Lovers in the Garden

Uh-oh.  If you found this post when you were looking for the reason all the faults of mankind are blamed on women, then try adding  “Bible” or “Eden” to your search terms.  This is not a post about Adam and Eve, but it could be a post that has a little to do with Paradise.  Your own personal paradise, of course.

The lovers I refer to are classic plant pairings, according to me.  Put these plants together in your garden to complement each other and, like proper lovers, bring out the best in each other.

Foxgloves and Roses What else says “English garden” more clearly than this favourite pairing?  If your rose is a shorter-growing variety, place the foxgloves slightly behind it; do the reverse if the rose is a tall grower or a climber.  Ideally, the two would like slightly different food (foxgloves like a bit more acidic soil than roses) but they always get along in five hours or more of sunlight.  Put these two together and they anglicize your garden.

English Garden Classics
Photo from

Daylilies and Feverfew (Tanacetum Parthenium)  Opposites attract, and to no better results than in this happy pairing.  The vigorous, straplike leaves of the daylily contrast

Photo: Charles Cresson on the American Flower Garden
Burpee Expert Gardener, 1993

with the delicate, lacy leaves of the feverfew.  The large, bold, colourful flower of the daylily loves to be beside the small, white, buttonlike flower of the Feverfew.  “Leather and Lace”, if you will.  The daylily is a little taller and the smaller Feverfew sits comfortably beside it.  I especially like a yellow daylily in this combination because it then picks up the yellow centre of its partner–lovers need to have something in common.

Magnolia and Tulips  I used to drive to work through this old subdivision in Toronto, and every spring I was enchanted by this one garden with a large, stunning saucer magnolia in front of the house and a casual, mixed garden of bulbs consisting principally of tulips, which bloomed under it at the same time.  Although the last time I made that drive was fifteen years ago, the memory of this small city garden, bursting with spring, is fresh in my mind to this day.

A grander version of the garden that inspired this favourite: Magnolia and Tulips

Forsythia and Early Bulbs This early hit of spring beauty is brightening the front views of my house as I write this.

Forsythias and early bulbs

In spite of minus 7 Celsius overnight a couple of weeks ago which singed the opening buds, the resilient Forsythia and early tulips bring colour to the awakening landscape.   Tulips are labelled “early”, “mid-season”, “late” and “very early” in terms of their bloom time, so get the “very early” and “early” bulbs if you want them to bloom with Forsythia.  They bloomed this year before most daffodils.

Sedum, “Autumn Joy” and Burning Bush  Late in summer the colours become

deeper and warmer in the garden, and the pinkish-burgundy heads of the Sedum are all frothy with colour at the same time the Burning Bushes begin to redden.  You can add all sorts of other fall interest to this basic pairing, but they will make it rich and textural like a bold damask.

Miscanthus Sinesis, Maiden Grass and Echinacea Purpurea, Purple Coneflower

This couple have a lot of friends that look good with them, but boil it all down to the basics and these are the two that will give you the sense of a late  summer meadow (am I belaboring the late summer?)  Miscanthus Purpurascens, Purple Flame Grass works equally well with the Purple Coneflower for even more punch.

Allium Giganteum, Giant Flowering Onion and Nepeta, Catmint  These sweethearts meet up just around the time when school is finishing up in early to mid-June (Zone 5).  The tall, globe-shaped Allium are dramatic in “drifts” in the garden.  The Catmint echoes their colour but in a contrasting shape, planted as an edging along the front of the garden.  Sublime.

My Catmint suffers the ravages of my three addicted cats who want it legalized for medicinal purposes.  (Just kidding, it’s legal.)   So, it’s also recommended for “crazy cat ladies'” gardens. Last but not least, Catmint will give you two vigorous bloom periods if you cut it right back when the first flush of love fades.

Wish I had a photo of this drama queen with its hard-working, unassuming companion, but I don’t for now.  Add boxwood hedges to this combination for a more refined statement.

Annabelle Hydrangea and Hosta Albomarginata  Boating along the Muskoka lakes

in mid- to late summer, you can see this mellow, relaxed couple stealing time all along the front of classic summer cottages, but they are equally romantic as a foundation planting along a wall of a country home or, in smaller quantities, grouped in city gardens.  Both being green and white, it is just all  mutual complements between them.

Tulips and Forget-Me-Nots  Although the sight of the first lonely bulbs against the rough spring soil and brown leaves of last fall has a special beauty all its own, underplanting Tulips with Forget-Me-Nots is glorious.  The Forget-Me-Nots bloom very early and have a happy effervescence about them as they add polish to the Tulips.  As a combination their contrasting roles are similar to those of the Daylily and Feverfew.

Tulips underplanted with Forget-Me-Nots
Photo: Charles Cresson, 1993, as above

Rhododendrons and Primula Japonica   The large, solid forms of the shrub contrast with and complement the feminine, low-growing form of the perennial.  These two just love to hide out together in the shade, on the northeast side of a sheltered area.  In other parts of the continent, the rhododendron can take more sun than it does in my harsh Southern Ontario climate.  Both love acidic soil as well, so they live well together, and go well in a “woodland” setting.  This is a combination equally suited to a country, classic or modern home.  

Rhododendrons and Primula
Photo: The Illustrated Gertrude Jekyll, Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden; Little, Brown; c. 1993

Silver Leaf Dogwood and Euonymous

Euonymous and dogwood in winter
Photo: The Illustrated Gertrude Jekyll, as above

  Last but not least, I present A Winter’s Tale for your garden.  While beautiful in warmer months with sunlight glowing through the dogwood’s variegated leaves against the dense greenery of the dogwood   decorating its base, this couple will provide equal drama in winter when the bright red stems of the dogwood spike upward in contrast to the low-mounding evergreen leaves of its partner.  You can also choose a variegated Euonymous Fortunei with a non-variegated red-twig dogwood, instead.

Try these compatible pairings out in your own piece of paradise, and I think you will find that they are much more successful than those apple-eating ancestors of ours.

Is there a combination of plants that just moves you?  Please share by posting a comment. Photos are welcome.


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About patinaandcompany

I am a compulsive beautifier of all things habitable. Give me your ugly, non-functional and visually repellent, and I am in my element. Also, an avid and experienced gardener determined to share my horticultural experiences with others. See more at "About"
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5 Responses to Lovers in the Garden

  1. attemptinggreen says:

    Nice post we so often hear about vegetable companions but forget about ornamentals.

  2. Grace says:

    Great post! I do not have a green thumb and know very little about flower pairings. I will surely keep this in mind when setting up my garden….hopefully when the house is finished sometime this year.

  3. Jim says:

    OMG, did I find it helpful? Extremely! I need some primula to go with rhodos. Looks like a perfect combo. I happen to have feverfew with daylilies. I should plant some foxglove around my iceberg roses — great suggestion. I think I’ll have to bookmark this page!

    • I’m so glad you liked it that much! My primula bloomed for ages under the rhodos this year but the winter has been very hard on the rhododendrons in my area this year. Have a lovely gardening season!

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