Plant List For Our Front Island Bed

Sunday night I drove from Chicago to Springfield, about 200 miles heading south, and it snowed most of the way. At home we’ve got a number of Daffodils that have been on the verge of opening for days and days, but they’re wisely keeping their buds shut until a reasonable degree of warmth is achieved.

cup plant
Cup Plant and fluffy Sweet Joe Pye Weed, with Brown-Eyed Susan at lower left.


So I’ve decided to ignore what’s going on in my garden and write a plant list instead. There’s something so comforting about a list of plants. Today I want to share a list of the plants currently in our Front Island Bed.

front island bed
The light is terrible in this picture but it’s the only one showing this part of the bed.

The Front Island Bed sits between the Sidewalk Border and the Front Foundation Planting. The soil is dark and rich, with plenty of moisture and organic content.

Going through last year’s photographs for this post, two things became clear. First of all, this is a late season planting. There were hardly any pictures taken of the Front Island Bed before July.

front island bed from sidewalk

Secondly, this is a bed viewed mainly from the sidewalk, as in the picture above. You can only see over the tops of the ‘Raspberry Wine’ Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) and other plants that are growing in the Sidewalk Border. And so the Front Island Bed is mainly about 2 kinds of plants: tall and very tall.

path between driveway border and front island

If you want to see the shorter plants growing along the front of this bed, you have to walk into the front garden, along the grassy paths that separate the plantings. The Front Island Bed is to the left of the path above, the Driveway Border to the right.

Having said all that, let’s get on with the plant list.

cup plant close up

Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum). A friendly giant of a plant with yellow daisy flowers. Featured in the first photo above. Some find it aggressive, but for me it hasn’t been difficult to control.

sweet joe pye and swamp milkweed
Sweet Joe Pye Weed in the back, Rose Milkweed lower right and ‘Purple Rooster’ lower left.

Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum). If I could start over, I would have gone with E. maculatum, a Joe Pye with stronger color. Sweet Joe Pye Weed tends to have a washed-out look. Not a bad plant, though.

NE Aster
New England Aster with Brown-Eyed Susan in the foreground.


New England Aster with some kind of fly disguised as a bee. Hey, it’s still a pollinator.

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae). I grow the straight species, in part because I like the variation in flower color – blue, purple, pink. You can see how they were able to develop so many cultivars. My only complaint is that it tends to get rather sprawling, even after I cut it back in May. I know I can cut it back a second time, but the idea makes me nervous.

swamp milkweed and monarch
Monarch on Swamp Milkweed.



swamp milkweed 1

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Usually called Red or Rose Milkweed in catalogs, because Swamp sounds so unattractive. A good plant for Monarch butterflies, like all the Milkweeds.

OH spiderwort

Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis). One of the few plants in this bed that blooms before July. Nice blue flowers that close at night.

phlox david

Phlox ‘David’ (Phlox paniculata). Another guest I thought I had removed, but it had other ideas. If you can’t evict them, enjoy them.

Brown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba). A tall Rudbeckia with masses of little golden flowers with black centers. Disappears only to pop up again close by.


White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra). I planted this last spring and got the flowers above in early fall. Hoping that it takes root and thrives. For some reason it’s harder to find than the pink-flowered species, C. lyonii.


Bee Balm ‘Purple Rooster’ (Monarda didyma). Excellent disease resistance, and a nice medium height.

Palm Sedge (Carex muskingumensis). Robust sedge with a moderately fine texture. It’s in the first picture above – I use it at the front of the bed.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum). Also in the first picture. A North American hardy Geranium – low-growing, mounded, lavender flowers in spring.

Geranium ‘Rozanne’. Very long-blooming. What I really like about it in this bed is that it’s stems scramble up through taller plants nearby.

bluestem goldenrod 1
Bluestem Goldenrod. The Swamp Milkweed foliage nearby takes on a dark maroon hue in fall.

Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia). A shorter goldenrod with arching stems that doesn’t mind a bit of shade.

While working on this post I began to think that maybe this bed needs some more work so that it has more to offer in spring. I also wondered if I should just get rid of all the shorter plants that can only be seen if people walk into the front garden. But then I thought – why should every planting have something to offer in every season? Let the other borders carry the load in spring – they do so reasonably well.

And why not have some shorter plants that are hidden from the sidewalk? Give people a reason to come closer and look around.

Anyhow, this post has gone on much longer than I intended. But I don’t feel so garden-deprived now. How about you?

45 Comments on “Plant List For Our Front Island Bed”

  1. Your garden and list of plants are inspiring, especially as we (and by that I mean Paul) has cleared a large section of the garden to make a new border, inspired by so many we have seen this last year. Have fun making lists and re-arranging plants.

  2. Nice to see a list of what makes up the front island bed, it’s such a wild and wonderful garden symphony, Justin.
    I recall you were wanting some blue vervain for somewhere out front. And I had offered some to you. I’ll let you know when it’s up and arrange to get some to you if I have a crazy abundance of seedlings as I did last year. LMK.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed your look at this flower bed. It looks rich and has plenty of interest. I certainly don’t mind having the shorter things in back where you could think of it as a secret garden. Only people with a more intimate knowledge of your garden will know about it which I think it is a fine idea. Unless this was your only garden, and it isn’t, I wouldn’t worry about year round blooms. Your tall house is enhanced with these tall blooms.

  4. It helps to think about what will be, in time. Signs of spring, even though it’s taking its time this year. By the way, it’s even more fun to read and view your posts now–after visiting last summer with the Midwest bloggers group!. Your garden is fabulous! One of the fishman’s favorite plants is the Cup Plant. All the Silphiums are special in my book.

  5. I’m living for your plant profile of tall and taller! What a beautiful, lush, happy planting! Question for you: Ohio Spiderwort, how do you keep it from becoming too thuggish? The seedlings are SO hard to get out and I’m finding the buggers ALL OVER the garden. I’m actually thinking of digging it up and relocating it to the wilder hillside, but if you can convince me otherwise I may keep it because the blue of those blooms are quite lovely!

  6. It was a revelation to me years ago that cutting back asters on Memorial Day and then again on the 4th of July would encourage them to bush out with more blooms, and to stay shorter and upright. Let me encourage you to make that second cut, at least with some of your asters. They’ll bloom later than the uncut or May-cut clumps, extending the season for you and the pollinators.

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