You may just be starting out on your gardening journey, or you may be someone that’s exclusively grown crops or herbs before, and you want to ‘branch out’ into growing ornamental plants.
There’s no denying that ornamental plants have a lot of beauty, and that’s the primary reason we grow them. They are plants which we consider to be mainly decorative.
They’re not used as food. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of benefits. They help attract a wealth of pollinators, which does also improve crop yield, and the overall health of your plants and the soil in which they grow.
Why You Should Consider Growing Ornamental Plants
Put simply, they bring a lot of joy. You’d be surprised at how much better you feel when you lay eyes on a sea of bluebells after a particularly frigid winter season.
Think of how you feel when someone gives you flowers. Happy, uplifted, and suddenly those worries don’t matter. Combine that with the satisfaction of growing them yourself, of looking at them and saying I did that, look at those! You’ll begin to understand why gardening is such a fever.
If you grow ornamental plants indoors, they can help purify the air (see also Best Air Purifying Plants), and promote a better sense of wellbeing.
Outdoors, they provide a wealth of color, and some can even act as a repellent for mosquitoes and other nasty insects.
Quite a lot of ornamental plants are signals to the changing seasons, and some correspond to wildlife migration and hibernation.
For example, snowdrop flowers only open when it’s warm enough for the bees to wake and start collecting pollen, and the lily of the valley blooms when the nightingale arrives.
Where to Start: A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Ornamentals
There are so many ornamental plants to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start.
The first thing to consider is where you live. What kind of weather do you get? Do you get cold winters or hot summers? Lots of downpours, or prolonged dry spells? Snow in winter, or at other times of the year? Frost?
Once you’ve answered that, there’s another thing to consider. Get your compass out, or the compass app on your phone. Hell, you can probably tell from Google Earth, if you wanted to.
Stand outside your back door, and look at your compass. What ‘way’ does your outside space face? Is it North-facing? East? South? West? A combination? This helps tell you what kind of light you have, and what will grow well.
You can also do this for your indoor space, if you want to extend your gardening skills to the indoors. You’ll get a very different set of plants that prefer full sunlight all the time, to those that prefer very little direct sunlight.
If your outside space is North-facing, you’ll get sunshine in the morning, which won’t scorch plants which are sensitive to lots of sunlight, unlike a South-facing garden, which will get plenty of strong sunlight.
Types of Ornamental Plants You Can Grow Yourself
There are so many ornamental plants you can grow yourself, and these are just a snapshot of the options you have available. Some of them are very happy in containers or thrive in borders. Some of which you can even grow indoors.
This is probably the most famous ornamental flowering plant, and for good reason. They’re widely admired and grown throughout the world for their beauty and fragrance.
There are so many types you can grow yourself, and there’s one perfect for every space.
If you want more life and color in your garden, there is a huge amount to choose from.
A good rule of thumb is to go for the color of rose you like first, and then from there, you can choose one that’s suitable for the growing conditions in your garden.
To discover more about roses and each type, click here.
They are easy to grow, and you don’t have to put a lot of effort in to watch them bloom in spectacular color.
If you want to know when to feed your roses, and what you should give them and when, this is the article for you.
Adenium obesum or the desert rose (see also Desert Rose (Adenium Obesum) Bonsai: How to Grow and Plant Care) is a wonderful succulent. Like most succulent plants, it is very easy to care for, and will stand some neglect.
Unlike most succulents, it produces flowers on a regular basis, which are large and trumpet-shaped.
You can grow them in the ground, or in a container. If you live somewhere that gets a lot of downpours, or somewhere where the temperature drops, you’ll need to grow the desert rose inside, as it won’t survive cold conditions.
It can also be grown as a bonsai tree.
One of the ‘must-grow’ plants you should have on your list at least once, the lavender is an ever-popular choice.
Although it’s often associated with the elderly outside the gardening world, lavender is the cornerstone of many planting schemes. While it is used for many purposes, like most herbs, it is classed as an ornamental plant.
There are many types of lavender to grow (see also Lavender Varieties and Growing Guide). Some of which grow very tall, and some stay small and compact. Some you can even train into small hedges for borders, or even trees, given enough time.
However you choose to grow it, it will be a pollinator magnet, and will help feed the bees and other beneficial insects. It also has an amazing fragrance which has calming properties.
Sage is a very versatile herb, and while you can use it in the kitchen, there are different varieties grown for different purposes. They are also very drought-tolerant plants.
When it comes to ornamental sage, you cannot go wrong with salvias, which grow tall clusters of flowers in vivid colors.
Marigolds will brighten up any space with their rich hues, and happen to be one of the easiest plants you can grow from seed.
They come in a range of types, and most flower in late summer (see also Summer Plants), depending on where you live.
While I’m sure you’ve heard of mint, you might not be aware of how it grows.
While it’s a very easy plant to grow, there is an unspoken rule. Never, ever, plant it in the ground, or put it in a pot where the roots can touch the ground.
No, really. It’s incredibly invasive, and once it’s established, you’ll never get rid of it, and it will take over your garden!
You can also grow it indoors, or even propagate it from existing plants you get in the supermarket. It’s also a great mosquito repellent.
Rosemary is another beautiful herb which is often used in culinary dishes to flavor meat. It’s also a favorite ingredient in cosmetics, for its enigmatic fragrance and its beneficial properties.
It also has the added benefit of being extremely easy to grow. While even young plants can survive harsh winter temperatures, it’s best to provide them with some protection, to stop the frost from taking the strength out of the growth.
Thyme is another favorite of any kitchen garden, admired and grown for its fragrance as well as its strong flavor when added to dishes.
It’s also a great ornamental plant in its own right, providing a wealth of greenery all year round.
The flowers attract a lot of pollinators, and in the hot summer months, the warm weather releases some of the oils in the plant, so the fragrance gets stronger.
Basil is perfect for so many things. Pesto, pizza, salads, bolognese, you name it, and you could probably wildly improve the taste by simply adding a few leaves of basil.
There are so many types of basil to choose from, and some of which are very unusual. Set down that dried jar of leaves, and have a go at growing lemon basil, purple basil, or even sweet basil.
Basil is extremely easy to grow, and you don’t need a huge green thumb to keep it alive. It hates cold temperatures, but the only real maintenance you have to do is cut some of the leaves off and enjoy them.
Next to roses, lilies are one of the most widely admired ornamental plants grown all over the world.
Ornamental lilies are fantastic plants to give your garden a sea of color throughout the summer months, and they also attract lots of bees and other beneficial insects.
It’s worth noting that they are susceptible to lily beetles, which is a crimson-colored menace. To deter them, grow your lilies in pots, where these tiny villains are less likely to call your lily bulbs home.
Tulips are perfect for spring color, and they do well both in containers and in the ground. They tend to bloom when all risk of frost – or nearly all risk – has disappeared.
You can pack containers very tightly for a very special display, but don’t expect them to last long that way. It’s a good way of packing a lot of drama into small spaces, but the tulips used won’t last as many years as if they were grown normally.
They are extremely easy plants to maintain, and they’ll come back year after year at around the same time. You can also plant them into containers with bulbs that will flower later on in the year, providing your garden with nearly year-round color.
Is there anything that shouts spring quite like the daffodil?
These lovely ornamental blooms are extremely hardy, and to get them to flower as early in the spring as possible, plant them in autumn, and they’ll do the rest. Quite literally.
As a member of the onion family, chives are very reliable plants which are extremely easy to grow. They also produce purple flowers that bees adore.
You can use both the flowers and the stalks in the kitchen for different flavors, but both are fantastic.
Wisteria is a fantastic vine which produces striking flowers which drape from the plant, almost like grapes. They are very beautiful, and also have a stunning fragrance. If that wasn’t enough, wisteria flowers have a lot of symbolism attached to them.
These plants prefer full sun, though if you live somewhere where the sun is particularly fierce, wisteria will benefit from partial shade.
Wisteria can also grow up to 50 feet, so it will need the occasional haircut to keep it from taking over.
No room for a full, rambling wisteria? No problem. You can grow it as a bonsai tree.
Petunias are very beautiful ornamental plants, which grow well in borders as well as pots. They come in a whole range of colors and shapes, and are very easy to grow as bedding plants.
If you’d prefer a flowering ornamental plant with a heady fragrance, you can’t go wrong with a lilac tree. They need some warm weather to thrive, but otherwise they are very undemanding plants.
Amaryllis can be grown both indoors and outdoors, and if given enough room, they can become a very impressive sight.
They come in a range of pinks, oranges, whites, and reds.
Geraniums divide a lot of opinions, you either love them or you don’t. One thing you can’t argue with is that they are very easy to grow, and don’t need a lot of water in order to thrive.
The whole plant is fragrant, and if that wasn’t enough, they produce gorgeous bright blooms.
The Chlorophytum comosum or the spider plant has a great reputation for being a great beginner plant. It’s undemanding, and will survive very well indoors or outdoors.
If you take care of them properly, you’ll soon see the plant producing tiny new spider plants on the ends of adult leaves, and white flowers.
Also known as the mother-in-law’s tongue or Dracaena trifasciata (see also Dracaena Types And Care) the snake plant is perfect for any indoor or outdoor space.
They are widely grown indoors for their air-purifying qualities and the architectural interest they provide.
Sometimes called the money plant, the golden pothos can be grown outdoors and indoors.
It’s fairly undemanding, though it requires partial shade, as strong, direct sunlight can burn the delicate leaves.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ornamental Plants
Is it Difficult to Care for Ornamental Plants?
No. Most of them are much easier to grow than fruit or vegetable plants, and require much less attention!
It largely depends on the plant – some will need pruning at a certain time of year, or dividing, in order to keep the plants strong and healthy.
They are also very easy to propagate.
What’s the Difference Between an Ornamental Plant and a Utilitarian Crop?
Well, the first is largely grown for its decorative value, while the second is grown for food.
That’s not to say that ornamental plants are just there to look pretty – they provide a source of much-needed food and shelter for the wildlife in your garden.
How Do I Choose What Ornamental Plants to Grow in My Garden?
If you’ve familiarized yourself with your space, this will help narrow down the options when it comes to planting.
It’s also important to look at the soil in your garden and the plants that are already there and thriving.
This will tell you what kind of pH the soil has, which is beneficial as some plants only grow within a certain pH range.
When it comes to the consistency of the soil, some plants will grow better in clay, some in loam, but nearly all prefer soil which is well-draining.
If you’re unsure of the soil type, you can get it tested, or you can choose plants which aren’t fussy about what they grow in.
It also helps to think about how much time you want to spend maintaining your garden.
Don’t choose demanding plants if you have a busy schedule, for example – but it can also be a good way of winding down after a long day.
How Do I Keep Ornamental Plants Healthy?
It largely depends on the type of ornamental plants you choose as to how much care they need. Some will need pruning, and how much watering you’ll need to do depends on the species.
Some will largely take care of themselves, and you’ll only need to devote time to them in extreme weather conditions, but some need a more seasonal approach.
Ornamental plants put on a display like no other type of plant. Growing them provides a wealth of benefits, both for your physical health and your mental health.
You’d be surprised at how easy it can be, and how satisfying it is to see seas of color bloom, all thanks to a little work.
A word of warning, though. Once you start, you’ll be hooked!