Tough-as-Nails Perennial Garden Plan

Keep the color coming all season long with this easy-care garden.

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Plant it and (ALMOST) forget it! This garden is filled with tough-as-nails perennials that come back each year. Even then, they need little more than the occasional tidying up.

Silvery gray-green foliage is a common thread tying together drought-tolerant perennials such as santolina, lavender, yarrow, Russian sage, and catmint. It coordinates well with the centerpiece blue birdbath, which adds a touch of cooling moisture to the dry garden and draws in feathered visitors.

Most dry-climate plants demand excellent drainage, so where soils are heavy, work in plenty of compost or grit, such as sharp sand, to improve drainage. Gravel is the mulch of choice for plants that like good drainage. It quickly drains excess water away from the plants' crowns—where stems meet the roots—to thwart fungal rot problems.

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Our free Planting Guide for this garden includes an illustrated version of the plan, a detailed layout diagram, a list of plants for the garden as shown, and complete instructions for installing the garden. (Free, one-time registration allows unlimited access to Planting Guides for all garden plans.)

This mix of perennial flowers will give your garden a beautiful burst of late-summer color.

Garden Size: 12 x 12 feet

Plant List

  • 4 Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus): Zones 5–10
  • 4 English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia 'Munstead'): Zones 5–8
  • 1 Yarrow (Achillea 'Moonshine'): Zones 3–9
  • 6 Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata): Zones 4–8
  • 3 Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia): Zones 5–9
  • 3 Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): Zones 3–9
  • 5 Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii): Zones 4–9
  • 5 Pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius): Zones 4–10
  • 5 Catmint (Nepeta × faassenii): Zones 3–8

Plant Superstars: Perennials That Need Minimal Water

In addition to the plants featured in this garden, many other excellent perennials thrive in low-water sites. Here are five of the best. All plants listed below need full sun.

Penstemon: Beyond the two species included in this plan, dozens of cold-hardy and drought-tolerant penstemons are available. P. barbatus 'Elfin Pink' (Zones 4–8) has pink tubular blooms on 2-foot stems. 'Red Rocks' and 'Pike's Peak Purple' (Zones 5–9) grow only 18 inches tall.

Agastache: The tubular flowers of this perennial are a favorite of hummingbirds. It grows up to 3 feet tall. 'Desert Sunrise', a cross between A. cana and A. rupestris, is a particularly beautiful and water-thrifty cultivar with peachy pink blooms. Zones 5–10.

Yucca: The swordlike foliage of yucca is impressive. Dramatic creamy white flowers appear on tall stalks each year. Adam's needle (Y. filamentosa, Zones 5–10), is common in the east. Beaked yucca (Y. rostrata, Zones 6–9) has a finer texture and is better adapted in drier climates.

Artemisia: Flowers are secondary to the silvery foliage of artemisia. 'Powis Castle' is 3 feet tall and nearly as wide. Zones 4–9. Artemisia 'Sea Foam', just 8 inches tall, has frothy curled silver foliage, but is best adapted to areas with low humidity. Zones 4–10.

Salvia: Also known as sage, perennial salvias range in color from blue to purple, scarlet, or pink. S. nemorosa 'May Night', Zones 4–9, is a popular deep-blue spring and summer bloomer. Autumn sage (S. greggii, Zones 6–10) blooms later in the season.

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