Monday, May 7, 2012

My Top Ten List... Book 6

I’m crazy for color and organization, so the gorgeous book Classic Plant Combinations by David Stuart definitely makes my top ten list.
Each chapter groups plants by certain characteristics; features garden designers who excel at these specific types of gardens; and describes plant combinations with both practical information and beautiful photographs.

David identifies plant combinations as ancient, traditional and, what he calls, designer (or what you and I might consider innovative).  For example, the interplanting of Rose and Clematis has been in practice for about two centuries and is accepted, almost worldwide, as a traditional plant combination.  But the newer combinations of Blackberry and Parthenocissus (Virginia Creeper or Grape Woodbine) or Cotinus and Clematis are, well, just that… more modern.  They offer a rather thoughtful, stronger, slightly more architectural contrast that is very different from the lush pinks and purples of most Roses and Clematis.
My combination of Echinacea and Milkweed is charming but rather tame compared to the abundant mixtures developed by contemporary Dutch landscape designers Piet Oudolf and Ton van der Linden.  They often improve upon North American native perennials to create these incredibly visceral gardens that showcase plants in all stages of growth and fading.

Who knew plant combinations could be so powerful, right?  David actually begins his book with this simple explanation: “A classic plant combination is created when the flowers or foliage, or both, of each species involved make an impact that is greater than the sum of its parts, and which has a beauty that withstands changes in fashion”.

Think about it.  Water Lilies and Weeping Willow or Holly and Ivy carried symbolic meanings for ancient cultures, meanings that still resonate today.  We continue to value traditional plant combinations like Wallflowers and Tulips or Bronze Fennel and Daylilies even after centuries of use.  Classic Plant Combinations encourages me to reconsider these old stand-bys and experiment with new combinations in my own garden.  Here are some of my latest favorites:
Acer and Cornus

Heucherella and Aquilegia
I love the blue foliage next to the bright green.
And the dark red splotches on the Heucherella leaves mirror the color of the Columbine flowers. 
I'm very happy with this variegated Willow and 'Festiva Maxima' Peony.
The new growth of the Willow is salmony pink, just a little more yellow than the "eyes" of the Peony.

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