Big and Small Cultivars of Popular Garden Plants

a photo of Hydrangea 'Firelight Tidbit'

Just like the standard and the teacup poodle, we like some of our plants big and we like some of them small. Explore these beauties that come in contrasting sizes.

By Abby Lapides

(This article was first published in the Gateway Gardener April 2021 issue.)

Just like the standard and the teacup poodle, we like some of our plants big and we like some of them small. Explore these beauties that come in contrasting sizes.

A photo comparing sizes of Shasta Daisy 'Betsy' with 'Carpet Angel Daisy.'

Comparing the relative sizes of Shasta Daisy ‘Carpet Angel Daisy’ (foreground) with ‘Betsy’ Shasta Daisy. Photo courtesy Growing Colors.

With its whopping 7” diameter flowers ‘Betsy’ Shasta daisy’s flowers are the largest of all daisies! White petals surround sunny yellow centers on plants that reach up to 2’ tall. While ‘Betsy’ stuns with its mammoth flowers and form, ‘Carpet Angel Daisy’ wows but on a smaller scale. The first-ever ground cover Shasta daisy, ‘Carpet Angel Daisy’ grows only 8” tall, but can spread almost to 2’. Adorable white pom-pom flowers top this tiny plant in summer.

The Genus Thalictrum is home to many

A photo of native rue anemone flowers

Missouri native rue anemone, photo by Ann Lapides.

interesting and underutilized plants. The completely adorable Missouri native rue anemone, Thalictrum thalicroides grows about 6-8” tall and wide and forms into a small sweet thicket under trees. On the opposite spectrum, Giant Meadow Rue, Thalictrum

A photo of giant meadow rue flower

Giant Meadow Rue, photo by Ann Lapides

rochebrunianum, can grow upwards of 6-7’ tall. In summer masses of small purple flowers top this tall plant, looking like purple cloud. Cousin to columbine, Thalictrum’s frilly delicate leaves thrive in well-drained soils and part shade.

Offering big color for shade the ruby red plumes on ‘Mighty Chocolate Cherry’ Astilbe make a bold statement. Growing almost 4’ tall, ‘Mighty Chocolate Cherry’ is one of the tallest astilbes in the world! Lacy olive green leaves form into tight clumps under the giant plumes. If you’re looking for a more petite display,

A photo of Astilbe 'Mighty Chocolate Cherry'

Astilbe ‘Mighty Chocolate Cherry’, photo courtesy de Vrooen Garden Products.

‘Pumila’ is a perfect astilbe for the front of the shade garden growing only 10” tall when in bloom. Slowly forming colonies via rhizomes the foliage on ‘Pumila’ grows into a dense weed-smothering mat.

Named after the one of the largest animals on the planet and one of the smallest, the hostas ‘Humpback Whale’ and ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ both feature thick blue-green leaves and thrive in the shade garden. That’s about where their similarities end. ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ forms into a dense groundcover of rounded leaves with purple flowers in the summer on small scapes. Growing 8” and 12” wide ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ thrives in the front of the garden or tucked between rocks. ‘Humpback Whale,’ on the other hand, can spread up to 8’ in diameter and its massive corrugated leaves dwarf most other plants in the garden.

Beebalms are some of the most sought-after and delightful flowering perennials. Their charming firework-like flowers attract many butterflies and hummingbirds. The flaming red flowers on ‘Jacob Klein’ are a long-time favorite. But ‘Jacob Klein’ can become a little unwieldy in the garden. Not only is it tall, growing 3-4’ tall, it can sometimes bully out other plants as well. Recently smaller and much better behaved varieties have been introduced, and ‘Cherry Pops’ takes the cake. Growing only 20” tall and about the same width, this well-contained beauty fits well into any mixed garden.

A personal favorite ‘Zinfin Doll’ panicle hydrangea features plump cones that change from bright white to cherry pink. This large shrub, growing about 5-6’ tall and wide, is a perfect backdrop plant for the garden. Packing the same punches of flower power but in a teeny package is ‘Firelight Tidbit’. Growing only about 3’ tall and wide, it easily fits in the garden or a container. Panicle hydrangeas are versatile showy shrubs perfect for hedges, focal points, cutting gardens and privacy walls.

When designing a garden it is always recommended to repeat colors and textures throughout. Using similar plants but with different sizes is an easy way to get the job done.