Combining plants

Find out how to combine plants to keep your borders looking their best throughout the year, in our video with Joe Swift.

In this No Fuss Guide, Joe Swift explains how to combine plants to make your borders look their very best throughout the year. Find out how to put plants together in terms of height, colour and winter interest, particularly evergreen structure.

Combining plants: transcript

The secret to good borders is knowing how to combine plants really well and it’s a part of gardening that often mystifies people – they think it’s really complicated. But actually, there are three golden rules that are really quite simple and if you follow them, your borders will really look fantastic all year round.

Now, the first rule is the form of the plant. The shape of the plant – it’s designer speak really – and just how it’s going to work with the plant next to it in relation to its height and different texture as well. And, in this border, I’ve got a really good example. All these plants are green, so it really highlights the different shapes and the textures of each plant. So I’ve got a geranium at the bottom here, which is just breaking up the edge of the paving and behind it, a very different shaped plant, the euphorbia – spikes of foliage coming up and then a cube of box behind that. So it’s tiering up. But each is contrasting with the one next to it. And those plants are a really good combination.

The second rule is colour. Now, don’t ignore green. Green is a perfectly good colour and this border shows that actually, you might not necessarily need a lot of colour at all. This holds itself together perfectly well by itself. But if you want to introduce colour, think about how you can do that positively and really simply as well. Now, the way I look at it, is to use the colour wheel. Now the colour wheel has colours divided into hot colours and cool colours, different sides of the spectrum. Cool colours such as purples, whites, pinks and blues are pretty much always going to work next to each other. You’ve got this purple penstemon, it looks great with this purple Verbena bonariensis. Then you go for the hot colours, thing like oranges and yellows and bright reds, the spicier colours that can really heat up the borders. So you can either go for one spectrum or the other and you’re not going to go far wrong. But you can also combine the two. By going for what we call complementary colours and they’re opposite sides of the spectrum, things like purple and yellow and red and green will always work together as well. And once you know a few colour rules, you can really play around with them, have some fun, and you can even break a couple of rules every now and then if you want to.

Now, the last rule as far as designing borders is concerned is winter interest, and that includes evergreen structure. So in this border, we’ve got some lovely evergreen ferns, we’ve got the evergreen box cube and the yew piece of hedging behind there as well. That’s going to stay looking good throughout the winter. But you can bring in plants that really pick up on winter interest as well. So, something like this, Viburnum tinus – it’s got flowers that flower throughout the winter and really good evergreen leaves as well; a really good winter plant. Something like this bergenia as well. This is evergreen and the leaves will change with the temperature as well. So in the winter, they’ll go a deeper red and then you start getting interesting combinations like the underside of this bergenia works really nicely with this viburnum as well. You can see that if you started placing these plants into this green border, they work really well and just give it a little bit more depth.

So there you go. Three golden rules – think about the form and heights of your plants, think about the colour and think about year-round interest.