Master gardener Paul James reveals a few rules for creating eye-catching plant combinations in any landscape.
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One of the easiest ways to enhance the look of any landscape is through plant combination, says master gardener Paul James. "There are a number of ways to go about it--combining colors and textures, varying shapes and sizes. And the combinations may be created individually or in groups, using only plants or plants with other materials.
" The most obvious combination is color, but that doesn't refer only to flowers. "I think that combining and contrasting foliage can be far more interesting," he says. "I especially like purple, especially when it's combined with green." One such combo is the metallic-purple Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) and the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina).
This purple alternanthera and a colorful coleus of lime green with purple accents make a perfect match. There are perhaps thousands of other color combinations, which can be monochromatic, polychromatic, or just about anything in between.
When you add contrasting textures to color combinations, the results can be even more interesting. This strawberry jar filled with succulents is a hot combination of color and texture, and the different growth forms of the plants add even more interest. "And this is about as low maintenance as a container planting can be, especially when you consider I never fertilize it and only water it maybe once a month or so," says James. "If I were to water and fertilize this thing routinely, it wouldn't look nearly this good. Remember, within the world of plants, sometimes neglect is a good thing."
The same is true with this group of succulents. The varying colors and shapes are accented by the small piece of twisted driftwood.
Of course, combinations can include both flowers and foliage. It's also fun to combine plants that are similar but different. One example is the combination of two grass-like plants--a palm and ornamental grass. The palm grows upright while the grass weeps down the sides of the container.
This combination features the grass-like foliage of the daylilies, which blend with the foliage of an ornamental maiden grass, or Miscanthus sinensis.
Adding hardscape materials--whether stone, wood, metal or whatever--can work wonders by providing textural interest. Here, a low-growing juniper and an upright Hinoki cypress share the stage with a large limestone boulder, a bit of bamboo and an antique olive jar.
In another garden bed, opposites attract. The harsh boulder is balanced by the delicate fern fronds.
Wood works well too, and it can enhance the overall look of a plant or group of plants in simple but surprising ways. A group of plants looks fine by itself...
This weeping Chamaecyparis looks fine on its own, but a bamboo fence positioned just behind it brings it to the forefront.
The best group for combining color, texture, shapes and sizes, says James, is the evergreens, especially conifers.
There are a lot of options in terms of color--various shades of green including those tinged with yellow,
Plus, textures vary enormously from extremely fine to somewhat course. The multitude of shapes is staggering--from round and upright,
to weeping. "With all those possibilities, it isn't hard to come up with awesome combinations," James says.
For a terrific trio of color, texture and shape, try combining a young pine with two kinds of Chamaecyparis such as a blue 'Boulevard' and a yellow-green mophead type. There are all kinds of possible combinations of colors, textures, shapes and sizes that feature evergreens as the stars.
"So you see, combinations can and do add interest to a landscape, so I urge you to experiment with them. And as you do, remember that, hands down, the best combination of all is a truly dedicated gardener with a genuine love of plants."