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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Planting the White Garden

Planting the White Garden–A How-To

According to colour theory, white conveys purity, cleanliness, safety, wholeness, perfection. That’s not my own idea, you’ll find it in just about every resource about colour. (Including this interesting one about “white in ‘Breaking Bad'”!) White will glow in low light situations, like your shade garden, or in the evening.

It also conveys a sense of restfulness, so while other gardens encourage you to get in there and play, or work, or DO something, the white garden wants you to sit, read a book, have a glass of wine, REST.

A disclaimer to start with: none of the  pictures included here are my own, since I don’t have a white garden myself.

Structure

I’ve said this often before: layer your garden with trees, shrubs, tallish perennials (or annuals for that matter) and low growing ground covers. (It shouldn’t look like stadium seating– remember, you’re viewing the garden from lots of different angles.) The white garden is no exception, in fact will need layering even more.

Vines will give a variant on the taller shrubs. Evergreen Clematis armandii blooms in late winter and will climb as high as there is something to climb on. Ditto for climbing Hydrangea petiolaris. The latter needs something REALLY strong to hold it. Like a brick chimney, or a tree. I recently designed a garden with Hydrangea petiolaris climbing a very large, very dead old cedar that the owners were unwilling to pay exhorbitantly to have removed.

Texture

Any garden needs a combination of textures. Spikey (Acanthus, Yucca, New Zealand Flax), soft and fluffy (Baby’s Breath–Gypsophila, wonderfully fragrant Alyssum), grassy (Miscanthus sinensis, as below, or Mexican Feather Grass–Stipa tenuissima), bold–large leaf Hosta, Rodgersia, Rhodo.

Two plants next to each other that have similar leaf shape sort of meld into one, even if the leaf colour is different (unless they’re very different, like the dark copper of Ninebark (Physocarpus), and the gold/chartreuse of  Spirea). But put a bold leaf Hosta next to an ornamental grass or Baby’s Breath or the Spirea, and you’ve got the beginnings of a dynamite combination.

Sequential Blooming

Choose plants that will bloom at different times in the year. Of course, starting with spring bulbs–snowdrops, then crocuses (croci?), tulips, alliums. Then move on to early perennials like Iberis sempervirens (perennial Candytuft), white Columbine (Aquilega), white creeping Phlox subulata. White flowering shrubs can take the place of one or another season of whites: Azalea blooms mid-spring, Philadelphus and Deutzia mid-late spring, Hydrangea early to mid summer. And don’t forget trees–Cornus (Dogwood) ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ in late spring, Oxydendron (Sourwood) in late summer.  I don’t have to list every possibility–you’ll have the idea now.

The garden above, almost completely bordered by hydrangea, will look a little tatty in late summer/fall as the white blooms turn to brown. A white garden might require a little more diligent deadheading than a mixed colour garden, simply because the faded white blooms sometimes look less attractive that other colours.

Style–Formal or Chaotic?

One of the things you usually see in white gardens is a fairly formal style. It doesn’t have to be that way, but white and green lends itself to a formal feel. White roses will complement the formal style–as long as it is highly disease-resistant. Check rose suppliers in your own area for roses that will work for you. The Sissinghurst White Garden below started in the 30’s as a white rose garden.

If formal isn’t your cup of tea, but you still want soothing effect of the white palette, a simple solution is to just have non-formal shaped beds. Formal beds would be symmetrical, very geometric, usually square, and often surrounded by boxwood or another clipped hedge. Changing up any of those elements would “casualize” the aesthetic.

Unless your house is very linear (think Frank Lloyd Wright), square, or “Arts and Crafts” style, most other houses, with or without curvy lines in the roof, porch or other, will easily accept curved planting beds. That feature itself will instantly eliminate that rigid formality. No straight lines means the borders will vary in width and depth, which means they’ll also vary in how the plants–even the same plants as in a formal design–are located.

Surprise

You might consider planting some surprise colour spots in your white garden. Nothing too striking, no red geraniums or orange daylilies (Hemerocallis), and of course, no wide swathes of colour. But maybe a few purple alliums in spring, some pink Astilbe, the very airy blue of Brunnera, maybe gold Rudbeckia…

 

Iberis sempervirens

Iberis sempervirens

Comments?

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried a white garden. What has worked best for you? What suggestions do you have to add to this? What would you do differently?

Always happy to hear comments.