Creating a Strong Plant Combination

For the past few years I’ve taught a class at Duke Gardens that focuses on Creating a Colorful Mixed Border. I really enjoy the chance to work with other gardeners and share my experiences on designing a strong plant combination. And, preparing the presentation each year makes me think about my own design process and what I feel is the most effective way to design. Read on to learn more about my process.

Step 1- Focus on Leaf Color

My first step is to select a few plants that work in the site conditions and have really strong foliar interest, such as those shown in the photos above. I start with interesting foliage because it is impactful for a much longer period of time than a combination based on flowers. The above example uses a highly contrasting color palette of silver and burgundy.

Step 2 – Repeat Leaf Colors in Different Forms

Loropetalum 'Ruby' and Iris insata 'Variegata'

Now that I’ve created a dramatic foliage combination I’m going to build off it by echoing the colors with different plant forms. The photos above show two plants from the same color palette, but with forms different from their similarly hued counterpart. Though both also flower, I’m still basing my design primarily on their foliar interest.

Step 3 – Add in the Flowers!

Hygrangea paniculata and Rosa 'Double Pink Knock Out'

Now I add in plants that are highly seasonal – meaning that they look their best in bloom for a limited period of time and then fade into the background of the design. The plants shown above will enhance the design with their dramatic blooms in summer. And, they also expand the color palette used – moving from silver to white and burgundy to pink.

Most of my clients want their garden to look beautiful year round, but they also want lots of seasonal interest. By following the steps above I’m able to accommodate both of these requests. Need help planning your garden? Contact Bright Leaf Landscaping at 919-475-1015 or fill out our online contact form. Design and installation are our expertise, and we are always happy to meet with new clients to discuss potential projects!