Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Marriages in the Garden, Achieving Plant Partnerships by Jerry Peterson

All you gardeners out there are invited to a wedding! Actually, every time you plan, arrange, or plant your gardens, you’re participating in a wedding. Just as human marriages succeed when the people involved complement each other and build on differences and similarities, so we as gardeners have opportunities to create successful “plant marriages” when we plant our gardens.

We could call it “Horticultural Harmonies” or “Plant Partnerships” or perhaps some other cute alliterative name, but what we’re really talking about is using landscape plants in a way that creates a harmonious and attractive picture. We can take advantage of the plants’ differences and similarities to accomplish this.

The general idea is to use the color, size and texture of the plants to generate a pleasing combination of plant materials. Many articles have been written about the use of the color wheel with its primary colors, secondary colors, and complementary colors. For all I know, maybe someone could get a PhD in colors! The color wheel indeed is a handy tool that can be useful in designing a garden. However, there are other sources of ideas for putting plants together in pleasing combinations. Some of the best resources are just looking at what others have done, visiting gardens in the area, seeing pictures in books and magazines, and even using those occasions when serendipity allows us to discover a delightful plant combination by accident.

Would you not agree that, if you plant a garden that pleases you and accomplishes your goal for that garden, then the garden is a success. You don’t have to please the experts or your neighbors. You are not accountable to anyone else (well, maybe your spouse). No one else has to like what you like.

Having said that, perhaps from time to time this blog can pass on some tips and ideas about possible plant combinations or other garden design topics. Let me tell you about a “plant marriage” that came about quite accidentally for me, but I’ve grown to like the effect. I’m not a big fan of most junipers. However I do like the low growing mat juniper used as a ground cover.

I once had an area in which I had planted one of these mats. I also acquired a Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides or Waldsteinia ternata) and planted this low growing groundcover next to the juniper. The barren strawberry soon wound its way into and among the juniper and created a very nice display of color and texture. The two plants are different shades of green, the strawberry has small yellow flowers, and the textures meld into what, in my opinion, is a very nice display.

Since then, I’ve used the Barren Strawberry with other plants, allowing it to weave its way between, among, under, and through. It looks very nice with Partridge Feather (Tanacetum densum) and Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum). The Barren Strawberry spreads via runners like our normal garden strawberry, but it’s very easy to just pull out what isn’t wanted, and start it somewhere else in your garden or give it to a friend.

Let’s drink a toast to our marriages!