Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Garden Show Plant Combos February 19, 2009

(I’m feeling a little guilty that my previous post was so grumpy. I’m going to focus on positives from the NW Flower & Garden show from henceforth!)

One of the most exciting things to see at any garden show is the designers’ use of unique plant combinations. At the NWFGS this week, the display gardens are full of glorious, strange, and inspiring ways to pair and group plants for maximum impact.

(Wow, that almost sounded like a real garden writer’s lead, didn’t it? Weird. I think guest blogging did something bad to my brain…)

One of the most talked-about gardens at the show is “Sky’s the Limit,” which features walkways, tables, walls and a roof carpeted in living plants. Alas, the brochure I picked up did not include a plant list, but many of the mixed groundcovers in the photo below are probably common nursery plants. The brochure listed Seattle’s T & L Nursery as the source, a wholesale-only outfit. Their site provides this plant list for green roofs, which seems to be mostly sedums.

Living sidewalk

Another garden (sorry, I forget which one) featured several “Mrs. Roosevelt” rhodies, which could look a little dowdy on their own but really popped with a background of red twig dogwood. Might be a little loud for some gardens, but right about now, with too much brown and dull green out in my garden, I could use a little noise.

Mrs. Roosevelt rhodie and red twig dogwood

A highly stylized, Asian-influenced garden called “Click” (did anyone get the title? I didn’t – camera shutter? parts fitting together? the brochure copy did not reveal anything) contained this nifty pairing, Agave geminifolia (which has curly filament/tendrils spiraling between the pointed silvery green leaves – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this growing in a parking strip here in Seattle so it’s going on my wish list) and Helichrysum ‘Silver Spike’ (a silvery low-growing perennial suitable for water-wise gardens).

Cool plant combo

By a long shot, though, my favorite garden of all for inspired pairings was “Entry to Cascadia,” designed by Phil Wood and Bob Lilly for the UW Arboretum Foundation. If I thought they wouldn’t mind, I’d just retype their entire plant list. Maybe I’ll see if I can ask, and post it later. I just loved how they used plants specific to our climate and conditions, steered clear of anything too show-offy, and kept the colors muted and natural so the plants could really be the stars. If I could directly import any one garden into my own yard in its entirety, this would be it. Alas, it was very dark and hard to photograph, just like most of the other gardens, so my pics don’t do it justice. Here is just one planting combination that I found really enticing:

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord' and friends

Don’t quote me on this, but I think from left these are Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’ (spike rush – evergreen and best in full sun), Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ (hilarious cedar relative that looks like Mr. It from the Addams Family), Gaultheria shallon (good old salal), and I dunno on the far-right one, maybe kinnickinnick ‘Vancouver Jade’? Also notable in this display were a number of flowering native currant bushes (Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’) whose flowers have a rather odd, intense smell remniscent of, well, cat pee. It’s not noticeable unless you really give it a good whiff, though.

I am really bad at figuring out which plants to put together, favoring the time-honored “plunk it down wherever it’s easiest to dig the hole” method of garden design. It really helps me to see what the pros come up with, and I think I might have to try some of the pairings I saw at the show.

Do you come up with your own plant combinations, or do you admit to having cribbed a few?


12 Responses to “Garden Show Plant Combos”

  1. shibaguyz Says:

    We were recently asked this question and our answer is usually that we stick our plants wherever we have room! LOL All kidding aside, we stick very closely to the mantra “Right plant, Right place.” This ensures the least chance for disease and other complications.

    As scattered and random as our Jungle may seem, it really is thought out in advance and companion planted as specifically as possible to ensure the most success in the least amount of space.

    Dang it… can’t wait to get to the show on Saturday!! LOL You are torturing us with these pictures!!

  2. VP Says:

    Hi – I’ve bookmarked you for further reference as public planting is becoming a blogging passion of mine and it’s good to see someone’s point of view on the subject from across the pond!

    Enjoy your weekend ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. GardenJunkie Says:

    I usually meticulously plan out plant combinations, or sometimes get inspired by catalogs or garden magazines, but then when I head out into the garden to plant them…. well, things don’t often turn out as planned! What looked wonderful on paper suddenly turns out to be impossible to plant because in order to do it I’d have to move a well-established peony, and the only place to put that is currently occupied by a fabulous David Austin rose so that would have to move to the spot where there’s the perfect combination of a Matrona sedum, Hameln grass, Petite Delight monarda, and unknown daylily so those would all have to move and the only place I can put those is where I was planning on planting the new combination!

  4. Racquel Says:

    Beautiful combinations of texture & color! I love the loudness of the Red Twig Dogwood with the Rhodies. The glimpse of color from the buds looks like a good color match too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Megan Says:

    I usually just plan combinations on the fly as I’m planting. When I’m working in a wide open space, I don’t get too into the combinations that all run together on the ground like this, but once things are more mature and filled in, I find it easier to see inspiration.
    Also, on the subject of the forgotten garden name, maybe this helps, maybe everyone already does this. When I take pictures of a plant or garden or something, if there is a tag or a sign, I take a picture of it, too. Then when I go back through my pictures, I have references to what I was looking at. After I import into flickr, I name the photos with the relevant info from the sign photo, then dump it.

  6. Jen Says:

    A few of the garden centers around here put combos together and sell them as sets. I love them but always feel a little bit like I’m cheating when I buy them. Like I really should be coming up with this stuff on my own.

  7. Catherine Says:

    I do a little of both. I love garden magazines and garden books. I do sometimes take an idea I see, but other times the combinations just sort of come together, and I really like how it turns out. I do a lot of plant moving when my combinations don’t turn out quite how I imagined.

  8. Sue Says:

    Over the years, I haven’t really thought much about plant combinations, as far as the plants that were next to each other, but have had some color schemes. Within those schemes, I’ll put the taller plants closer to the house, or the back of the bed, and I try to mix up the colors so that there aren’t a bunch of one color next to each other. I am a collector, like some, though, and if I see a plant I want, I find a spot for it.

    Just last year, I finally had a larger free standing area to plant, and I’m not sure if I paid attention to combinations or not. I think what I did, was decide which plants I wanted to plant would look the best with others already put in, or something like that. I’ll have to pay more attention this year. I have one bed that I planted with plants either given to me, or bought at yard sales, and they don’t look good with the varying heights, and so I need to move them around. That’s what I do when I don’t like something. So, maybe I’m like Megan, and do it on the fly.

    I love GardenJunkie’s comment!

  9. Andrea Says:

    I wing it, then move plants around when something doesn’t work.

    I loved the plant combos in Click. Dunno about that name – perhaps it refers to how when everything comes together it just clicks??!

  10. Aerie-el Says:

    Oh, do I ever want a Thuja plicata โ€˜Whipcordโ€™! Oh, yes. Yes, I do.
    You are on a roll with the NWF&GS posts! Way to go! I love seeing what I missed ๐Ÿ™‚

    • greenwalks Says:

      Aerie-el – It has been great to read everyone’s posts, as it’s impossible to see everything and even the things we did see, it’s fun to hear others’ takes. I loved your wrap-up! Yeah, we might have to see about a source for that thuja. It’s so nutty!

  11. Tiffany Says:

    I just posted my photo of the agave. I googled the plant and found your blog! I love it! My favorite all time rhodie is the President Roosevelt. I got one once, but it was small and I think my doggy damaged it by running past it so much and possibly doing his business on it. I’m going to try again and this time it’s going in the front garden. Thanks for sharing your photos! It’s nice to see what others took from the NWF & GS.

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