Sideways is a Good Thing When Talking Plants In the Garden

Sideways: Plants with horizontal form play quiet yet key roles in a garden’s design
by Rebecca Sweet of Harmony in the Garden

When choosing a new plant to add to your garden, consider a selection that has an interesting or unique form or shape. Plants with horizontal forms serve many purposes though they may not appear as dramatic as those that stand vertical or spherical. And they look interesting nonetheless.

3 Reasons to Choose to Go Sideways in the Garden

1 Horizontal growing plants help to add a softer note to the garden.
2 The spreading nature of this gentle, horizontal form helps calm and link together plants with stronger shapes.
3 Horizontal shapes provide a sense of motion, helping to direct the line of sight from one side of the garden to the other.


Weeping European hornbeam (Carpinus betulas ‘Pendula’) provides horizontal structure to the middle layer of this garden bed. Full sun to part shade, medium water, Zones 4-7.  Photo credit: Rebecca Sweet

More Reasons to Choose Plants With a Sideways Growth

Low plants and plants with a mat, or spreading, form help ground the garden to its site, much as carpet does to the furniture in your home. Examples include shrubs like creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Limeglow’; USDA Zones 3–9) and bearberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Coral Beauty’; Zones 5–8) and perennials such as lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina; Zones 4–9).


Perennial lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) offers low-lying, horizontal form to the garden bed. Full sun, dry to medium water, Zones 4-8. GettyImages.

Mid-size shrubs and small trees with naturally spreading forms are worth seeking, because the horizontal layer they add to the garden creates a unifying, yet contrasting, middle layer. The contrasting shape is particularly lovely when it’s placed in front of taller, vertical or vase-shape trees.

3 More Plants We Love With Sideways Habit

1 Cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus; below).
Full sun, medium water, Zones 4-7


Cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus). Full sun, medium water, Zones 4-7. Photo credit: Rebecca Sweet 

2 Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Summer Snowflake’; below)
Full to part sun; moderate water. Zones 4-9


Double viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Summer Snowflake’) Full to part sun; moderate water. Zones 4-9. Photo credit Rebecca Sweet

3 Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus; below) Part sun, ample water, Zones 5-9


Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus). Part sun, ample water, Zones 5-9. Photo credit: Rebecca Sweet

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Horticulture. Rebecca Sweet is a garden designer with her company Harmony in the Garden. She’s a lifelong gardener, author and speaker.

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