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Garden Design

Stunning perennial and shrub combinations

Maria von Brincken

Maria von Brincken

June 8, 2015

Often gardeners grow really beautiful plants well, but they don’t look like much. That’s because they’re just randomly plunked in the garden or at look that way. Gardeners don’t think about creating stunning perennial and shrub combinations. Usually it’s because the flowering perennial or shrub lacks a contrasting background that also may enhance the color. I’ve snapped a few photos within the last week from landscapes I’ve designed that illustrate my point.

Iris germanica, hamamelis, pieris, and alchemilla

Iris germanica, hamamelis, pieris, and alchemilla

The first is the extraordinary purple tall bearded iris (Iris germanica) we in the Northeast see in bloom all over now. Often a friend gives us a couple bare-root rhizomes when divided in the July. Or we couldn’t resist the photos in the catalog or the plants in bloom in the garden center. (Note: plant them so the “feet” all go in the same direction–that prevents them from growing into each other! They really like being planted so the rhizomes are at the surface in well drained soil.)

Anyway, the treasured two-tone deep purple and lavender iris pictured came from a friends garden years ago and has been transplanted to my current abode. Every year when it blooms, I’m stopped in my tracks by its’ beauty. Successful pairing with the shrub Pieris ‘Little Heath’ allows the flowers and wonderful blade shaped leaves to be seen. The contrast and the texture of the pieris, and leaves of the shrub hamamelis to the left and perennial Alchemilla mollis to lower right make a stunning combination. Looks good when it’s only foliage too.

White peonies look amazing with this blue spruce

White peonies look amazing with this blue spruce

The second example are the amazingly beautiful peonies blooming in a client’s garden. The dwarf blue spruce showcases the Paeonia latiflora ‘White Wings’.

The color wheel would tell us that the orange gold of the center is the complimentary color to blue. Paired together, they intensify each other.

So we have contrast and color creating this show stopping combination. And in the winter, the spruce plays a leading role in the winter landscape.

Massed white Rhododendron yakushimanum

Massed white Rhododendron yakushimanum with daylilies and Alchemilla

The third example is the massing of these dwarf ‘yak’ rhododendrons. In this large garden border, if there was only one Rhododendron yakushimanum ‘Princess’, it would be lost. The early pink buds would be could not be enjoyed. Massed plants help us “read” what’s there.
Note the masses foliage of the daylilies and alchemilla in the foreground that make up the composition. Later the green leaves of the yak will support the bright daylily flowers by creating contrast and texture. By the way, in this garden the grouping of three yaks appear three times. From the terrace, you can see them uniting the landscape and creating a feeling of abundance and joy.

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