Companion Plants

When I sit at someone’s kitchen table during an initial consultation the possibility exists that they will give me a list of their favorite plants for their landscape design.   Whenever I hear Spriaea or roses mentioned I mentally cringe just a bit because they are overused and deep down I think they fundamentally not good components.

But for the most part I just write down what the potential client tells me.  It’s my job to figure out what will look right.   

If the process continues into a design concept and ultimately a final design I will at some point start doing “plant call-outs” or naming the plants to be used in the landscape.   What’s important to understand in the grand scheme of landscape design is that not all plants look good together. 

We don’t usually mix checks and plaids or stripes and polka dots in our wardrobes.  Plant combinations are exactly like clothing combinations.   Understanding color, texture, size and habit takes years of experience working with plants.  It’s actually a lot more difficult understanding the subtleties of plants than it is picking out a shirt and tie to work with a suit or sport coat. 

While grasses and perennials are almost always a safe combination, the texture and habit of a spreading juniper is difficult to match with other plants.   Most viburnum look good with other viburnum and are equally well-suited to blend with a fairly wide assortment of woody plants and perennials.   

And so it goes.  One combination works while another does not.   Below is a photo of Blue Oat Grass (Helichtotrichon sempervirens) with May Night Salvia (Salvia ‘May Night’) that I took at Cantigny Gardens in Wheaton, IL.   The designer clearly understood the crisp blue foliage of the grass would work with the purple flowers of the perennial Salvia while it was in bloom.

Remembering that all plants are not companion plants is a crucial, but overlooked component of landscape and garden design.