Friday, March 1, 2013

Effective Plant Combinations

What makes an effective plant combination?

If I had a good formula I'm sure I'd have more effective combinations in my own garden.  Sure, I've read lots of articles on the subject in garden magazines and books.  I know that a good combination of plants should have similar cultural requirements for water, sun, and soil.  I know that some color mixes go together better than others.  I know that plant size, shape and texture must be considered.  I know that repetition heightens impact.  Yet, despite a fair understanding of these principles, I find that hitting the mark and achieving an effective combination is still a matter of trial and error, as well as a reflection of one's own color and plant preferences.

Complicating matters in my own case is my tendency to form attachments to individual plants without sufficient consideration of the garden as a whole.  I'm afraid that I have a collector's mindset.  I see an interesting plant and I have to have it - figuring out where to put it within my existing garden framework becomes a secondary consideration (if it comes up on my radar screen at all during the purchase phase). That leads to some challenges from both a design and budget perspective.  I often deal with the budget concern by buying just one of a plant that's new to me; however, that contributes to a hodgepodge effect in the garden.  I rationalize this approach by telling myself that I'm "experimenting" with the new genus/species/variety and that, once I've determined whether I really like the plant and whether it will grow for me, I can buy more and create an effective grouping.  After 20 years of employing this approach at our old house, my garden did become more cohesive but I'm still a long way from determining what works and what doesn't in my "new" garden.

Another issue is that I like to buy plants in the smallest sizes I can find.  While this limits the drain on my pocketbook created by my perpetual plant purchasing proclivities and gives my new plants a good shot at establishing healthy root systems, it means that it can take years for plants to fill in and create the intended impact.  As patience isn't one of my primary virtues, I have an inclination to add annuals and other "temporary" plants to fill in, which can aggravate the hodgepodge effect.  I fully expect that you'll be seeing such additions to my newest garden bed in the near future because seeing this much bare soil is already making me crazy.

New bed on site of former Eucalyptus

However, after 2 years of gardening at this house, I do have a few plants combinations I'm happy with, like these:

Argyranthemum frutescens & Cuphea x ignea 'Starfire Pink'

Erysimum linifolium 'Variegatum', Osteospermum ecklonis '3D Silver' & Agapanthus

Fountain bed with Erysimum, Anemones & Nemesia

Close-up of Anemones & Nemesia

Bed bordering living room, featuring Arthropodium cirratum, Eupatorium corymbosa, Pseuderanthem 'Texas Tri-star', ferns & Viola

Another segment of bed bordering living room, showing Eupatorium corymbosa, Calliandra & Freesia

Close-up of living room border with ferns and Violas

Calliandra haematocephala & Trachelosperum jasminoides planted along garage

Sweet pea bush & Aeonium 'Kiwi' in side yard

Ribes viburnifolium, Euphobia 'Dean's Hybrid' & Centranthus ruber on slope

This spring, my intent is to focus on bringing some cohesion to my backyard border.  Last spring, we expanded that bed by removing a large chunk of the adjacent lawn.

Backyard border after removal of lawn

Because I had a group of friends scheduled to visit in June, I hustled to fill the space, using a few shrubs, some perennials and a lot of annuals.  It looked okay for awhile but now there are a lot of holes and the flow from one segment to the next needs a lot of work.

Current view of mid-section of backyard border

My goal is to get this space in order before I start tearing out yet more of the lawn...


  1. I love posts about process!

    I wish that I still had Erysimum linifolium 'Variegatum', but winter came before I took cuttings this year. I hope I can find more.

    Now that I am seventy, I no longer "like to buy plants in the smallest sizes I can find."

    You certainly have some handsome combinations already, so make sure to take time to enjoy them...and the process.

    1. Thanks for taking time to visit my space, Gardenbug. I hope you'll visit again to check out the ongoing changes!