roses and their perennial companion plants in the garden at golden hour

Beautiful Companion Plants for Roses

by | Apr 26, 2024

The backyard rose garden is exceeding my expectations. While the roses themselves are pulling their weight, I attribute the true dreaminess of it all to the plants I have added around the roses. In our small rose garden I’ve squeezed in kitchen herbs that you can run out and snip as needed, romantic spire flowers that sway in the wind and glow at golden hour. There are flowers that provide the gardener with something to watch at all times of the day—bees, butterflies, humminbirds, ladybugs….I’m learning that choosing your rose companions carefully can result in a garden that provides a multitude of benefits.

Choosing the best rose companion plants will differ based on your individual climates, but today’s blogpost hopefully will serve as some inspiration for rose gardeners no matter where you are growing.

Do Roses Need Companion Plants?

Throughout history, gardeners have played around with various plant combinations in order to increase yield, reduce pest pressure, improve soil health, and create an almost symbiotic relationship between plants in their gardens. While this is commonly practiced in regards to growing food crops, there is actually some evidence for the benefits of companion planting for roses as well. Like a lot plants, roses suffer many of the same maladies—aphids, thrips, powdery mildew—so it makes sense that companion planting could benefit a rose garden.

On the other hand, aside from organic pest control, selecting companion plants for your roses can offer other benefits as well. For me personally, I have a few things I look for when choosing plants to grow around my roses:





♦size (not too large)

It’s important to note that not all plants on this list fit all these categories (for example, they are not all edible), but these are just high priorities for me when choosing plants for my garden.

A Note on Perennial Companion Plants

Before I continue, I do want to mention some important things about perennials. First, some perennials can take time to truly establish. There’s a famous saying amongst gardeners about perennials: “the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap!” If you find that your perennials aren’t looking amazing the first year, just wait!

Second, most perennials die back in Winter. Once Spring arrives, you’ll start to see brand new growth emerging from the base of the plant. It’s important to place perennials in areas where you don’t mind accommodating their lifecycle. On the other hand, there are some perennials that are evergreen in mild climates. The best example of this is thyme. In my garden, the thyme never dies back and makes a great addition to the landscape as an evergreen.

A balanced garden typically has a mix of evergreen, perennial, and annual plants. I do my best to mention below if the plants I love stay evergreen in the garden here in zone 10.

newly planted rose garden filled with perennials such as catmint salvia artemisia and agastache

This is the original rose garden in the beginning. You’ll see that I still love most of the plants here, but did have to make some changes.

My Favorite Rose Companion Plants

Now that I’ve shared my considerations when choosing companion plants around my roses, it’s time to share the plants that have been working wonderfully! Remember, I’m in Southern California (zone 10), so some of these plants might not be well-suited to your own gardening zone. Regardless, a  lot of these plants are in particular plant families that might include varieties that will thrive in different climates. Remember, you can always look up your gardening zone here.

Yarrow (achillea millefolium)

Yarrow is an amazing low-growing perennial. I’ve already confessed my love for yarrow as a perennial cut flower, but it’s an ideal addition to any rose garden for other reasons too. Yarrow’s feathery foliage attracts ladybugs that will eat those aphids that commonly overtake rose buds. In addition to the foliage, yarrow’s sweet little flowers lure in predatory lacewings that are voracious eaters of many different pests in the garden as well. The pest control benefits of yarrow don’t stop there. If you carefully rub the foliage between your fingers, you’ll find that yarrow emits an herbaceous smell. This same smell can confuse pests and help keep them away from your rose garden.

My favorite colors of yarrow in the rose garden are white (this is also the color of native yarrow), pale pinks, peaches, and blush. When the sun hits yarrow at golden hour in the garden, the flower umbels look like soft, pillowy clouds. It’s an exceptional ground cover, as most varieties of yarrow don’t grow very tall, but rather spread widely. In fact, yarrow can be an aggressive grower, so don’t hesitate to pull out chunks and remove yarrow that gets a little too spread out.

Lastly, yarrow’s foliage stays evergreen for me in the garden. Therefore, in Winter there aren’t any flowers, but little clumps of dark green foliage close to the ground.

Hardy Geranium

These adorable cottage flowers look amazing poking out amongst the roses. Unlike their name, hardy geraniums aren’t super hardy in the sun. In fact, they really enjoy being planted at the base of large shrub roses for a little bit of shelter. While I can’t speak for all of the varieties of hardy geranium, I grow one of the most common ones—-‘rozanne.’ Recently, I experimented with using Rozanne as a cut flower. The vase life was incredible for the foliage and stems, but the flower petals drop very fast. Overall, I’d use it as a filler, but just be aware that there will be cute purple petals on the table after a day or two.

Hardy geraniums are great rose companion plants because they can make a great “living mulch” that will shield the bases of your roses. I really credit the fact that I grow plants all around my roses for why I have to water very little. While I do have some favorite mulches that I use, using ground covers and low-growing plants helps to reduce evaporation and keep my soil cool in our hot summers.

pictures of hardy geraniums and thyme in the garden

On the left is a picture of my hardy geranium ‘rozanne’ and on the right is one variety of thyme growing in my garden. Woody herbs make especially great companion plants for roses.

Culinary Herbs

Some of the best rose companion plants are herbs—all types of herbs! Not only do herbs provide us with food, but they can be incredible cut flowers (like oregano flowers), attract pollinators, and deter pests with their scent. I’ve planted various herbs all around my rose garden. Now, some annual herbs can be high-maintenance for a rose garden. While you can certainly plant tender annuals like basil or parsley in a rose garden, I much prefer more perennial herbs that stay evergreen in mild climates. Some of my absolute favorite companion herbs for roses are marjoram, thyme, culinary sage, bronze fennel (it gets a little tall), and oregano. I also have tarragon and stevia near my rose garden, but those completely die back each year and are more tender. Fill your garden with lots of flavors of thyme (orange thyme or lemon thyme anyone?) and be prepared to enjoy your Summer garden!

Catmint (Nepeta)

If you’ve got an opinion on catmint (also called nepeta), please chime in! Otherwise, I also have some personal experience to offer here. When I first got my catmint for the rose garden, it was beautiful! But after perusing various gardening sources, the jury was still out on whether or not catmint would attract cats to the garden. There are many reasons I don’t want to attract our neighborhood cats—they like to poop in mulch and empty areas, they attack the birds we like to watch, etc—so I was hesitant to plant catmint with the roses.

Unfortunately, catmint is gorgeous with roses! It’s a lovely, spreading groundcover with soft purple flowers that attract bees like no other. In other words, I really REALLY wanted to grow catmint in my garden. Alas, I’d find evidence of cats rolling on it each night. There would be telltale tufts of hair and matted down portions of the plant. Sadly, that kind of settled it for me.

Honestly, there’s a chance that catmint only appeals to certain cats—-like humans also have their preferences—but I’ll leave it to you on whether or not you want to add catmint to your rose garden.


Now, this is a broad category of plants. According to wikipedia, “salvia is the largest genus of plants in the sage family Lamiaceae, with nearly 1000 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals.” Just to prove my point, in my own garden, I grow salvia microphylla, salvia nemorosa, salvia officinalis (this is culinary sage), salvia greggii, salvia apiana, and so many more! The greatest part about salvias is their ability to attract pollinators and their foliage scent. The majority of salvias have fragrant foliage that can act as a pest deterrent.

You might ask, well how in the world does one choose which salvias to grow with your roses?! A tried and true salvia for rose companion planting in my garden is salvia ‘caradonna’ (aka salvia nemorosa). Like many perennials, salvia caradonna can be slow to start, but I love it. Unlike some of the other salvias, it stays compact—no more than 24 inches tall by 18 inches wide—and the spikes are a brilliant purple color. It’s a dream with the roses!

Another great salvia is salvia officinalis, better known as culinary sage. Specifically, culinary sage is an amazing border plant. It’s grey-green foliage can be a beautiful contrast to rose foliage and, of course, you can eat it! I’ve had a stunning specimen of ‘berggarten’ sage in my garden for many years. In fact, it blooms about once a year with pretty purple flowers that are a favorite of hummingbirds.

vibrant purple caradonna salvia showing flower spires

This is salvia ‘caradonna.’ Admittedly, it is slow to establish the first year, but once it gets started it is a wonderful companion plant in the rose garden. One of the biggest benefits of salvia ‘caradonna’ is that it doesn’t grow very tall or wide. Because of this, it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the roses, but still adds lovely color and shape in the garden.


When I installed our rose garden, I had my very first experience with Agastache. The common names you’ll often see for agastache are “humminbird mint” or “hyssop,” although there is wide variety amongst the whole genus which can make using these names confusing. The variety I have in my garden is called Agastache Neomexicana, and it is smaller than most other varieties (which I see as a benefit). The foliage has an intense minty and earthy fragrance and the flowers are adored by all our hummingbird friends. Additionally, if you leave the flowers to die back, Agastache will self seed around the garden—filling in spaces with their charming spires.

If you’re into teas, you can grow Agastache Foeniculum. This particular agastache is often used for teas, syrups, and other herbal activities. The foliage is extremely earthy, minty, and aromatic.


To follow my speech about the wonders of growing herbs with roses, I do want to mention lavender! Have I told you how much I love growing culinary lavender? Some varieties of lavender can grow very large, but ‘munstead’ lavender actually stays more compact and makes the best dried lavender buds for cooking (I have a whole post on growing culinary lavender too)!

Depending on the foliage colors you desire in your rose garden, lavender is an excellent grey foliage that looks pretty mixed in with roses.

soft purple pink agastache growing in the rose garden

Agastache is another flowering perennial with a spire-shape (can you tell I love this shape in the garden?). Also commonly known as hummingbird mint, agastache does indeed attract plenty of hummingbirds to the rose garden. You can also see catmint and artemesia in the background.


Last but not least, I have a new obsession with dianthus. You might be familiar with one type of dianthus which we commonly call ‘carnations’, but there are over three hundres species in the genus dianthus! Here are the reasons I’ve started to enjoy and explore dianthus: dianthus is low-growing, the foliage is an evergeeen here, it adds a pop of grey-green in the garden, and many types of dianthus have fragrant flowers. There’s one dianthus I bought recently, called ‘key lime pie,’ that actually smells like cake! Other varieties smell like cloves and spices—it’s truly heavenly!

Originally, I had planted ‘firewitch’ dianthus in the rose garden, but I don’t love the hot pink flowers in the color palette. Therefore, I’m working on switching out the dianthus to more soft pinks and white.


It’s very important that I emphasize choosing compact varieties of artemisia as rose companion plants. An evergreen foliage shrub here in zone 10, artemesia has the prettiest fuzzy grey leaves. Originally, my rose garden had ‘powis castle’ artemisia for some evergreen interest. Sadly, these plants just got way too big for the small area of my rose garden. Because of their beauty and ease of care, I had to include artemisia as a plant to consider for rose companion planting, but I would try a more compact variety such as ‘silver mound’ next time. Alternatively, the same foliage color can be achieved with lavender (as mentioned above) or even dianthus or lambs ear if you’re looking for something guaranteed to be smaller.

For now, that concludes my favorite companion plants for roses in my backyard garden. It’s taken a little bit of trial and error to settle on the ones that really work in our space and make my heart leap for joy as the the sun settles over the garden each day, but it’s been worth it. My best advice to you is to not be afraid to make changes as you live with your space. Remove plants, add plants, or move plants! Keep going until you love it! Also, if you’ve found this article helpful please share with your garden friends or leave a comment below.

If you want to see some of these perennial rose companion plants in action, you might be interested in the beginning of my Spring 2024 Garden Video!

Plant a California native shade garden


  1. Donna Milazzo

    I’ll bet that the roses are starting to bloom just like in my garden! I have planted both Rozanne and Tiny Monster true geraniums, and I’ve got to say I prefer Tiny Monster! It has a much more compact growth habit, darker foliage and flowers than Rozanne. I’ll have to give culinary lavender a try. I had French lavender in front of my roses and they got WAY too big!!

    • FreckledCalifornian

      Now I need to try Tiny Monster! Thanks for the rec. And yes, the roses just started their first bloom. It’s such a pretty time of year! I posted a little tour over on YouTube.

  2. Cory

    Very helpful!! I have a pale pink yarrow plant I’ve been wondering what to do with – I will definitely put it among my roses.

    • FreckledCalifornian

      That will be gorgeous!


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Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

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