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Bold Plant Combinations

I have been blessed to have wonderful friends in my life. Some are gardeners,
some are not. Still, I’ve noticed how our passions and skills are similar, even
if we are passionate about very different hobbies.

  A close friend and neighbor who I have known for over 11 years, Mary,
a non-gardener, is a wonderful cook and can put together a party menu that goes
beyond perfect. She plans the most beautiful and satisfying food combinations.
Five years ago I copied one of her party menus and served it over and over again
at my own parties with a lot of success.

Time to diversify

  As a gardener I try to plant the most beautiful and satisfying color
combinations in each and every garden area, and I take great pride when someone
chooses to duplicate my designs or combinations for themselves.

  There comes a time, however, when you realize even the best plants and
the most popular combinations can become over-used, monotonous, and boring.
This summer Mary helped me put together a new satisfying party menu, and I decided
to redesign my annual flowerbeds and container plantings. 

  My first reaction was to use the same plants as last year. Stop! This
year was going to be different. So I started with the most visual areas first
and continued, one at a time, redesigning each container garden and annual bed.
I thought about what I used last year, trying to decide why I wasn’t fully satisfied
with it. Was it the color combinations or plant selections? I then made my new
selections, consciously being bolder with my choices of color and texture.

  Our house is all white with a slate-green front and back door. In the
front I have inherited two round concrete containers at the top of the steps.
Two concrete trough containers are located on the porch near the sides, a semi-shady
spot that is covered so they don’t receive any natural rainfall.

Shady but lush

  In the round containers I chose a large tropical philodendron called
Xanadu. Its lush green leaves look great as you approach my front door. They
don’t require much maintenance, just regular watering and monthly fertilization.
In the troughs I planted a combination of Angel Wing begonias with red flowers
and variegated tropical vinca vine, to cascade down the sides of the trough
and porch edges. These are very lush for a shaded spot, but are still very low
maintenance.

  I have added two annual beds in the front also. Here it is semi-shady
and somewhat dry because of a large red maple. In one bed I chose Salvia farinacea,
blue salvia, or Mealy Cup sage in combination with Nicotiana sp. flowering tobacco
‘Lemon Lime.’ In the second bed, which is shadier, I chose a fancy-leafed Caladium
sp. ‘John Peed,’ grown simply for the effect of the foliage.

Backyard sun and dogs

  The back yard is a whole different story-full sun and fair game for my
dogs. Other than the area along the fence where I plant all kinds of flowers
for cutting, I have one small annual bed right under my favorite Katsura tree.
I chose a salmon-colored double impatiens and said a few prayers that my dogs
wouldn’t make this their favorite cool spot. Impatiens are perfect for shade
but easily demolished by a rambunctious 80-pound puppy.

  Next are my five container gardens: four of them are plain terracotta
and one is a cobalt-blue Malaysian pot. I designed all five differently. Two
of the containers are on the deck and landing as you enter and exit the house,
and one is located just at the bottom of the steps as you descend to the patio.

  The first container garden has: a cherry tomato plant (just for fun);
a pink diplodenia (a shrubby form of mandevilla), Salvia officinallis ‘Tricolor’
sage; and Bidens Golden, a new plant I am testing to see how it drapes over
the container. In the next one, I planted a tropical white mandevilla to climb
along the deck railing paired with Scaevola and Lilac Wave petunia. As you step
down onto the patio, the container that has received the most attention, the
one that several of my friends have threatened to pick up and take home, is
a simple but elegant one that contains Strobilanthes dyeranus, or Persian shield,
and Lilac Wave petunias.

Dare to be bold

  The other two containers sit in the main garden area, one right off my
patio and one at the end of the sidewalk next to my Russian sage. In one is
a standard tree-form, yellow Lantana camara planted with Evovulus, ‘Blue Daze,’
underneath to cascade over. The last one is the cobalt-blue container planted
with a combination of Penta, ‘Butterfly Red’; Zinnia angustifolia, ‘Orange Creeping’
zinnia; and yellow Lantana camara, ‘New Gold.’ This makes a strong statement
for the showy part of my garden.

  This year I dared myself to be bold and adventurous. Choosing bold color
combinations and using a few strong-textured tropical plants helped me to get
out of my annual-flower rut. In the process it also helped me lower my overall
maintenance. It won’t be long, however, before I feel the nudge to dream up
new color combinations.

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