Boxwood + native companion?


I have a row of 4 boxwoods along a fence- East facing. I had planted different Iris – as I thought the spikes of the leaves might make an interesting contrast. They don’t, and they are crowding the boxwoods. I’m looking for a native alternative that might be more symmetrical – perhaps little blue stem (Schizachyrium scoparium) or a non-native – like sedum. I have added compost & soil to the garden, but there is a lot of clay.


Choosing perennials for one’s garden can be daunting–the options are limitless. Knowing your growing conditions–type of soil, sun exposure, climate, etc.–will help to narrow the choices of plants. ‘The right plant in the right place’ will keep plant care to a minimum. Therefore it is important that one determine soil conditions, light patterns, available moisture, prevailing winds and temperature ranges before making plant choices. One must consider the mature sizes of the plants. What colours do you prefer?  Most perennials bloom for a specific time during the growing season; many perennials have interesting foliage. Do you want plants that spread or stay in clumps? What plant combinations do you prefer? Do you prefer mounding type plants or spikey plants. Knowing the habits of the plants will help you make choices.

There are many benefits for planting with natives. Native plants support the needs of local wildlife, they require less maintenance than some ornamentals, there are a number of wildlife that are completely dependent on natives to survive and lastly, since they are indigenous, they are better adapted to the local environment.

From your photo it appears that there are quite a number of plants already in the garden bed. The important thing to remember is to keep the design simple. Sometimes less is more. Planting more of the same species is more pleasing to the eye than planting one of everything. I personally always try to find plants which do double duty, i.e. with more than one season of interest; plants with flowers and foliage in the summer that also has a striking seed head or berries in the fall or beautiful fall foliage.

You don’t mention the size of the planting area available. You mention that you have eastern exposure. Does the garden bed only receive morning sun ( 3-4 hours) or does the sun last until 2 in the afternoon? Knowing whether you have partial or full sun will determine the best plant for your garden.

If you have the space and the right exposure then Little Bluestem is certainly a beautiful choice for your garden. This clumping grass when mature reaches  60-120cm in height and 45-60cm in width. It grows best in full sun (minimum 6 hrs) in dry-average moist well-drained soil. This plant is not fussy about soil requirements so will do well in clay soil. The best part of this plant is the striking fall copper-orange foliage which persists throughout the  winter. This is certainly a garden show stopper.

The North American Native Plant Society (NANPS) has a wealth of information on their website on growing native plants, a list of commercial growers as well as an excellent native plant database. How to Design with Native Plants gives a few basic design fundamentals to consider. The City of Guelph has a few sample native garden designs on their website which shows images of each plant and when they flower.

Hope this helps. Happy Planting!