When I finally grasped the concept of placeholder plants, it changed my life. Well, what I mean is, it reduced my garden maintenance load and I enjoyed my garden more, with less work. Not precisely life-changing, but definitely life-improving.

What the heck are placeholder plants?

A placeholder plant is a garden-worthy plant that you happen to have a lot of, which you plant in your garden until you find something you like better to grow in its place. Furthermore, it’s a plant that is easily removed once its time in the garden is over. Let’s go over that in more detail.

A garden-worthy plant–it’s not a weed. People grow it in their gardens on purpose. It’s probably “common” and maybe not exciting, brand-new, or improved, but it grows without much fuss and looks pretty.
You have a lot of it–You have a lot of it because you have the right soil conditions and climate so that it’s happy in your garden. It may be one of those plants that “everyone has” and so it was passed along to you. It may happily self-sow in your garden. It may spread to make a large patch. But . . .
It’s easily removed–It’s shallow-rooted and does not come back from every teensy bit of root left in the ground. This is key. There are plenty of plants that wind up in gardens that spread or self-sow rampantly and are not easily removed. We call these weeds–or worse.

How can placeholder plants help me in the garden?

When you start a new garden, renovate an old garden, or have a spot suddenly open up due to a plant dying, you may not know exactly what you want to put in every square inch of it. Or the plants are small and need to grow and fill in the space. You plant your placeholder plant in that area until a better plant comes along.

Here’s an example

Perhaps you remember this garden bed from my “tour” last year:

flower bed early June
This bed behind the deck was just getting started last year.

You can see there is a lot of empty space around the plants. Every time I found a solid purple Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor) in another part of the garden, I moved it to this bed. I moved perhaps a dozen plants and evenly spaced them throughout the bed.

garden bed filled with violas
By June of this year, this bed was chock-full of Johnny-jump-ups.

Now that is both good and bad. It’s good because every place a Johnny-jump-up grew, a weed didn’t grow. It’s bad because the cute…