English Roses: Excellent Companion Plants (A Long List)
David Austin’s English Roses have a romantic informality that is prized in garden design. The roses are beautifully enhanced by similarly relaxed companion plants. Excellent choices include cottage garden favorites and small-flowered plants with the look of wildflowers. For greater impact and an air of overall calm and charm, massed plantings of like-with-like are highly effective.
Following are perennials, biennials and annuals that make excellent companions for English Roses. All are plant partners that are fairly easy to grow and likely to bloom when English Roses do, either exactly or with close overlap. Some bloom with English Roses earlier in the season, some later. Others have exceedingly long bloom seasons or may rebloom themselves as the roses rebloom.
The list includes companion plants of varied heights. Because English Roses tend to bloom from the ground up, their big flowers are literally held at all heights, top to bottom. Thus opportunities for companionable bloom happen at many levels, though the “sweet spot” typically falls in the zone between two feet to four feet high.
Basically, 2-foot plants provide a nice understory for roses; 3- to 4-foot plants fill in with blocks of color; and 4-foot and taller companions are more architectural, thus marvelous as vertical accents among English Roses. Other companions may fill in with additional texture at color, at various heights, through beautiful foliage and smaller flowers. Organic gardeners will be quick to add favorites that attract beneficial insects likely to dine on aphids and other pests.
Long List of English Rose Companion Plants is meant as a starting point. As always, gardeners will want to consider their own local growing conditions and garden style. In some locations, certain plants may behave badly, becoming thuggish. Plus, some plants re-seed: a trait that may be charming in one garden and problematic in another.
Editorial notes: Two excellent resources for further plant descriptions and abundant images are:
- Missouri Botanical Garden – see Plant Finder http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/plantfindersearch.aspx
- Claire Austin Perennials – see Browse Plants https://www.claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk/
Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden is most often the source here for heights, bloom times and hardiness. About bloom times: for continuity, we’ve favored MBG’s bloom times which are oriented to Saint Louis, Missouri – USDA Zone 6b.
The Long List: Excellent Companion Plants for English Roses
Achillea (yarrow) a cottage garden favorite with distinctive flat-topped flowers, excellent for introducing a contrasting shape to the border. Benefits from cutbacks and control. Delightful yarrow options are available in white, cream, pale or bright yellow, pink, mauve, reddish-purple, red and bi-colors. Perennial. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Blooms June-September. Full sun. Best in lean, dry to medium soil. Attracts butterflies. USDA Zones 3-9.
Agastache (giant hyssop) superb choice for adding a fine vertical accent with spikes of fluffy purple or blue florets Choose long-blooming hybrids for showier flowers and better winter hardiness. Highly attractive to beneficials and butterflies. Consider A. ‘Blue Boa’ or A. ‘Black Adder’. Perennial. Grows 3 feet tall. Flower color is typically blue or purple but hybrids may be red, orange, pink, yellow or white. Blooms July-September. Full sun. USDA Zones 5-9.
Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) a lovely companion especially after rain, when water droplets sit on leaves. A short, clumping perennial with an outsized presence in the early summer garden. Stands 18 inches tall, ideal for the front of the border. Its light green leaves are topped by dense clusters of tiny, frothy chartreuse flowers. But, pay heed as it can quickly overwhelm neighboring plants. Cut back hard after flowering to encourage fresh growth. Perennial. Grows 18 inches tall. Chartreuse flowers. Blooms in June. Prefers partial shade, handles full sun. USDA Zones 3-8.
Allium (ornamental onion) lots of magnificent choices in different heights and shades of purple, lavender, silvery-blue, lilac and more. All are just right with roses. Plant allium bulbs in fall. Consider: A. christophii with silvery-lavender 10-inch airy globes; A. ‘Ambassador’ with dense, rich purple 6-inch globes; A. ‘Purple Sensation’ with brighter purple globes 4 inches across. Perennial. Blooms May-June. Full Sun. USDA Zones 4-8.
Allium sphaerocephalon (drumstick allium) a later-blooming allium with a different look and style. The small, dense, ball-shaped flowerheads are deep maroon and green. Perennial. Grows 2 feet tall. Blooms June-July. Full sun. USDA Zones 4-8.
Anchusa (Italian bugloss) marvelous for its long bloom season and blue flowers on dark hairy stems. Choose a hybrid for compact 4 foot height and bigger flowers – consider A. ‘Dropmore (deep blue) or A. ‘Loddon Royalist’ (vivid blue). Thrives in hot dry settings. Does not like humidity. Short-lived biennial. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Blue flowers. Blooms May-August. Full sun. USDA Zones 3-8.
Anemone x hybrida (Japanese anemone) is an autumn bloomer prized for its elegant presence. The open-faced, single flowers are held on tall, willowy stems. Perennial. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Flowers are white or pink. Blooms August-October. USDA Zones 4-8.
Anthemis tinctoria ‘E.C. Buxton’ and ‘Sauce Hollandaise’ (camomile) this is an early summer bloomer that’s perfectly in synch with many English Roses. The aromatic, bushy plants have yellow-centered, pale lemon daisy flowers that are pert and upward-facing. Deadhead to extend bloom season. Perennial. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Pale yellow flowers. Blooms June-August. USDA Zones 3-7.
Aquilegia (columbine) lots of different varieties — many colors. A classic cottage garden plant with nodding flowers. Seeds itself around in a way that’s charming and informal not thuggish. Cut back to the ground midsummer. Short lived perennial. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Bicolor flowers in white, blue, pink, yellow purple, maroon or red. Blooms April-June. Full sun to part shade, loves dappled light. USDA Zones 3-9.
Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ (wormwood) excellent companion that forms a broad, dense mound of feathery, fern-like foliage with consistently silver-gray coloring. A contrast plant for both texture and color, it is extremely useful for adding depth of field in a mixed border. Aromatic too. Perennial. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Silvery foliage. Full sun. USDA Zones 6-9.
Aster (aster) in varying colors that bloom in autumn as English Roses rebloom. A particular favorite is A. frikartii ‘Mönch’. All are very attractive to insects. Perennial. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Blooms June-September. Full sun to part shade. Does not thrive in overly wet winter soil. Attracts butterflies. USDA Zones 5-10.
Also consider the Aster ericoides hybrids including A. ‘Little Carlow’ (up to 24-inches tall) plus the Wood’s aster series (up to 18 inches tall) that bloom August-September in full sun, both USDA Zones 4-8. The popular New England (A. novae-angliae) hybrids grow to 3 to 6 feet tall, thus are better suited to planting with English Rose varieties expected to reach 5 feet in height or more.
Astrantia (masterwort) a long-blooming companion with an elegant, airy look. Attracts beneficials. Longtime cottage garden favorite. Perennial. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Variously silver, white, rose or rosy-red flowers. Blooms May-July. Full sun to part shade. Medium to wet soil. USDA Zones 4-7.
Campanula (bellflower) many are pure blue — others are periwinkle, pale pink, lavender and white. All are lovely with roses. While some reseeding and weediness can occur, most are not aggressive and are well worth having. Cut back after bloom for a shot at rebloom later as your roses rebloom. A beauty to consider: late-blooming C. lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ with deep violet-blue flowers, grows 3 to 4 feet tall, hardy in USDA Zones 5-8. Perennial. Multiple options in height and color. Bloom times are typically June-July, with some earlier, some later. Different types are hardy to USDA Zones 3-7, 4-8 and 5-7.
Centaurea (cornflower) a broad-faced flower in bright blue! Attracts birds and butterflies. Reseeds in a fairly genteel manner. Annual. Grows 3 feet tall. Blooms May-July. Full Sun.
Cirsium rivulare atropurpureum (plume thistle) fabulous and airy, tall leafless stems topped by plump thistles. Perennial. Grows 4 feet tall. Flowers deep red. Blooms July-September. Best in full sun, tolerates light shade. Cut back after flowering to encourage a second flush of blooms. Attracts bees. USDA Zones 4b-9.
Clematis (clematis) the small-flowered varieties are especially appealing as companions for large-flowered English Roses. Mid to late-flowering bloomers to consider: deep purple C. ‘Etoile Violette’, white C. Alba Luxurians, and lipstick pink C. ‘Etoile Rose’. Grow clematis on trellises or arches, intertwined with climbing roses or on their own. Semi-woody deciduous vine. White, pink, purple, blue, reddish-orange and more. Variously, bloom June, June-July, September or June-September. Full sun to part shade. Variously, USDA Zones 3-9.
Cosmos (cosmos) a particularly valuable partner as it blooms for such a very long time. Plant seeds several times — early, mid and late in season — for an ongoing display of tall, daisy-like blooms with an informal wildflower look. Annual. Options grow 2 to 5 feet tall. Blooms June till frost. Red, white, pink, fuchsia, yellow. Full sun.
Crocosmia (montbretia) marvelous bulbous plants that form clumps of upright sword-shaped leaves from which rise in arching scapes of colorful flowers. Wonderful planted en masse. Consider C. ‘Emberglow (burnt orange). Options grow 2 to 4 feet tall. Plant the bulbs in spring. Perennial. Flowers are red, orange, burnt orange or yellow. Blooms June-August. Full sun to part shade. USDA Zones 6b-9.
Delphinium (delphinium) many are blue and provide excellent contrast in color and shape, being tall and spiky. Perennial. Best options grow 3 to 5 feet tall. Blue, white, pink, violet or purple. Blooms June-July. Full sun. USDA Zones 3-7.
Digitalis (foxglove). Consider D. purpurea (white, purple, rose-pink) or D. ferruginea (creamy yellow with a darker throat) tall spiky flowers with a marvelously dramatic wildflower look amidst informal English Roses. Prized for its towering spires with pendulous, funnel-shaped flowers. Self-seed themselves. Biennial or perennial depending on the species. Grows 2 to 5 feet tall. Blooms May-June. Full sun or part shade. USDA Zones 4-8.
Echium (viper’s bugloss) these are tall exotic members of the borage family topped by 20-inch flower spires covered with blue or purple florets with reddish stamens. They are typically oversized, not winter hardy and especially attractive to beneficial insects. Fabulous options include blue-flowered E. pininana which can grow 6 feet to 12 feet tall; purple-flowered E. candicans which tops out at 5 feet to 6 feet tall; and blue-violet E. ‘Pride of Madeira’ at 3 feet to 6 feet tall. Others are shorter but, really, why bother! One exception: short red-flowered Echium russicum, native to Russia, grows only 3 feet tall but is also remarkably winter hardy (Zones 3- 10). Plant Echium by seed. In cooler areas protect plants indoors overwinter or restart each year. Biennial. Comes in blue, purple, white and red. Blooms June-August. Full sun. USDA Zones 9-11.
Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane or Santa Barbara daisy) a low-growing gem that produces masses of bright daisylike flowers. The small flowers are particularly attractive to bees and beneficial insects. Blooms for very long time — spring till fall — and is excellent for spreading in front of roses. Lovely for a wildflower, cottage garden look. Perennial. Grows 6 inches tall. Flowers are white and pink. Full sun. USDA Zones 7-11.
Eryngium planum (sea holly) a dramatic blue-flowered accent plant. This is the shorter choice, scaled in better proportion to English Roses. Its violet-blue, thistlelike flowers rise on sturdy, violet-blue stems from foliage with a coarse, otherworldly look. Very attractive to beneficial insects. Consider longer blooming, more winter hardy Eryngium gigantea ‘Miss Wilmot’s Ghost’. Perennial. Grows 3 feet tall. Flowers are pale blue or steel blue. Blooms June-August with flower heads lasting into fall, full sun. USDA Zones 5-9.
Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii (spurge) all Euphorbia are spectacular chums for English Roses, but this one hits the mark across the board. It has presence! It is more upright and also shorter than most, just right. Plus its flowers are more yellow, with hints of purple. Perennial. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Flowers are greenish-yellow. Blooms May-June. Full sun to part shade. USDA Zones 6-8.
Gaura lindheimeri (gaura) flowers for very long time. The growth is loose and lovely, with delicate flowers that are reminiscent of butterflies. Very attractive to beneficial insects. Perennial. Grows 3 to 5 feet. Color is white or pink. Blooms variously May-September or August-October. Full sun. USDA Zones 5-9.
Geranium (hardy geraniums) You want the perennials, of course, not the Pelargonium of front planter fame. So many excellent choices! Many are blue! But choose carefully as the varieties vary hugely in size and color. Consider options: G. ‘Rozanne’, G. sanguineum, G. macrorrhizum and G. macrorrhizum ‘Album’, G. ‘Johnson’s Blue’, G. psilostemon, G. ‘Anne Folkard’, G. phaeum, G. ‘Kashmir Blue’, G. magnificum. Perennial. Flower options include blue, violet-blue, pink, white and purple-pink. Bloom May-July, some June-September. Full sun to partial shade. USDA Zones 4-8.
Geum (avens) there’s excitement in this category of low-growing perennials, with many new hybrids, including beauties introduced by Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf. Look for May-July bloomers in delicious colors. Deadhead immediately after first bloom, for repeat bloom with your roses. Consider G. ‘Lady Stratheden’, G. ‘Princess Juliana’. Perennial. Grows 2 feet tall. Flowers come in orange, red-orange, yellow and blends. Bloom May-September. Sun to partial shade. USDA Zones 3-7, 5-7, 5-9.
Grasses Perennial (ornamental grasses) offering many choices, both small and large. Two to consider: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ (Japanese forest grass), a low-growing clump with yellow-green foliage. Perennial. Blooms July-August. Sun to part shade, USDA Zones 5-9; and towering Stipa gigantea (giant feather grass) with elegant, cascading sprays topped by oat-like flowers. Though up to 5 feet or more in height, its airy sprays combine beautifully with English Roses. Perennial. Silvery-purple blooms in late spring-early summer. Golden brown dry seed heads last into autumn, catching sunlight. Full sun. USDA Zones 6-10.
Heuchera (coral bells) really, just spin the wheel, you can hardly go wrong. Today, there are sophisticated color choices not even imaginable 20 years ago. Picking which to plant with what is like a treasure hunt. Most are well under 3-feet tall, which makes Heuchera excellent companions in mixed borders. Perennial. Grows to 30 inches tall. Blooms June-July. But it’s the foliage you’re after, with the flowers quite interesting but secondary. Full sun to part shade. USDA Zones 4-8.
Knautia macedonica (knautia) a broad bushy plant that produces hundreds of ball-shaped, red flowers on wiry stems over its long bloom season. After bloom, the dried seed heads add further interest. Birds love them, too. Can become quite large if left untended — thus good to cut back older stems mid-season to let newer stems provide ongoing bloom. Formerly known as Scabiosa rumelica. Perennial. Options grow 2 to 4 feet tall or more. Flower is wine red. Blooms July-September. Full sun. USDA Zones 5-9.
Lathyrus odoratus (sweet pea) a climbing annual with tendrils. Colorful old-fashioned summer bloomers often with intense fragrance. Annual. Grows variously 3 to 8 feet tall. Colors galore – purple, pink, red, white, blue lavender, bi-colors. Blooms May-July and into September in cooler areas. Full sun.
Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) don’t relegate this beauty to the herb garden. English lavender is excellent planted en masse to form a low hedge along the front of a mixed border with rose bushes. In terms of fragrance, lavender is highly compatible with roses — their combined scents are often showcased in potpourri. Even when not in flower, the silvery leaves set off roses well. Semi-woody perennial. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Purple flowers. Blooms June-August. Full sun. USDA Zones 5-8.
Linum perenne (blue flax) blooms with exuberance for up to 8 weeks in early season to coincide nicely with English Roses. Each sky blue flower lasts one day only. Re-seeds but not aggressively. Short-lived perennial. Grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Flowers are sky blue. Blooms May-July. Full sun. USDA Zones 5-9.
Lupinus (lupine) gorgeous hybrid lupines produce sturdy spikes of rich color, magnificent with the early bloom of English Roses. In the hot, humid South, may be grown as annuals.
Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba ‘(rose campion) a clump-forming perennial with delightful, pure white flowers. The long, wooly, silver-gray leaves are equally appealing and lovely backdrop to set off yellow, apricot and pink roses beautifully. Reseeds nicely. If more than you like, nip off faded flowerheads to minimize. Biennial perennial. Grows 30 inches tall. Blooms June-September. White. Full sun. USDA Zones 4-8.
Nepeta (catmint) most catmint are 2 to 3 feet, forming broad, scented mounds of small blue flowers. Nepeta is useful as a soft surround for roses, set upfront in the mixed border. Cut back early in season to control later floppiness. Very attractive to insects. Some varieties can be overly vigorous and overwhelm their neighbors. One sprawler to avoid with English Roses is N. ‘Six Hills Giant’. Consider: Nepeta x faassenii ‘Kitkat’ and Nepeta siberica — both more compact and less floppy than others. Perennial. Blooms May/June-September. Sun to partial shade. USDA Zones 4-8.
Nicotiana mutabilis (flowering tobacco) an exotic, long-legged Brazilian beauty with a very long bloom season. Towering plants that produce bright green foliage and masses of pink, trumpet-shaped flowers. Each flower opens in palest blush pink, then steadily darkens over time to deeper pinks. The multi-colored effect is charming. Self-seeds nicely. Annual. Grows to 5 feet tall (taller in hottest zones). Blooms June/July till frost. Full sun.
Nigella (love-in-a-mist) wonderful for its blue flowers borne on slender stems, framed by fine lacey green foliage. Hot summer weather knocks them back. But don’t cut back too early as the follow-up seed heads are a treat. Consider heirloom Nigella ‘Miss Jekyll Blue’ which grows to 18 inches tall with sky blue flowers. Annual. Grows to 1 to 2 feet tall. Flowers are most often blue, sometimes purple, rose, white. Blooms June-August. Full sun.
Papaver orientale (Oriental poppy) one of the more magnificent English Rose partners, this stunner with color-infused flowers combines beautifully with English Roses. Two leading ladies, one stage — no clashes. Perennial. Grows, variously, 2-3 feet tall. Flowers are often blue, sometimes purple, rose, or white. Blooms June-August. Full Sun. USDA Zones 3-7. Full Sun. USDA Zones 3-7.
Penstemon digitalis (beardtongue) are very good with roses. They are often blue or lilac but come in other colors, too. Flowers over a very long period. Consider P. ‘Husker Red’ with white flowers, maroon stems and dark, maroon-flushed leaves. Perennial. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Blooms May-July. Flowers are blue, purple, violet, white, red, pink, yellow, or bi-color. Full sun. USDA Zones 3-8. Perennial.
Persicaria amplexicaulis (mountain fleece) these delightfully fluffy, upright flowers present themselves like bottle cleaners held aloft (think Dame Edna with her gladioli!). Plant en masse for best effect. Perennial. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Flowers are red or pink. Blooms June-October. Full sun to partial shade. USDA Zones 4-7.
Perovskia (Russian sage) for a long bloom season, midsummer through fall, with distinctive swaths of blue spikes and gray-hued, aromatic foliage. Performs best in full sun, tends to flop in partial shade. Perennial. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Flowers are pale blue to lavender blue. Blooms July-October. Full sun. USDA Zones 4-9.
Phacelia tanacetifolia (lacy phacella or blue tansy) a very useful annual in the rose garden for attracting bees and beneficial insects. Plant the seeds in batches for ongoing bloom. The lacy foliage and spikes of blue-violet flowers add interest in a mixed border. The exceedingly long stamens are rather coquettish. Very easy to grow. Thrives in most settings, even dry desert locations. Self-seeds in a charming manner. If unwanted, snip off faded flower heads or easily pull out seedlings. Annual. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Blue-violet. Blooms June-September. Full sun.
Phlox paniculata (garden phlox) a cottage garden favorite that delivers a long season of bloom to add color, fragrance and a vertical presence to the border. Highly attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Perennial. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Colors options include white, pink, red, lavender, rose, bicolor. Blooms July-September. Full sun to part shade. USDA Zones 3/4-8.
Polemonium caeruleum (Jacob’s ladder) a terrific rich blue option for shadier locations with staggered fernlike leaves. Does not thrive in heavy heat and humidity. Perennial. Grows 2 feet tall. Flowers are deep blue. Blooms April-May. Part shade to full shade. USDA Zones 4-8.
Rudbeckia fulgida (orange coneflower) offers excellent choices for adding yellow companions. Most are very free flowering, bloom for a very long time and are attractive to beneficial insects. The perennial R. fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ is always excellent. Perennial. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Yellow flowers with a black center. Blooms June-October. Full sun. USDA Zones 3-9.
Salvia (sage) extremely useful and attractive as a blue companion to English Roses. Consider: S. sylvestris ‘May Night’ (‘Mainacht’), S. nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, S. nemorosa ‘Amethyst’, S. verticillata ‘Purple Rain’. Good range of blues and purples and very free flowering, very attractive to beneficials and hummingbirds. Perennial. Grows 1 to 2 feet tall or taller. Colors options include blue, blue-violet, purple, purple-violet. Blooms variously May-June or June-September. Full sun. USDA Zones 4-8.
Sanguisorba officinalis (great burnet) an elegant companion plant that carries its tight spikes of deep burgundy florets on thin sturdy stalks. Perennial. Grows up to 3 feet tall. Full sun. Blooms May-June. Full sun. USDA Zones 4-8.
Sedum (stonecrop) an easy-care succulent plant that keeps a low-key presence all summer then shouts out in fall. Typically with soft pink flowers and green or deep red stems and leaves. Consider S. ‘Matrona’, S. ‘Ruby Glow’ and S. spectabile. Perennial. Grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Flower colors include pink, dusty-pink, maroon, red and white. Blooms August-October. Full sun. USDA Zones 3-9.
Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ear) has irresistible leaves — thick, velvety and fun to pet! The silver-gray foliage provides a useful color contrast in the border. If pertinent, choose hybrids selected to handle damp and humidity. Perennial. Grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Full sun. USDA Zones 4-8.
Thalictrum (meadow rue) a wonderful background plant with tiny purple-toned flowers. Plant en masse. Consider Thalictrum delavayi ‘Hewitt’s Double’ with double mauve-lilac flowers and yellow centers on tall stems held high above the foliage. Perennial. Grows 4 feet tall or taller. Flowers are lilac, mauve or blue. Blooms August-September. Part shade. USDA Zones 4-7.
Verbena bonariensis (tall vervain or verbena) has airy purple flower heads carried on tall, upright, wiry stems. They can be especially effective for creating a see-through haze of color. Tender perennial. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Flower is lilac or purple. Blooms June-frost. Full sun to partial shade. USDA Zones 7-10. Warning per MBG: can be invasive, especially in Deep South may spread itself indiscriminately into native or wetland areas. Best to choose a non-seed-setting hybrid.
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’ (Culver’s root) has fabulous spiky flowers that excel as accent plants among English Roses in mixed borders. The stems are usually fasciated, with a flattened look that’s interesting. Perennial. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Flowers are soft pink/lavender. Blooms July-August. Full sun. USDA Zones 3-8.
Viola cornuta (horned pansy) plant these cheery blooms densely for a low-growing sea of color. They are perfect planted up front at the base of roses, where they attract butterflies. Typically blue, purple or white. As hybrids, violas are also found in yellow, magenta, deep purple, orange, red, mauve, cream, bicolor. Less successful is Viola tricolor (Johnny jump-ups) which reseeds wildly. Perennial. Grows up to 1 foot tall. Bloom May-June. Select hybrids bloom May-September. Full sun to partial shade. USDA Zones 6-9, hybrids 4-9.