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Using Specimen Plants in Your Garden

Using Specimen Plants in Your Garden

If you’ve ever flipped through a gardening website, magazine or book, you’ve probably seen the term “specimen plant” but you might not know what it means. A specimen plant is usually something interesting or different in the garden that is planted alone for an ornamental effect. It may be grouped with other plants, but there will be only one of the specimen plant in the arrangement.

A specimen plant is the opposite of a bedding plant, edging or border plant. These are planted in mass groupings. A specimen is something special, a plant that your eye will single out as an item of interest. It will be “center stage” in the garden.

Specimen plants are used as focal points in the garden. They can be used to create something interesting for the eye in an otherwise blank section. They can add height or drama to a blank space. They might bring color to a green space.  There are any number of ways a gardener might use a specimen plant.


Trees are often used as specimen plants. They can help give dimension to a lawn and shade to a home. Blooming trees can add a great deal of color and fragrance to a landscape. A tree can balance the architecture of the structure as well. Here are just a few colorful or interesting trees to use as specimen plants.

  • Crape Myrtle: Summer blooming, medium sized, vase shaped tree available in several colors.
  • Tulip Poplar: Fast growing and tall, offers brilliant yellow fall color as well as big spring blooms.
  • Weeping Willow: Graceful, cascading branches give interesting texture where there is plenty of water.


A shrub can also be used as a specimen plant in the garden. Shrubs can serve as an anchor for a planting bed. They can decorate a mailbox or highlight a gate. A few notable specimen shrubs are listed below.

  • Snowball viburnum: Medium sized shrub with big, long lasting, globe-shaped flower clusters.
  • Gardenia: Medium to small evergreen shrub with extremely fragrant, waxy, white blooms.
  • Burning Bush Euonymus: Medium sized shrub with brilliant scarlet fall color.


Many plants can serve as specimen plants when properly placed in a garden bed.  They will not have the showy drama of a larger shrub or tree but by properly placing a plant, it can have a lot of impact. Try using a plant in a bright color in a bed of green ground cover. A textural grass could serve the purpose as well. Perhaps a specimen vine could cover an arbor or climb a trellis for an eye-catching effect.  Here are a few interesting plants that could serve as specimen plants.

  • Clematis: Visually interesting, textural and colorful blooms available in many colors on a twining vine.
  • Elephant Ear: Huge leaves and tall stalks available in several sizes and colors.
  • Cinnamon Fern: Unusually shaped new growth resembling cinnamon sticks in a uniquely sun-tolerant fern.

If there’s a spot in your garden or planting bed that needs a little extra something, consider finding an interesting specimen plant. Just make sure that the sunlight and water needs of the specific plant will be met in the space before you buy.

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