Plant Combinations

Plant Combinations

This is not an exhaustive treatment on the topic of plant combinations, but I happened to notice two serendipitous colour combinations in my own garden (serendipitous, because I assure you, it was not intentional) that I thought were worth sharing. And then expanding upon.

Here are the two that pushed my creative buttons:

This is Karl Rosenfield peony in front of Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Victoria' (California Lilac)

This is Karl Rosenfield peony in front of Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Victoria’ (California Lilac)

Looking out my living room window, this is what I see first thing. I tried in vain to reproduce the true colour of the peony–it’s much more fuschia, or cerise, or something. Even my new I-phone can’t capture those rich pinks and reds.

Nor apparently the orange/corals:

Westerland Rose and Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'. (Smoke Bush)

Westerland Rose and Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’. (Smoke Bush). There’s more yellow, less pink in the actual rose.

So my suggestion is that you look around at colour combinations you love, and then see if you can’t repeat them in your garden. I actually saw a series of videos on Garden Design (Successful Garden Design), in one of which she advocated that same thing: if you have a garment, or upholstery, or drapes, or anything else that combines colours in a particularly delightful way, odds are good you can find plants that will do the same. That said, I would really never have guessed coral and burgundy!

Now, on to textures:

Skimmia with some kind of fern.

Skimmia with some kind of fern.

These two very different textures create an appealing vignette, but if there weren’t those amazing red berries, the contrast wouldn’t be enough, IMO, to really make a statement.

Johnny Bender Rhodo and no-name fern.

Johnny Bender Rhodo and no-name fern.

This on the other hand is one of my favourite combinations: this tall fern with almost any rhodo. The leaves of the rhodo are a much deeper green, shiny and leathery–all things the fern is not. This was another accident–these are naturalized ferns. Doesn’t matter how often I dig them out, they reappear with vigour. And when I saw them growing up through the rhodos I decided to be a little more lenient with their reappearances.

Gaultheria shallon (Salal) and same no-name fern. I should really find out it's name!

Gaultheria shallon (Salal) and same no-name fern. I should really find out it’s name!

Part of the beauty of the Salal and fern combo is the different colours in the Salal–deep green of old growth, vivid chartreuse of new growth, red stems, pink flowers. But it’s still the shiny leathery leaves (like the rhodos) contrasting the feathery (leathery–feathery…cute) ferns that really makes it work. Again, not my design, God’s I guess–the ferns self seed.

Choisya ternata 'Goldfingers' and my own hybridized really no-name daylilies

Choisya ternata ‘Goldfingers’ and my own hybridized, really no-name daylilies.

Another fortuitous accident: I acquired the Choisya (Mexican Mock Orange) from a garden I was installing. It looked really tatty, so couldn’t plant it in the client’s garden. Brought it home and pruned it aggressively, then planted it where there was room. And here it is recovering and giving the heretofore boring daylily nursery some much needed interest.

Here’s more textural contrast:

Another David Austen Rose, 'Octavia Hill' (I'm so glad David Austen named this wonderful rose for Octavia Hill, a British reformer of the 19th century, and one of the founders of the National Trust.) Crocosmia growing in front.

Another David Austen Rose, ‘Octavia Hill’ (I’m so glad David Austen named this wonderful rose for Octavia Hill, a British reformer of the 19th century, and one of the founders of the National Trust.) Crocosmia growing in front.

Now here’s a dismal failure:

Here's a dismal failure: some kind of Scabiosa (pincushion flower) growing underneath a Hamemelis x intermedia 'Jelena' (witchhazel).

Scabiosa (pincushion flower) growing underneath a Hamemelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ (witchhazel).

The textures are different, and there’s a few specks of colour–more today, 5 days after the picture was taken. But the differences are not enough to offset the complete sameness of the green. They just all meld together.

Adiantum caudatum (Maidenhead Fern) and Athyrium niponicum (Japanese Painted Fern)

Adiantum caudatum (Maidenhead Fern) and Athyrium niponicum (Japanese Painted Fern)

The two ferns above are the perfect pair. they have almost nothing in common except size–both low-growing, with the Athyrium leaf tips barely hanging over the Adiantum. Why do they look so good together? Don’t know.

Heuchera, possibly 'Van Gogh', with Euphorbia amygdaloides

Heuchera, possibly ‘Van Gogh’, with Euphorbia martinii ‘Blackird’.

This one above is a muddle of colour and texture contrast. I put them together-this one actually was intentional–because the colours are similar. Gold-ish, green-ish, and red-ish. But looking oh-so-different. The grass, barely visible toward the back of the container, is greeny-orange, and then not at all visible is a green-burgundy hebe that ties in with the heuchera. Gaura lindheimeri ‘CrimsonButterflies’ will grow up later with burgundy foliage and pink flowers.

This was what it looked like last fall when I planted it up.

This was what it looked like last fall when I planted it up.

And finally, this last accident. The William Shakespeare rose is so gangly that it spread all through the Spirea. Little did I realize that the colouring of the flowers of the two shrubs is pretty much identical. But everything else so different that it makes for a lovely combination.

David Austen Rose 'William Shakespeare 2000' and Spirea 'Goldflame'

David Austen Rose ‘William Shakespeare 2000’ and Spirea ‘Goldflame’.

Try it yourself. You can start small with just a container garden, or go for the gusto and really play in the garden.

And now for something completely different:

Rose 'Octavia Hill' in the rain.

Rose ‘Octavia Hill’ in the rain.

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Day 21 of Your Successful Vegetable Garden

Tomatoes! North America’s favourite home-grown vegetable. (Actually, it’s said it is “America’s” favourite home-grown vegetable, but I’m sure Canadians are as keen on home-grown toms as Americans.)

Garden Tribe’s final day of Boot Camp focuses on tomatoes, and what a great ending (and how great that it’s ending!). And isn’t this a brilliant line:

Some gardeners are all about herbs. Some gardeners are all about their roses. But there is no one quite as obsessive as the gardener who likes to grow tomatoes.

I’m going to be repeating some of what Garden  Tribe says, because it’s my blog and I can do what I want. So here’s some things to know:

1. Type. Not variety, but type. There are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. You can remember it this way: determinate determine to all ripen together, so that you’ve got a great crop all at once to can or freeze. They are bush like, and don’t get nearly as big as the other. Which is indeterminate, as in, they can’t determine when to ripen, so they all do it at their own speed. Indeterminate tomatoes are like thick vines, just growing and growing until you tell them to stop.

So if you’re wondering what kind of tomato to get, the answer lies in what you want tomatoes for. Salad? Cherry-type tomatoes–they’ll likely be indeterminate–vine-like. Canning? Plum-type, and/or determinate, ripening pretty much all at once. Maybe you want to spread out the harvest but still for the purpose of canning–get two different kinds of determinate tomatoes with different length maturation. For eg. Celebrity tomato is determinate, ripening in  70 days from sowing. Roma, plum and determinate, ripens in  80 days. So you have time to get the Celebrity in and canned before the Romas are ready.

2. Conditions. West Coast Seeds (my source of all wisdom and knowledge with regard to vegetables) says to not plant out tomatoes in coastal BC until the nights are consistently over 10°C. Which is not going to be until June 1. I showed you what my seedlings look like now,

This tomato seedling can't be planted out for weeks yet (altho I might try the milk jug trick again), but you can see it's already pretty tall. I'll give it as much light as I can, but when I put it in the ground I'll bury most if not all that stem.

This tomato seedling can’t be planted out for weeks yet  but you can see it’s already pretty tall. I’ll give it as much light as I can, but when I put it in the ground I’ll bury most if not all that stem.

with still a month to go before I can plant them out. Before planting them out they have to be hardened off, which will take a week. That still leaves three weeks of growing indoors without getting stunted, or too leggy, or starved for nutrition, or left dry for too many  minutes… I’ve decided to try the milk jug treatment so I can get them outside two weeks early.

Hot weather, enough but not too much water, (slow down watering by mid-late summer so the plant will focus on fruiting instead of continuing to put on green growth–unless you’re using containers, in which case just continue as normal), protection from rain as the summer nights start to get cooler (we suffer from late blight here). Again, here on the “wet coast” buying tomato plants that have a short maturation time can take advantage of our good July and ripening in August. Most of the cherry/grape style toms mature in 60-65 days.

3. Staking. If your tomato is a vine-grower you’ll have to have some way of keeping it frowing upright. And once the tomatoes start to grow, they get heavy. Those little tomato cages you see at the hardware store will NOT hold up your crop. So decide whether you’re going to splurge on bigger better cages that will last many years, or create another kind of support–like this one from Doug Green’s Garden.

Here’s one last little trick, don’t remember where this came from. When you’re ready to get the plants in the ground, the day before, put them outside lying down. By the next day the growing end will have started to turn upward toward the light (looking like a hockey stick), so then you can easily plant it in your trench with the tops sticking out.

So I have to say, if I can grow tomatoes, anyone can grow tomatoes.

And that’s the end of Boot Camp. Get out there and grow some supper! And let me know how it’s going. I’ll keep you posted on my successes as well–of course this year I will actually have some successes!

Since this whole Boot Camp was about offering quick lessons to take the beginning gardener from fear of starting to joy in succeeding, here’s a link to another gardner’s suggestions for the beginner: In Lee Reich’s Garden.

Veggie Tales Day 20

Chives

Chives

Herb Gardens. Boot Camp is almost done, and growing herbs is definitely the easiest way of getting going with your edible garden. I’ve written often about herbs,  so I won’t re-hash everything here. A few quick notes:

1. Most of our popular herbs originate in the Mediterranean, so they like sunny exposures, but most, with the notable exception of basil, will tolerate a moderate amount of shade, so as with greens that I mentioned in Day 19, they can be tucked into ornamental borders, or between tall plants, or grown in containers, or in devoted raised beds. Really, almost anywhere.

2. Many of the annual herbs will self-seed, dill and cilantro (the seed of which is coriander) being the commonest.  Basil is annual, but doesn’t self seed in my garden–maybe because it never grows enough to actually make seeds.

3. Basil deserves a note of its own: It loves heat and full sun (8 hours per day here in coastal BC), enough but not too much water, really good drainage, so containers or raised beds are suitable locations, constant harvesting, pinching out of new growth tips to stimulate more new growth tips. Don’t plant it out until the nights are consistently over 10 C. (Same rule as tomatoes.) It is said to be easy to grow, but I have failed more often than succeeded.

4. Mint also needs special care–plant it in seclusion! Either in a pot, or otherwise contained; all the mint family will spread like wildfire. You can use a 2-gallon black plastic pot and cut the bottom off and plant it whole in the ground, But you’ll still need to catch flowers before they set seed, because the seed will scatter and you’ll be finding mint everywhere. But you might like that–most mints are attractive plants, not too big, and will help deter pests because of their strong fragrance.

Lemon balm, of the Mint family. Planted by my tenant and now years after trying to remove it all, I'm still finding it in the garden. But pretty much limited to about 20-30 square feet.

Lemon balm, of the Mint family. Planted by my tenant and now years after trying to remove it all, I’m still finding it in the garden. But pretty much limited to about 20-30 square feet.

5. Oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage are all easy to grow–even for me!– and hard to kill. Rosemary would also belong in that category except for our wet winters here. As long as they have a little shelter, and really good drainage, your rosemary will do well. Last November’s 2 weeks of -10-12° weather was hard on the larger of my rosemary plants, but the smaller did just fine.

Rosemary--Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary–Rosmarinus officinalis

One day left–tomorrow’s lesson is TOMATOES!