A Nice Pair

………Of plants that is.  (Well what did you think I meant?)

Now that winter is here to stay,  I thought I’d take this opportunity to profile some ‘pretty plant pairs’ that caught my eye this year, and why it is they look so great together. I actually started writing this post months ago. Each plant pair I profiled had a clever name and was followed with the subheading ‘Why This Works’. However after visiting a favourite blog, Christina Salwitz’s personalgardencoach.com, I discovered that I’d been beaten to the post (no pun intended). Christina has just co-authored a beautiful book on plant combinations and shared a couple of sample pages in her Aug. 1st blog post. Like me, she’s given her combos clever names, like ‘Strawberries and Chocolate’, and after each one has a subtitle ‘Why This Works’.

Wow – really? Yes really. I guess great minds think alike.

Anyway my first thought was to abandon the idea altogether, but I decided to go ahead and just rework my format. Besides they’re really very different approaches – Christina’s is a fabulous ‘how-to’ book on creating artful foliage combinations. Mine is a more casual read, a haphazard ‘see how pretty these look together’ approach. I’ll still tell you why they work though – sans the subtitle. And I’m keeping my cutesy names……….

Courtin’ Couples

Stella and Karl

When combining plants, it’s important to consider contrast and/or repetition of colour, form and texture. Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ make a subtle but effective combo, for a couple of reasons  –  Stella’s strappy  foliage is a broader version of Karl’s grassy foliage and the same dark green, so provides repetition.

Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro' and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

As well, in early summer when the grass sends up its vertical inflorescence, the soft arching form of the daylilies contrasts beautifully with the upright form of the grasses. As the grass turns to gold in late summer, it will echo the colour of Stella’s blooms. The two look striking together as a linear planting along the fence and will become more so as they both mature.

Stella and………….another Karl?

Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro' and Campanula carpatica v. turbinata ‘Karl Foerster’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Campanula carpatica v. turbinata ‘Karl Foerster’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

That’s right Stella is cheating on Karl – with another of the same name. Here she’s seen with Campanula carpatica var. turbinata ‘Karl Foerster’, bred by famed Swedish hybridizer Karl Foerster, who of course also bred the aforementioned grassy Karl.

This Campanula cultivar is used extensively in Europe, but can be difficult to obtain here – I special ordered mine years ago. No matter, C. carpatica ‘Deep Blue Clips’ will do quite nicely.

The key to this combo is the colour contrast, as well the contrasting forms – the fountain shape of Hemerocallis arches nicely over the rounded mound of Campanula. Nice pair eh?

Stella and Ruby

Tsk, tsk – Stella you do get around don’t you! This time she’s with Berberis thunbergii ‘Ruby Carousel’ – a stunning combination. Stella’s bright gold blooms contrast beautifully with the barberry’s dark wine-coloured foliage as well as the texture, and her arching form repeats the form of Ruby’s horizontal arching branches.

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d'Oro' and Berberis thunbergii ‘Ruby Carousel’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Berberis thunbergii ‘Ruby Carousel’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Okay enough of Stella’s tawdry affairs – let’s move on to something more appetizing.


Palatable Pairs

Guacamole and Plum Pudding

Hosta 'Guacamole' and Heuchera 'Plum Pudding'

Hosta ‘Guacamole’ and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Guacamole & Plum Pudding? Blech! That sounds decidedly unpalatable – sure looks pretty though doesn’t it?  The contrast in hue is lovely, and since Hosta ‘Guacamole’ and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ are both foliage perennials, this colour combo is offered on the menu all season long.

Though both are very coarse-textured (large leaves), there’s still textural contrast because the Hosta leaves are so much larger, and their leaf shape differs significantly.


Peaches and Salmon

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Begonia ‘Nonstop Salmon’

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Begonia ‘Nonstop Salmon’.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

C’mon now, peaches and salmon? That sounds awful too. However it looks quite delicious – the muted coral-rose leaves of Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ are a lovely foil for the bright coral-red blooms of Begonia ‘Nonstop Salmon’.

The contrast of slightly fuzzy Heuchera foliage with the waxy surface of Begonia leaves, also contributes to the success of this container combo.

As well, the lobed foliage of both nicely echo each other.


Peaches and Cream

Now that sounds yummy – like summer brunch on the patio.

These two foliage plants display understated colour contrast because they are both muted hues.  Variegated foliage like that of Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ always makes an eye-catching backdrop for warm colours like this Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’.

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker. Photo: Sue Gaviller

While one might think that the two-toned colouring of each would make for a ‘too busy’ picture, it really doesn’t. The veining of the Heuchera leaves presents quite differently from the dogwood variegation so they don’t compete visually with one another. In fact they make a truly scrumptious pair.


Berries and Cream

Sorbus decora berries and Cornus alba 'Cream Cracker'

Sorbus decora berries and Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mmmm, this too sounds tasty. The berries from a client’s Sorbus decora were so plentiful that they hung down into the Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ below. As I said of the previous pair, variegated foliage is an excellent foil for warm colours. Here the effect is even more stunning because the berries are also very bright against the more muted tones of the dogwood foliage.

The Cornus leaf petioles are the same plum-red as that of both the Sorbus leaf petioles and the peduncle/pedicels of the berries, hence providing subtle repetition.

As well, the peachy pink colour of the changing leaves is a lovely contrast to the berries – tasty indeed!


Opposites Attract

Red-violet and Yellow-green

Red-violet and Yellow-green, as seen in this pairing of Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ and Spiraea bumalda ‘Goldmound’, are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Using these complementary colours together makes a dramatic, eye-catching combination – generous amounts of basic green foliage should therefore be included to soften the high contrast.

Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ and Spiraea bumalda 'Goldmound'

Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ and Spiraea bumalda ‘Goldmound’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blue and Orange

Hemerocallis fulva (tawny daylily) and blue Delphinium

Hemerocallis fulva (tawny daylily) and blue Delphinium.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Another complementary pairing, Hemerocallis fulva (tawny daylily) and two different shades of blue Delphinium team up to create a really outstanding combo.

In addition to the beautifully contrasting colours, the fountain-like form of Hemerocallis contrasts nicely with the very upright growth habit of Delphinium.


Seasonal Fare

When choosing plant material, don’t forget to consider those many barren winter months. This twosome – Picea pungens var. glauca (Colorado blue spruce) and Prunus mackii (Amur cherry) – provides striking colour contrast throughout the off-season when little colour is present in our gardens and landscapes. The colour combo is effective because the blue-green of the spruce needles and the red-orange of the cherry bark are opposites, or complements.

Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii.

Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Light and Dark

Just as opposite colours create high contrast, so does the combination of light and dark. This dark wine-coloured Hemerocallis ‘Purple d’Oro’ is gorgeous next to bright white Leucanthemum superbum. The sunny yellow daisy centres pick up on the lemon yellow throat of the daylily offering some nice repetition too.

Leucanthemum  superbum and Hemerocallis ‘Purple d'Oro'

Leucanthemum superbum and Hemerocallis ‘Purple d’Oro’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sun and Stars

Heliopsis helianthoides and Liatris spicata.

Heliopsis helianthoides and Liatris spicata. Photo: See Gaviller

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and blazing star (Liatris spicata) make a dazzling duo.

Their successful partnership is due in part to the colour contrast, but also because of their textural differences – feathery spikes of mauve stars pair beautifully with the bright rays of sunny gold.

A casual pairing with real visual punch.


Take a Walk on the Wild Side

A Woodland Pair

Actaea rubra and Matteuccia struthiopteris

Actaea rubra and Matteuccia struthiopteris. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Using native plants in our garden compositions can create a setting that looks very natural, as if Mother Nature herself planned it.

In this woodland pairing, the rich red berries and dark green toothed foliage of Actaea rubra (red baneberry) look striking with the light green, lacy fronds of Matteuccia  struthiopteris (ostrich fern).

(Please note that all parts of Actaea are poisonous, especially the berries, hence the common name ‘baneberry’.)


Mother Knows Best

Sometimes Mother Nature does indeed put things together in the most charming way, as with this delightful duet – Aquilegia canadensis and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. Each of these wildflowers offers unique form that complements the other, and the very visible yellow stamens of the columbine nicely repeat the colour of the lady’s slipper. Couldn’t have done better myself!

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens and Aquilegia canadensis

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens and Aquilegia canadensis. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Threesome Anyone?

When I first espied this colourful combo from a block or so away, I noticed only the purple Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’ and the bright yellow-green Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ but as I approached, camera in hand, I realized that a pink peony had flopped down to join them. I wanted to push it out of the way but then decided I quite liked this little trio – the plump pink peony was a pretty addition to the spiky sage and creeping groundcover, and actually softened the intense colour contrast between the two.

Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ and Paeonia sp.

Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ and Paeonia sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Whenever I go clothes shopping, before I buy that must-have new sweater, I ask myself “what have I got to wear this with?” Remember this the next time you’re out plant shopping – before you buy that must-have new shrub or perennial, ask yourself “what have I got to pair this with?”

And be sure to check out Christina’s book.

Stay warm,
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

8 comments on “A Nice Pair

  1. All lovely combinations, Sue! Thanks for sharing!

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Hi Janice,

      Thanks for your kind comment – I’m happy to share my pairs.

      Hope life is slowing down a bit for you – well perhaps that’s a bit unrealistic for the holiday season, so maybe in the New Year you can catch your breath.

      All the best this holiday season,

  2. All nice combinations. I am an admirer of the gold/ purple/deep pink combo and purple/yellow combos…warm and cool colors always a match! Enjoyable post… thank you for sharing.

  3. Nancy Brouwers says:

    Cutesy names are half the the design fun, besides I like where your mind goes…
    Thanks for a great Christmas gift idea. Yes, I’d love a book, Santa

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Well Hello Naughty Nancy,

      Glad you enjoyed my little pair post. Christina’s book would indeed be a great Christmas book, except I don’t think it’s due to be released til some time next year – a good Mothers Day gift maybe?

      Anyways I hope ‘Santa’ is good to you this year.


  4. PJ Girl says:

    Great pairs! We need a bit of colour at the moment as it’s very dull over here so thanks x

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Hi PJ Girl,

      Glad I could provide a little bright spot for you in the dull of winter. I guess that’s our job as garden writers – a ray of sunshine?
      Thanks so much for reading and for your comment.



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