Cardiocrinum giganteum

Upright plants for vertical accents

Reach for the skies with our pick of gorgeous plants for vertical accents.

Any border scheme will benefit from the inclusion of narrow, upright plants. These vertical accents provide height and drama, contrasting with their lower-growing neighbours with a more spreading habit. Plus, used repeatedly, they generate a sense of rhythm, helping to unify the whole design.


Vertical accent plants include fastigiate forms of shrubs or trees such as hornbeam or holly. Fastigiate means columnar, with upright stems that are borne closely – almost parallel – to the main stem. These have a markedly formal look, making them particularly suited to urban designs.

Another way to provide height is to topiarise plants such as yew or box into narrow shapes. Or, far easier, just stick to the naturally occurring spikes of foxtail lilies or foxgloves.

More garden design inspiration:

Take a look, below, at some of our favourite upright plants to grow for vertical accents.

Fastigiate hornbeam

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata'
Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’

There are two frequently grown types of fastigiate hornbeam. Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’ is the larger of the two, and is perfect for pleaching or clipping into columns. ‘Columnaris Nana’ is a bushy dwarf form – perfect for clipped columns in smaller gardens.

Stipa gigantea

Stipa gigantea
Stipa gigantea

Golden oats, Stipa gigantea, is one of the best ornamental grasses for using as a vertical accent. The tall flowerheads have a fountain-like appearance and are particularly suited to sunny gravel and prairie gardens. There are lots of other graceful grasses to consider, including Panicum ‘Northwind’, Deschampsia ‘Goldtau’ and Molinia ‘Windsaule’.


Clipped cone-shaped yew
Clipped yew cone with white-flowered foxgloves and lupins

This planting scheme is full of upright, vertical accents, including the clipped yew cone, which provides a touch of formality and an evergreen backdrop for the white flowers. Other shapes to try include columns and pyramids, while other plants to grow for this purpose include thuja, Irish yew and box.


Eremurus isabellinus 'Cleopatra'
Eremurus x isabellinus ‘Cleopatra’

Foxtail lilies, Eremurus, have spectacular spired flower stems bearing many small flowers in fiery shades of orange, yellow and white. Grown in a sunny location they’ll put on a spectacular midsummer show.

Giant Himalayan lily

Cardiocrinum giganteum
Cardiocrinum giganteum

Admittedly, you need to wait for five to seven years for Cardiocrinum giganteum to flower from seed, but when it does, the enormous flower spikes are a sight to behold as they reach skywards. Great for a cool, partially shaded spot with humus-rich soil.

Lombardy poplar

A fastigiate form of the poplar, Populus nigra, Lombardy poplars are often used to line roads creating beautiful green avenues, along field boundaries to act as windbreaks. A large garden is the ideal home for them.


Italian cypress

Italian cypress is synonymous with the Mediterranean. A drive or bike ride through the Tuscan countryside will have you spotting them dotted over the landscape, and they’ve been used to spectacular effect at the gardens of La Foce in Italy. Best used in a medium to large garden.