Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
January, 2004
Regional Report

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I like bright and cheerful and exuberant springtime combinations best of all!

Lasting Arrangements

Some flower gardeners tie themselves into knots and tizzies trying to design the perfect combinations for their flower beds. I think this takes root in the glossy magazines where photos tie plants together in daring duos and triple threats. Sometimes the designer even claims to have used a color wheel -- but I ask you, have you ever matched a flower to that? I didn't think so. Very often these photo vignettes illustrate the newest varieties or perhaps the most expensive plants, freshly planted and barely rooted. But yes, lovely in that magical moment caught by the photographer.

I would like to come back and see those combinations after a year or so, once the plants have settled in and had a chance to decide if they like being neighbors, and if so, how well mannered they might be together.

I say this because it is easy to pick out a couple or three or five different plants and pop them into the ground and have things look nice and cozy at the outset. But plants are living, growing things, and sometimes they do not cooperate with our vision for their future. In a year we may find some lost to the great garden in the sky, or some so overwhelmed by their companions that they are obliterated.

Some plants, especially those known to spread nicely or grow vigorously or perhaps increase quickly, can swamp everything in a year's time. And then there are the misfits, those that are in sun but would prefer shade and therefore look frazzled and miserable, or those that would prefer strong sun but are in shade and stretch in the dimness to become mere shadows of their normally robust selves.

And need I mention that very often plants take a year in the garden to remember their normal blooming time and strut their own particular habit and coloring depending on the actual conditions where they are grown, so the overlapping blooms and hues and even heights and widths you see at the nursery may or may not ever happen again!

Consider Plant Needs First
So the suggestion I have for making a good combo is this: evaluate the growing conditions where you want to put your planting. Then, do a little research and make a short list of plants that typically thrive in those conditions. Now look at the plants and see which ones appeal to you both in and out of bloom. Bring those home.

Arrange them while they are still in the containers until you like their look together. Allow space for them to grow. Now plant them, care for them, observe them for a year, and be prepared to shovel prune (i.e., transplant) as needed. After that time, successful combinations will develop among lovely healthy plants growing together in a glowing picture of bliss. Voila. I have never seen an ugly combination of healthy plants.

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