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Favorite Plant Binders—Use These in Multiples as Garden Glue

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you’ve heard me talk about the “re-boot” I’m undertaking in parts of my garden at home. This past year I’ve been able to indulge my plant lust without remorse. I’ve had lots of open ground to work with due to heavy edits I’ve been doing in my front, side, and back gardens.

Before I go on, let me acknowledge this: I am a plant lover—unabashed and unapologetic. However, I’m also very committed to my garden as an expression of my artistic vision; as a four-dimensional art form. 

Now back to that bit about plant lust. One of the ways that I bring order to my garden and to avoid visual chaos is by using repetition to bind potentially discordant vignettes together. Without this repetition, my garden probably wouldn’t hold together as well as it does. With it, I’m able to pursue my plant passions without abandoning my artistic aspirations.

This is one of the reasons behind the old rule: buy plants in multiples of 3, 5, or 7. When you think about this oft-repeated recommendation in the context of repetition, it makes perfect sense.

One area where I rely on this a lot is with the low, front-of-the-border weavers that I use. These plants are the glue that binds the garden together, helping to convey a cohesive, unified whole. They’re often ground covers or compact perennials and grasses.

That said, it’s difficult to see this principle in action from photographs. Typically, garden photos have a hard time fully illustrating repetition. Our brains take in exponentially more than the camera can convey. Repeated plants and colors can be subtle cues that lead you through a garden ― for example, the heucheras that appear in the front garden may be echoed by another in the side garden, and your mind and your body will pick up on the fact that there is a recurring thread. The camera can’t capture that.


Qualities of a good binder:

  • Compact, tidy growth habit with small footprint.
  • Looks good over a long season.
  • Often reads as neutral vs. busy or showy.
  • Relatively common and easy to find at a reasonable price.
  • Reliable and easy to grow. 
  • Bonus points for being flexible and adaptable in terms of cultural needs.

Below are some of my go-to plants for creating continuity and cohesion in the gardens I make with clients and here at home.


Plant Binders: The Glue that Holds Your Garden Together


Acorus gramineus 'Ogon'

Golden Variegated Sweetflag

Type: Grass / Grass-Like, Groundcover
Exposure: Afternoon Sun, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Concorde'

dwarf purpleleaf Japanese barberry

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Bergenia cordifolia 'Winter Glow'

Pigsqueak

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'

Variegated Siberian Bugloss

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Buxus sempervirens 'Aureovariegata'

Variegated Boxwood

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Carex testacea

Orange Sedge

Type: Grass / Grass-Like, Groundcover, Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat, Morning Sun
Zone: 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Cryptomeria japonica 'Little Diamond'

Little Diamond Dwarf Japanese Cedar

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'

Elijah Blue Fescue

Type: Grass / Grass-Like, Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Geranium 'Gerwat' Rozanne

Rozanne Hardy Geranium

Type: Groundcover, Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'

Golden Japanese Forest Grass

Type: Grass / Grass-Like, Perennial
Exposure: Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Hebe pinguifolia 'Sutherlandii'

Sutherland hebe

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

view plant

Heuchera 'Fire Alarm'

Fire Alarm Coral Bells

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears'

Blue Mouse Ears Hosta

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Part Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Hydrangea paniculata 'SMHPLQF' Little Quickfire™

Little Quick Fire® Panicle Hydrangea

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade
Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Lonicera nitida 'Twiggy'

Twiggy Box Honeysuckle

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 7, 8, 9

view plant

Molinia caerulea ssp. caerulea 'Variegata'

Variegated Purple Moor Grass

Type: Grass / Grass-Like, Perennial
Exposure: Afternoon Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Nandina domestica 'Gulf Stream'

Compact Heavenly Bamboo

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Filtered Sun, Morning Sun, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Burgundy Bunny'

Burgundy Bunny Fountain Grass

Type: Grass / Grass-Like, Groundcover
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Sempervivum - Mixed Varieties

Hen and Chicks

Type: Groundcover, Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Stachys byzantina 'Helene Von Stein'

Helene Von Stein Lamb's Ears

Type: Groundcover, Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Taxus x media 'Bean Pole'

Bean Pole Yew

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Veronica peduncularis 'Georgia Blue'

Georgia Blue Speedwell

Type: Groundcover, Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Afternoon Sun, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard'

Color Guard Adam's Needle

Type: Shrub, Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Published June 07, 2019


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