What type of plants are termed as 'architectural'?

Architectural plants

Plants are often termed as ‘architectural’ when they have a distinctive shape, a strong structure and can add a dramatic look to a garden. They usually have very ornamental, evergreen leaves and interesting, unusual form. This form can be their natural habit or they can be clipped into desired shapes (topiaries).

Architectural plants usually create focal points in the garden similar to sculpture. They also create an impression of dynamics, especially in clean, contemporary gardens. Colours, sharp textures and different sizes create lots of contrasts. Clipped balls, half standard shrubs and spiky Phormium’s when aesthetically designed set up rhythms that can be used to lead the eye around the garden. Structural plants also look fantastic in containers on the patio or as gap fillers in borders. That creates another sense of drama, adds even more texture and colour.

Below are our five favourite architectural types of plants that will make a statement in any garden:


Design: Acres Wild
Image: Ian Smith (Acres Wild)

Topiaries are plants clipped into various shapes. The best plants to create topiaries are evergreens with small foliage and dense habit. Topiaries will add character and dynamics to your garden. They will shape the garden and add distinctive taste and structure. Single balls can be used for underplanting big specimens. Our favourite varieties for clipping are Buxus sempervirens for cones, Ilex crenata to make single balls, x Cuprocyparis leylandii for spirals or Laurus nobilis to create half standards

Ornamental grasses


Ornamental grasses will look amazing in any garden and will definitely make a statement whether planted in the bed amongst other plants or in ornamental containers. They are perfect because regardless of the conditions in your garden you will always be able to find the right variety that will grow well in your area. There are hundreds of grasses for sun, shade, sand or clay, everyone will find the suitable one. Our favourites to create vertical accent are Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and Molinia ‘Moorhexe’. There are also evergreen grasses like Carex ‘Evergold’ that will create fantastic colour contrast.



These are perfect architectural plants because of their distinctive shape and their overall growth pattern. Multistem trees are like a living sculpture in the landscape. The deciduous varieties like Betula utilis jacquemontii, Prunus serrula, Acer griseum or Acer davidii have fascinating bark, beautiful colours and textures very much desired during the winter, so they will definitely make a statement in a dull cold seasons. There is also a wide range of evergreen multistems available like Photinias, Osmanthus or Euonymus that will provide foliage colour all year round as well as dramatic shape. Multistems can be a fantastic focal point in any garden. You can also up-light them to achieve an elegant, architectural effect at night.


Design: Acres Wild
Image: Ian Smith (Acres Wild)

There are a number of beautiful perennials that will give the architectural look. We absolutely love Agapanthus and Alliums. The shape of their flowers are very regular and symmetrical – beautiful round flower heads on a tall, slim stem will make the most desired verticals in a border. We also love a striking Eryngium and Echinops. They are both spiky looking and have beautiful round flowers in the summer. Hostas have very good architectural qualities too. Their dramatic big variegated leaves, available in many colours make them the perfect plant for underplanting.

Phormium and Cordylines


Phormium and Cordylinesare fantastic architectural plants and traditionally are grown for their amazing, evergreen, spiky foliage. There is a wide range of different colours available, from green to dark purple and many of them are beautifully variegated. They are perfect if you want to create a quick and colourful display. When planted in a sunny position, in a moist, well-drained soil and regularly fed they will return the favour and look amazing in your garden. Phormiums and Cordylines also make excellent container plants, will look fantastic on a patio but can also be used as a focal point in the flower bed or to add different textures in a mixed shrub border. The main difference between them is that Cordyline will form a tall stem and can grow over 5 m height when Phormium forms clumps of strap-shaped leaves and grow usually up to 2 m height (depending on variety).

March 2018