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Hydrangea Companion Planting

Clockwise from top right; Light o' Day, Pistachio, Bloomstruck, Limelight

Clockwise from top right; Light o’ Day, Pistachio, Bloomstruck, Limelight

On a recent trip to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens I was blinded by a dazzling display of a golden barberry paired with a kaleidoscopic Pistachio hydrangea – which got me thinking. What other plants make good companions for hydrangeas?

So in the interest of helping your create artistic plant combinations and have another excuse to go plant shopping here are a few ideas from my photo library that you may like to try.

Using Foliage

Consider repeating the color of the hydrangea flower with a foliage plant to add emphasis.

In the image below the marbled pink leaves of Rose Glow barberry set the scene for this vibrant pink hydrangea

Rose Glow barberry is a perfect foil to this mophead hydrangea

Rose Glow barberry is a perfect foil to this mophead hydrangea

For a softer look, blades of a white variegated grass such as Miscanthus are perfect behind white panicle flowers such as the peegee hydrangea.

 

Design by Birgit Piskor, Victoria, BC

Or use a softer toned grass as a carpet to skirt a large hydrangea, hiding the bare shrub ankles without distracting the eye from the seasonal beauty of the blooms

Design by Mary Palmer, Snohomish, WA

Design by Mary Palmer, Snohomish, WA; grasses hide the bare ankles of a Hydrangea aspera

For grab-your-sunglasses drama what about this combo seen at the Bellevue Botanical Garden that proved to be my inspiration for this post? Rather than repeat the raspberry pink bloom color, or even the secondary blue-lavender eye within these Pistachio hydrangea blooms, these designers opted to  highlight the yellow-green notes of emerging blooms for a high intensity color punch.

 Pistachio hydrangea meets Sunjoy Gold Pillar barberry

Pistachio hydrangea meets Sunjoy Gold Pillar barberry – WOW!

Now see the same concept played out in a much gentler way with All Gold Japanese forest grass tucked under this soft blue lace cap hydrangea.

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Design by Mitch Evans, Redmond, WA

Using flowers

Timing is everything when you want to combine flowers with flowers.

Below is the same hydrangea that you saw with the Rose Glow barberry, viewed from a different angle. Here you can see how the crisp white blooms of an adjacent hydrangea soften the scene. Since this is a pond-side planting the white adds to the visual cooling – rather like adding ice cubes to your cocktail!

Use white to temper intense colors

Use white to temper intense colors – design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Want something more subtle? Loved this hebe whose flowers perfectly matched the lilac hydrangea bloom behind. Delightful.

Try to imagine this without harsh shadows....

Hebe and hydrangea. Design by Helena Wagner, Portland, OR

Or here’s an easy one from my own garden. Rozanne geranium blooms for so long you can’t help but get this right! This hardy geranium is also a real mingler so its tendrils will weave their way along hydrangea branches with little assistance from you.

Design by Le jardinet; Rozanne geranium and Firelight hydrangea

Design by Le jardinet; Rozanne geranium and Firelight hydrangea

Looking ahead

Many hydrangea blooms change color as seasons progress. Consider planning a companion planting to highlight those dusky fall shades. Angel’s Blush peegee hydrangea turns from white to a delightful rose shade which echoes the color of Gateway Joe Pye weed looming overhead, the scene brightened with the yellow ox eye sunflower (Heliopsis) daisies planted to one side. A scene to look forward to.

Late summer glory; Design by Le jardinet

Late summer glory; Design by Le jardinet

Watch out for my new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, January 2017), coauthored with Christina Salwitz, where we have several amazing combinations using hydrangeas including some winter ideas!

Final thoughts

What about pairing the hydrangea blooms with the colors of berries, stems or even bark?

The warm cinnamon colored bark of a paperbark maple is a clever component of this design

The warm cinnamon colored bark of a paperbark maple is a clever component of this design by Helena Wagner, Portland, OR

Wondering which hydrangea to choose? I can’t even begin to help you there as there seem to be a gazillion to select from! I recommend deciding what size and color you want first, then the flower shape. From there ask a nursery professional to help you select the best varieties for your area and to give you tips on successful cultivation.

I also like to know who has grown my plants. There are several excellent  hydrangea growers that sell to the nurseries and stores including Proven Winners and Baileys Nurseries that sells the Endless Summer collection of luscious hydrangeas so look for their branded pots.

Who can resist the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas?

Who can resist the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas?

What are YOU pairing your hydrangeas with? Leave a comment below or post a photo to me Facebook page for us all to enjoy!

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A Unique Rose Garden

 

Moondance rose

Moondance rose

How do you use roses in your garden? Do you have a traditional, formal rose garden bordered with low boxwood hedges? Or are they part of a mixed border where they jostle with perennials such as delphiniums and phlox? Perhaps you prefer climbing roses and allow them to scramble up pergolas or use them as a support through which to encourage clematis?

There seems to be a rose for every situation from petite miniatures to house-swallowing monsters with fragrance and colors to suit all tastes but it can still be challenging to find just the right plants to combine with them so that the rose itself is enhanced while also enhancing its neighbors.

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I had the opportunity recently to visit the delightful courtyard garden of Mary Jo Stansbury (Whidbey Island, WA)  and was entranced by the delightful naturalized vignette she had created around the white Moondance rose in one of the borders. Billowing fountains of shimmering Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima syn. Stipa tenuissima) were swaying gently in the early morning breeze and a haze of blue Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) were in full bloom along the pathway. Nestled within this soft cradle were several pure white Moondance roses.

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I had never seen roses planted in this way and I loved the juxtaposition of whisper-soft grasses with the thorny stems as much as I loved the simple blue and white color scheme. Rather than dominating the scene these roses were mingling easily and this casual elegance was enhanced by the color echo between the grass and roses.

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Grasses have been used throughout this small garden, most of which was designed by the Berger Partnership. Mary Jo has fond memories of working with both Tom Berger and Jason Henry and commented that Jason’s love of grasses is evident. (You will be able to see one of the combinations he designed in this garden for our new book Foliage First; Timber Press 2016)

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When I asked her about this particular section of the garden Mary Jo laughingly admitted  this was her haphazard design and explained that she tested Rosa ‘Iceberg’ first but found them too troublesome. Then she found the hybrid called Moondance that is disease resistant, fragrant and blooms all summer.  “It actually does shine and dance like the moon on a windy night!”, she said.

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Mary Jo then added the Russian Sage to that section of the garden and now the combination is always a wonderful show at this time of year. Even before the Russian sage would be in bloom the felted white stems and silvery-green leaves would play into this meadow-inspired design perfectly.

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This is one of those hauntingly simple designs that stirs the soul. Fragrance, movement, tactile – it’s all here. It will shine in the evening and glow in the day.

Inspired?

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Garden Emergencies

I used fast growing white alyssum as a groundcover last year when most of the creeping  thyme died over the winter

I used fast growing white alyssum as a groundcover last year when most of the creeping thyme died over the winter. I liked it so much I planted it again this year!

Help!

As a designer there is one fundamental expectation when friends and clients visit; that my garden will be alive. This year that has been questionable as we’ve battled a plague of voles, unrelenting high temperatures, unprecedented drought and recovery from last winter which although mild arrived with a drop in temperature of twenty degrees or so overnight and threw several of my large, established evergreen trees into major stress and eventual death.

The result is that there are holes – sometimes BIG holes in the garden. Sound familiar? Do you have a garden tour scheduled to visit? Family and friends due? A summer party planned? If so you need a disguise and FAST. What can you use?

Both foliage and flowers can come to the rescue and the best nurseries and garden centers will have large, well established plants for you to drop quickly into place. Here are my favorites for sun and shade. In fact some of these work so well you may find yourself leaving room for these next year even without a plant emergency!

Sensational Salvias

Love and Wishes salvia holds the fort between barberry, Skylands spruce and peonies

Love and Wishes salvia holds the fort between barberry, Skylands spruce and peonies

Major flower power, big time hummingbird attractant and easily fills a space 3′ x 3′; sound good? Then look for these amazing salvias that are part of the Sunset Western Garden Collection.

I’ve been growing three this year and my favorite is probably Love and Wishes with its rich magenta color. This has helped fill a gap left by a dwarf butterfly bush that didn’t make it through winter. Looks stunning near a golden spruce but I can see using this in several pots next year

Amistad salvia. Photo courtesy Sunset Western Plant Collection. Photo credit; Saxon Holt

Amistad salvia. Photo courtesy Sunset Western Plant Collection. Photo credit; Saxon Holt

Amistad is a remarkable shade of electric blue-purple. I’d love a dress in this color! In my garden this is filling a short term gap while I decide what I want to plant in fall to work with an existing Rose Glow barberry and golden Forever Goldie arborvitae.

I wasn’t sure what to do with Ember’s Wish when I received it as a trial plant. The color is rather unusual for me; a neon-coral. I added it to a pot of odds and ends in shades of orange, purple and yellow and it brings hummingbirds by the droves. They positively fight over it which provides endless entertainment!

Ember Wishes is planted at the back left of this pot; I'm planning on using it in the garden next summer

Ember’s Wish is planted at the back left of this pot; I’m planning on using it in the garden next summer near a purple smoke bush

What they all have in common;

  • Grow to 3′ x 3′
  • Drought tolerant (yes really)
  • Deer resistant (Hallelujah!)
  • Constantly flowering
  • A bit messy when they drop old flowers
  • An annual for me but hardy in zones 9-11
  • Loved by hummingbirds

Clever Cleome

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

I drew your attention to Senorita Blanca Cleome (spider flower) a few years ago and have since also grown Senorita Rosalita in my garden, both available through Proven Winners. Like the Salvias mentioned above, each plant will quickly bush out to fill a gap, and will undoubtedly win your endorsement for future years. These dwarf varieties are sterile so no worries about unwanted offspring, which if you’ve ever grown their cousins you’ll understand is a GOOD thing!

Senorita Rosalita looks incredible next to Love and Wishes Salvia – a perfect color echo and both look at home in everything from formal flower gardens to naturalistic planting schemes.

What they have in common;

  • Grow to 3′ tall and 2′ wide
  • Drought tolerant
  • Deer resistant
  • Do not self seed
  • Don’t have a funky smell!
  • Aren’t sticky like the species
  • Make great cut flowers

Grasses

Mexican feather grass lines one side of a narrow path. Design by Joanne and Lucien Guthrie

Mexican feather grass lines one side of a narrow path. Design by Joanne and Lucien Guthrie

When you don’t need flowers but you do need ‘oomph’, grasses might be the answer. Even a 4″ pot of Mexican feather grass can fill a decent sized spot and its easy movement in the slightest breeze makes it live large.

Do you need height, width or color? Choose your grass accordingly. They get bonus marks for flowering stalks which can triple their height.

For fuzz-factor  you can't beat fountain grasses (Pennisetum)

For fuzz-factor you can’t beat fountain grasses (Pennisetum)

My favorites include blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) for width, any of the fountain grasses (Pennisetum species) for fuzziness, and Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) as general quick, inexpensive filler.

What they have in common;

  • Drought tolerance
  • Deer resistance

Ferns

Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

A lifesaver for the shade garden, there are many big fluffy ferns that will quickly disguise the most embarrassing gaps. Forget the little deer ferns; think more of the robust autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) and Alaskan ferns (Polystichum setiferum)  than can be purchased in 2g pots and larger. Let’s face it you don’t need three fronds, you need three FEET! Drop them where they need to go this year and transplant them to a permanent spot in fall if you have to. Right now consider them a band aid for the shade. Even the Boston fern – an indoor beauty for many of us, can be pressed into temporary summer service in this way.

Generally speaking

 

A group of coleus can quickly disguise gaps in the shade border

A group of coleus can quickly disguise gaps in the shade border

  • Think short term. If it doesn’t look big enough NOW it won’t be much better for next weeks party.
  • Think bushy. Small bottoms but big tops = lusciousness!
  • Unless you’re sure those flowers will keep on coming, foliage may be a better choice.
  • Annuals will grow faster than perennials or shrubs; that’s what they are bred for
  • Water new plants WELL – even drought tolerant ones, as they will have a degree of shock when being transplanted mid-summer
  • A boost of fertilizer or Moo-Poo tea is a good idea when you are expecting high performance on short notice.

If all else fails

Give your guests a glass of wine as they arrive. By the third glass they won’t see any ‘problems’ anyway. Works like a charm…..

And remember that designers have “terrible” gardens from time to time too. Relax. they’re only plants.

 

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Punch Up the Color!

Looking for a new color twist this year? Try magenta on for size. Neither pink nor purple, magenta  leans towards fuchsia but is deeper.

Designer Daniel Mount is one of the best colorists I know. Where I would settle for a pleasing color echo he achieves that but  then kicks it up a notch to become exceptional. In the design above I love the way he has blended the burgundy tones of velvety Big Red Judy coleus with  duskier bronze foliage of Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus) before throwing in the wildly vibrant Red Riding Hood phlox. A froth of pale yellow Japanese forest grass edges the border while the rich golden Sun King aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ ) becomes the backdrop.

Red Riding Hood phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Red Riding Hood’)

Red Riding Hood phlox

Red Riding Hood phlox

This perennial grows to 2′ tall and wide in sun or part shade. The fragrant flowers attract bees and butterflies. Divide every 3-4 years. Hardy in zones 4-8

Sun King aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ )

Sun King aralia

Sun King aralia

A standout in the shade garden, this golden leaved perennial grows to 6′ tall and 4′ wide. White summer flowers are followed by black fruit. Hardy in zones 4-8

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus)

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding – bronze foliage and magenta flowers

An annual worth growing or hunting for. In late summer long tassels of magenta will explode from the central bud. To 5′ tall. Birds will love the seed heads!

Other ideas?

Enjoy these other combinations by the same designer.

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Annual cleome and perennial lilies takes over from phlox for floral color while gold perennials are replaced by creamy white grasses.

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Distant tulips echo the rich color of the Ravenswing cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’) stem as it pierces the golden Japanese forest grass in this early season scene. (Be warned; this perennial can become invasive).

Or try these color combos;

Magenta + Black;  chic and sophisticated

Magenta + Orange; wild child!

 

Thunder and Lightening field scabious (Knautia) with hyssop (Agastache)

Thunder and Lightening field scabious (Knautia) with hyssop (Agastache) – discovered in a Seattle garden. Designer unknown

What will you pair it with?

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Fit for a Princess

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As Ruby Glow spurge blooms with acid-yellow flowers the smoky purple stems and leaves highlight the striking purple flare at the base of each tulip petal.

It’s raining – again. Trying to work in the garden at this time of year means donning full waterproofs and accepting I’m going to be as muddy as the dogs by the time I come back indoors. Those on the east coast are probably jealous of my mud, however,  since they haven’t seen the ground for snow in months!

With the log fire burning, a mug of steaming tea by my side and the steady flow of raindrops visible through the window it’s hard to believe that most of these photos were taken almost a year ago. Yet somehow seeing these glorious tulips – a promise of spring – makes me smile.

So to cheer us all up let me introduce you to one of my favorite springtime tulips – Princess Irene, named after a Dutch Princess. This debutante entered the gardening world in 1949 when she received an award for merit by the Royal Horticulture Society.

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The classic shaped flowers are a rich burnt orange with a purple flame flaring upwards from the base, and whereas many tulips have rather nondescript leaves the foliage on this variety is a rich blue-green.

Variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge, spiky Angelina sedum and coral flowers of Flamingo heather - great options to consider

Variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge, spiky Angelina sedum and coral flowers of Flamingo heather – great options to consider

Ideas for plant partners

Highlight those remarkable purple markings by combining the tulips with a dark leaved spurge (Euphorbia sp,) or purple coral bells (Heuchera sp.). Add a golden conifer for sparkle and perhaps one of the spring blooming heather with light orange flowers for a color echo with a unique texture e.g. Calluna ‘Flamingo’. Plant the whole caboodle in a bold orange pot and you have a sassy spring combo that will chase the rain away.

Planted the previous fall this container now bursts into life with 'Princess Irene' tulips bringing great color and vertical interest.

Planted the previous fall this container now bursts into life with ‘Princess Irene’ tulips bringing great color and vertical interest.

Vital statistics

Height; 18″

Bloom time; early-mid spring

Best in full sun

Fragrant

Plan now for fall

Tulips are planted in fall but you may be able to find these for sale as potted bulbs ready to bloom in your favorite nursery. If not, don’t despair. Order now for delivery in time to plant for this fall. I highly recommend Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Fabulous service, great products and frankly they are just two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Tell them I sent you.

PS

If you love tulips, you’ll enjoy reading about my amazing tulip-filled trip to Filoli Gardens in sunny California this time last year.

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