Plants that look great together

Plants that look good together.

I'm a confident gardener, but am not so confident in the design department. I always figure I can get anything to grow -- at least, until proven otherwise -- but I spend a lot of time wondering what to plant with a new grass or perennial so that both look great together.

That's one reason I especially enjoy Craig Summers Black's articles about "creative combos" that he and photographer David McDonald have noted in their visits to outstanding gardens around the country. (If you've missed them, you can see some here, here, here, here, and here.)

I also keep a mental list of plants growing together that I'd like to give a try. On a walk today, I particularly noticed two combos that I think I'll try next year.

I suspect that one was serendipitous. Blooms left on a hydrangea shrub had turned that beautiful red they sometimes do in fall and echoed the color of nearby plants of Sedum 'Autumn Joy.' At another season, I would have walked on by without paying attention, but in fall, it was a charming combo.

The other combination of plants that caught my eye was a tall -- probably professionally designed -- container that included Heuchera plants that had silvery-purple leaves, ornamental kale with purple tinge to its lacy foliage, and maroon mums.

Anyone could easily duplicate that one. I wondered if a purple ornamental cabbage might work in place of the kale, or if its intense purple might be overwhelming. Maybe balance it with white-flowered mums? I think I'll find out next autumn.

In any case, my mind was in plant-combination mode, so I turned to a new book, "Designer Plant Combinations," by Scott Calhoun (Storey Publishing, $18.95).

Calhoun, a garden designer, doesn't overwhelm the reader with large lists of plants. Instead, he focuses on small, attractive groupings that contain no more than five plants each. Sections are divided by type of plant -- perennial partners, masses of grasses, annual acquaintances, accent plant associates, ground cover groupies, and buddies for woodies (trees and shrubs).

I liked globe thistle interwoven with Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus'; 'Pixie Meadowbrite' coneflowers with 'Mary Todd' daylily, 'Lady Fingers' daylily, and 'Big Ears' lambs' ears; a spring planting of mini marguerite daisies, miniature lupines, and California poppies; and Heuchera 'Caramel' with 'Lance Corporal' fleeceflower and 'Moorflamme' purple moor grass.

Actually, I was charmed by almost every garden vignette -- there are photos of more than 100 combinations. Some I knew I couldn't grow. Some I knew I wouldn't grow. But I admired just about all of them because they worked.

So if, like me, you sometimes have trouble visualizing what plants will work well together, steal a few ideas from "Designer Plant Combinations." Your garden will be livelier for it.

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