Plant Combinations, Part 1
When I talk to new garden design clients about what they want, nine times out of ten they say, “Color! I want lots of color!” It’s understandable. Who doesn’t like color? But where I live, nonstop color in the garden is hard to achieve unless you have a brightly painted tuteur, sculpture or furniture.
What many people – clients and gardeners alike – don’t realize is that foliage, texture and shape play a more significant part in keeping a garden interesting than colorful flowers, which may last only a week or two (unless you’re talking about annuals, which is an entirely different matter). Looking at a picture like this can help.
This is the first image I show new design clients as we begin to talk about color Almost every client to whom I’ve ever shown this photo (taken in my garden) loves it, even though there are really no strong colors to be seen.
What are we looking at? From left to right, the major players are a variegated shrubby red twig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’); lady’s mantle with blue ornamental onions coming up through them (Alchemilla mollis with Allium caeruleum, which I discovered on a trip to England); and on the right, a white spiraea coming into bloom (Spiraea japonica var. albiflora).
What’s so appealing? Although the blue notes of the alliums are nice, I think what makes this combination work is the harmony of the green shades coupled with the variety of textures and the variegation of the dogwood’s leaf, and the “pop” of the chartreuse blooms of the lady’s mantle. The spiraea will rebloom later in the summer if it is deadheaded after the first flush of flowers, and the broad leaf of the lady’s mantle will continue to provide a nice contrast with the delicate foliage of the spiraea and variegation of the dogwood.
Here is another example of a good plant combination that also uses the ‘Ivory Halo’ dogwood and another allium. These are ‘Purple Sensation,’ and behind them, around the river birches, you can see Karl Foerster feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis). When the alliums disappear the grasses, which stay tall and erect, are a beautiful wheat color.
OK, I’m a sucker for purple alliums and use them a lot in my planting schemes. They provide a real punch of color in early summer after other bulbs have given up the ghost. In another garden I planted them with Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’ and the effect of the simultaneous bloom times in May is pretty impressive. But even after the flower colors are gone, the texture contrasts between the allium seed heads and the Baptisia’s foliage continues to work.
Want something where there is stronger color and more long-lasting contrast? Here’s something for those of you who live where you can grow lavender (hard to do in our clay soil here in the mid-Atlantic region where I garden). While the photo isn’t great, the plant combination is, and would be even better if the lavender were planted directly in front of this red Berberis (barberry).
As a garden photographer, I love photographing these “plant vignettes” because such images convey a feeling or mood of part of the garden. They can supplement photographs of larger views of the garden and provide a more intimate feeling of being in a special part of the garden. When I work on garden books I always try to include a mix of vista shots and plant vignettes, along with capturing ‘garden rooms’ where they exist.
I have many more plant combination ideas to share down the road. In the meantime, let me know if you have favorites I should know about. And remember, color is only part of the equation!
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