Perfect Perennial Pairings

It was Vincent van Gogh who said there is no blue without yellow and what brings life to a world-class impressionist painting can also enliven your home garden but instead of using oils or gouache, it is perennials on our palette. So I thought I would inspire you with a number of plant combinations that I have enjoyed over the years, along with a little advice in regards to their placement in the landscape.

Universal Yellow – This pairing of the BC native Eriophyllum lanatum or Woolly Sunflower and Phygelius ‘Pink Elf’ (also known as Cape Fuchsia) proves that one can have both drought resistance and beauty when combining perennials. The Wooly Sunflower is a virtual pollinator magnet, while the Cape Fuchsia will bear salmon-pink blooms from June to October which will draw in the hummingbirds. As I alluded to in the caption, yellow perennials are rather universal blending plants, with Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ and Helenium ‘Double Trouble’ also standing in well.

Woolly Sunflower / Phygelius 'Pink Elf'

Pretty in Pink – An unlikely combination due to their contrasting forms and unique flower colours, but the tentacled pale pink blooms of Campanula ‘Pink Octopus’ and the coral-kissed blossoms of Salvia greggii ‘Lipstick’ seem made for each other. The latter is a little tender at USDA zone 7 but more than makes up for it with a flower display that lasts into early November. ‘Pink Octopus’ is a bit of a spreader but quite floriferous and is easily divided (and shared) if it gets out of hand.

Campanula 'Pink Octopus' / Salvia 'Lipstick'

Vertical Alba – This display comes courtesy of my wife, who has a habit of stuffing perennials in every last patch of open soil in our townhouse backyard. That said, this fusion of White Foxglove spires (Digitalis purpurea ‘Alba’) and the bells of Peach-Leaved Campanula (C. persicifolia ‘Alba’) fills out the corner of the yard quite nicely. Some other tall white-flowered perennials to consider using include Gayfeather (Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White’), Veronica longifolia ‘Charlotte’ (variegated) and Echinacea ‘White Swan’.

Digitalis purpurea 'Alba' / Campanula persicifolia 'Alba'

High Contrast - I came across this stunning pairing almost twenty years ago in the garden of Jack and Astrid Gunther, and I have to say it stands the test of time. The hot orange and red blossoms of Lilium ‘Matrix’ backed by the gentian-blue spires of Delphinium ‘Magic Fountains’ (dark blue / dark bee) combine to be an absolute garden show-stopper. Keep in mind that all lilies are a bit ephemeral in nature, but some other dark blue perennial backstops to try are Monkshood (Aconitum), Iris sibirica ‘Ruffled Velvet’ and Salvia ‘Caradonna’.

Lilium 'Matrix' / Delphinium 'Magic Fountains Dark Blue / Dark Bee'

English Cottage – You might think this an appropriate combination for a mixed perennial border on some estate garden, but I actually found it growing in the beds around our local A & W restaurant. The contrasting flower forms of German Bearded Iris (I. germanica) and the Double Red Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) seem to work well together and I don’t even mind these colours with each other. Both of these species offer varied hues with a few of my favourites irises being ‘Mexican Holiday’ (gold & deep burgundy) or ‘Devil’s Lake’ (a pure sky blue) and for Columbines, ‘William Guinness’ (dark purple & white) or ‘Nora Barlow’ (pink & greenish-white).

Iris germanica / Double Red Columbine

The Odd Couple – This unlikely pairing of a Gold-Leaved Sea Holly (Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold’) and a tall cottage garden Bellflower (Campanula glomerata ‘Superba’) might seem a bit jarring at a casual glance, but one can’t argue with the yellow-blue rule of thumb. The trick here is to choose a site with even moisture for the Campanula but with adequate drainage for the Sea Holly, as the latter will simply rot if left in wet soils over winter.

Eryngium 'Neptune's Gold' / Campanula glomerata 'Superba'

Totally Tropical – One hardly notices the background of Gloriosa Daisies (Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’) as they merely serve to highlight the large exotic black leaves of the Taro (Colocasia ‘Black Magic’) in this showy bed. And while this is a long-lasting summer display, Rudbeckia hirta is reluctant to overwinter here on the ‘wet’ coast while the Taro is a true tropical, which can only be saved by digging up the corms in fall and storing them in a frost-free area.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Irish Eyes' / Colocasia 'Black Magic'

Sparring Partners – Both Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and Variegated Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander’) are a bit thuggish in their growth habits, making them excellent filler for the background of perennial or ornamental grass borders. They look stunning together but there is a fine line of cultivation in regards to the

even-moisture needs of the Loosestrife and the sharp drainage required to overwinter the Russian Sage, but as you can see a balance can be achieved.

Russian Sage 'Little Spire' / Lysimachia 'Alexander'

White on White – Another worthy pairing for any Alba garden, even though the Shasta Daisies (Leucanthemum ‘Broadway Lights’) do open with a hint of lemon yellow, maturing to a pure white. When combined with the compact PG hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bombshell’) it makes for a very long-lasting and low maintenance display, beyond occasionally deadheading the Shasta Daisy.

Shasta Daisy 'Broadway Lights' / Hydrangea p. 'Bombshell'

Two-Tier Groundcover – Despite being a professional gardener, I have little time to weed in my own landscape, so I have to keep things very low maintenance. This combination of Euonymus fortunei ‘Moonshadow’ and Blue Star Creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis) sits beside my driveway and looks great all summer. I do little but occasionally pinch a few upright shoots on the ‘Moonshadow’ and enjoy the Isotoma, which blooms right up to September.