Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
January, 2004
Regional Report

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Contrasting flower colors and leaf textures make this combination of alyssum, snapdragons, heliotrope, and zinnias a real eye-catcher all summer long.

Plant Combinations Worth Celebrating

In my garden, I have a "no-bare-earth" policy; bare spots get filled with something as soon as possible. This approach results in on-the-spot design decisions, but since I prefer pastel flowers and silver and gray leaves, most plants that I add are compatible with those already in place.

Choosing Perfect Partners
There really are no rules to follow when combining plants, other than making sure they all have similar growing requirements. For instance, a pink-and-white-flowering fuchsia might look delightful when paired with the silvery gray leaves of a licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolatum), but the licorice plant requires full sunshine in order to remain healthy, and fuchsias thrive in shade. If you're unfamiliar with a plant, check the tag for growing requirements before deciding where to place it in your own garden.

Some gardeners I know are reluctant to choose plant partners because they're afraid the combinations might not look "perfect." For the most part, plants have a happy way of combining well together. In fact, you may be surprised how well you can do if you begin your plant selection by looking for blooms in your favorite color. For example, if you're a red person, all shades of red will go together, but the combination will need an accent, such as blue or white, to give it some zing.

Since I have a penchant for plants with silver or gray foliage, I use these to perk up or tone down my plant combinations. There are as many shades of silver and gray foliage as there are of green. The range goes from almost white through gray to blue-gray, which allows me to craft a design that either commands attention or harmonizes the plantings by providing subtle highlights. I've found that it's hard to go too far wrong in placing silver and gray plants in the garden.

Winning Combination
Last spring I planted a blue and silver garden in a dry and sunny spot. The plants performed well together and I am especially pleased with the results. Here's the combination that's a real winner in my book:

Nepeta x faassenii 'Select Blue'. This blue catmint has a long period of bloom and the bluest blue flowers I've ever seen. When not in flower, it's a neat mound of foliage with a pleasing fragrance and gray-green color.

Artemisia 'Tangerine'. The soft, ferny foliage looks like it doesn't belong to such an indestructible plant. I think it's invaluable as a fine backdrop to highlight other plants and ornamental grasses. This is a hardy perennial, and when the leaves are brushed, a powerful citrus scent fills the air. I suspect that's why it's called 'Tangerine'.

Salvia x sylvestris 'Blue Hill'. Blue Hill salvia is a knockout performer with a sturdy, compact growth habit and clear blue flowers. It blends well with other plants and seems to highlight the colors of the flowers that surround it.

Lavandula angustifolia 'Graves'. This cultivar of English lavender is taller than many others, with nice upright flower stems and a very long bloom season. The flower spikes are violet-purple, compact, and narrow. I value it most for its gray-green foliage.

Stachys byzantina 'Helen von Stein'. This large-leaved lamb's ear is essentially a non-flowering plant with large, fuzzy, pewter-colored leaves. It makes a superb, large-scale ground cover and combines beautifully with practically any tall perennial with bright, bold flowers.

Helictotrichon sempervirens. I think this Blue avena grass is the frosting on the cake for any garden. The stiff, gray-blue leaves are very striking, and they provide the foundation for the ornamental 4-foot-tall flower spikes that shoot up and ripen to a soft brown by midsummer. I cut mine back in late April to encourage vigorous new growth.

This spring, try your hand at creating a mixed border. Your color combinations may not turn out exactly as you had imagined, but they may be better! And if you don't like them, you can just cut off the offending flowers and enjoy the foliage.

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