Thursday, April 3, 2014

Great Plant Combinations for Your Spring Gardens!

Susan Wheeler,  a garden designer in the White Rock/South Surrey area, is writing a guest blog today! 

The photos of her own gardens show many of the plants that are available here at West Coast Gardens.  She has a garden design business:  as well as her own blog at We thank Susan for sharing her expertise with us!

NOTE: all photos and text in this website/blog are copyrighted and may not be used without the written permission of Susan Wheeler. 

Great Plant Combinations for Your Spring Gardens!

A number of my readers have expressed an interest in knowing which plants to put together in order to achieve an interesting garden, and so, I have decided to do a series of blogs on this subject of Great Plant Combinations.
This first article is about what I have done in one of my own street-side gardens.

First of all, I believe that the most important thing to consider, when either starting out with a new garden or when renovating an older one,  ( after ensuring that you have quality soil and excellent drainage, of course ) , is colour.
And so, instead of planting this garden with the usual spring colours, I needed to be guided by the colours of some of the larger plants. 

 A bold coloured Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Villa Taranto’, sets the colour 
tone for this street-side garden, in early May.

Usually, for spring, we think of the colours of purple, white, pink and yellow, but what if your main  ‘players’ , in at least one area of your gardens, are in a totally different colour?
For example, in this garden, above, the main plants are a medium-sized Japanese maple, called ‘Villa Taranto’ which is definitely not in one of the usual Easter colours for spring and several large - leaved Rhododendrons. The tree starts out being a very bright orange-y red and so, I then added similar coloured flowering plants, near it. The most noticeable of these is a large Rhododendron.
Note how the warm buds of the Rhododendron blend so well with the new, reddish leaves of this Maple.

The leaves of this Rhododendron enhance and contrast with the much finer leaves of the Maple above it, and the difference in the scale of the somewhat broad leaves of the Rhodo, with the very wispy new Maple growth, adds interest, and the buds support the colour scheme of this garden.

Another aspect to consider when planning and planting your gardens is scale and balance. I planted this tall Cherry, Prunus serrulata ‘Amanogawa’ here to add some height, as the nearest trees were almost dwarfing the plantings underneath. It is one of the very best Cherry trees and I highly recommend it. It was added to fill in a hole left by a tree that had died and I knew that there was not a lot of room for a tree with a large and wide canopy and so I chose this narrow and very lovely tree. It flowers in the spring but the palest pink flowers are very short lived and if you do not take the time to look up, it would be easy to miss them altogether!

Scale and balance have been achieved by planting this beautiful Cherry, Prunus serrulata ‘Amanogawa’. This is one of the best behaved Cherries and has pale pink flowers in the early spring and it also has beautiful bark.

Another large plant that flowers at this same time is the red-veined Enkianthus. It is a wonderful companion for the Rhododendrons that I have put into this garden. It is really, unfortunately, quite underused but should be in everyone’s garden as there is very little that troubles it. Its little bell-like flowers hang down and so I have positioned it as high up in this garden as possible so that the ‘bells’ can be readily seen and appreciated. The flowers can be pink to red to even white. I have one white one in my Woodland garden and the autumn colours of this plant are very beautiful.

This underused plant, the red-veined Enkianthus, 
adds its red bells to this tableau.

This next photo shows that the tight buds of three of the large Rhododendrons have now fully opened. All three are in the warm tones of this garden and at the extreme right, you can also see the new leaf growth of a Pieris that also blends in very well with the rest of the plantings. New leaf growth can be in a range of colours and needs to be taken into consideration when designing a garden.

Here we see all of the flowering shrubs in the warm palette 
of this street-side garden, now fully opened.

Another plant that does well in this semi-shaded garden is the unusually coloured Autumn fern, Dryopteris erythrosora. I say unusually coloured, because it starts out in a very autumnal colour, ( see below ) but, as the summer comes on, it turns a lovely bright green.       

 This unusually coloured Autumn fernDryopteris erythrosora later turns to a bright green, once the warmer weather is here.

This first photo, below, shows many of the smaller plants that would also go very well with the larger plantings in a garden like this. Notice how many different shapes and textures there are in these plants.

First of all, note the very round-leaved plant spilling over the rock edge. It is Lady’s Mantle, Alchemilla mollis and it puts out small, yellow flowers in the summer. And, whenever it rains, or your watering system wets its leaves, it looks as if it is covered in sparkling diamonds! Beautiful! However.... do make sure that you prune off the spent flowers, or you will have many, many more of these plants! They are quite prolific self-seeders. Also, once they are past looking their best, I always cut the entire plant right back to the ground, and in a few days, up will come all fresh, new growth.

Texture is so important for an interesting garden. This Lady’s Mantle, Alchemilla mollis is very easy to grow in partial shade where it will not burn and it has many virtues, as well....

Even the newly forming buds can add texture 
and interest to your gardens.

 When water settles on the leaves of the Lady’s Mantle, 
it looks like diamonds!

Other plants to consider would be the Hellebores, one of my all-time favourites, especially for their late winter blooms. Below, you can see why they are such great plants to add some texture and shape to your plantings. They have that very distinctive leaf shape. If you will note the Hellebore growing at the top of the garden. It will keep its blooms for months, as it slowly turns to a shade of green. Then you must cut off all of the flower heads, or you will have way too many seedlings underneath. Do not be fooled, however. These seedlings will, most likely, not be anything like their parent!

As the pale yellow flowers of this Hellebore  fade to a greenish shade, they compliment the very small leaves of the golden yellow Lonicera below them. It is Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold and it provides texture as well, and, it is an evergreen, which is an added bonus!

  Many different shapes and textures in this area of 
the garden provide added interest.

Don’t forget that there are other things that can increase the interest in your gardens. If you are lucky enough to be able to get large rocks brought into your gardens, make the most of them! However, please do not simply leave them on the surface of the soil. This makes them look as if a giant had just dropped them there! They should be buried to at least 1/3 of their height or even a bit more. When these rocks are placed in a shady location, they will develop a beautiful moss covering which looks lovely in the early spring.

In the photo, below, you will see that there are all kinds of different shapes and textures in the plant leaves.

If you can get some large rocks into your gardens, you will then have ready-made texture, with moss, as well. Lucky you!

When my husband and I moved back to Canada from our home for 7 years in Bellingham, Wa., I had (legally...yes!) brought with us 739 Japanese maples, Rhododendrons, conifers and perennials. One of the perennials that had been OK’d was this lovely striped Iris. I have since divided it and used it in many other parts of my gardens as it provides such a nice bit of different texture, being so very spike-y. They are quite easy to divide and can be used in large planters, as well. They do need to be ‘groomed’ (read cleaned up) in the spring but they are invaluable as a ‘light’ in a shady garden. Here it is growing beside a variegated Pachysandra. The two are a good combination, as they both have the same colouring but a different leaf shape.

Here we have three different leaf shapes to add interest. The very strong shape of the Hellebore, on the far left, the spike-y look of the Iris foetidissima ‘Variegata’ and the smaller, round leaf of the variegated Pachysandra.

And, finally, remember to look at everything that grows, not just the flowers. Nobody loves flowers more than I do, but if you do not have some quiet greenery around them to sort of calm the eye, then it can become a bit of a mish-mash of colour everywhere, with very little balance. For example, in this photo, below, look at the brown of the new growth on this David’s Viburnum,  Viburnum  davidii, and you can see how the new growth colour blends so nicely with the fading blooms of this Rhododendron ‘Hello Dolly’, just above it. This Viburnum has clumps of white flowers which later in the season produce berries which are really amazing, colour-wise. They start out sort of a purple colour which, over time, changes to a brilliant turquoise! You have to look for it, but once you see it, you will never forget the colour. The evergreen Boxwood, Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruiticosa’  seen here, as well, is a great ‘calming’ bit of greenery. This particular one is also very slow-growing as it is a dwarf.

Well, that is just a small beginning to the story of plant combinations in just one of my gardens, but I hope that you might like to check out my own blog, at  where I shall soon have much more on this topic of  ‘Plant Combinations’, but from a different garden’s ‘viewpoint’.

And for those of you who have been asking where to buy my gardening book, “The Best Trees, Shrubs, and Perennialsfor the Gardens of the Pacific Northwest, you can go to my main garden site,  and there you will, if you scroll down, see some of the pages ‘flipping’ over. Go to my CONTACT page and let me know how many you would like.

GARDENING TIP: Remember to add some interesting greenery to ‘calm the eye’ amongst the flowers. Not only does it add interest, but it can also provide evergreen colour throughout the colder winter months, when not much is really very colourful. You can choose plants with a blue-green cast, or lime green. Both will look great if you consider the shape of leaves, their needs re: light and moisture, and the texture they might provide.

P.S. If you would like to be notified when I post a new article, just  sign up here.

Cheers! and Happy Gardening,

Susan Wheeler
Green Design Gardens
South Surrey, B.C.
tel: 604-542-1960

”Close your eyes and see the beauty” – Author Unknown