60cm-1.2m Spread: 60cm

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