Combining plants effectively is an essential part of the garden design process. By considering various attributes – plant type, size and habit; foliage shape; flower colour; season of interest – it’s possible to create a harmonious, unified planting scheme. Contrasting, complementary and even, sometimes, clashing colours can all be harnessed to achieve particular effects.
Gardening for beginners – 10 tips
Be inspired by our selection of choice planting combinations, below.
Combining different flower types
Different flower shapes can be grown together to bring depth to a planting scheme, while sticking to two or three bold colours ties the scheme together. In this blue and yellow scheme, yellow kniphofias take centre stage, with Russian sage and pale yellow coreopsis in the foreground, and purple toadflax dotted throughout. The variety of flower heights and shapes create depth and interest, while the different shades of yellow and blue create a unified feel.
A bold planting scheme of yellow and blue flowers, featuring kniphofias, Russian sage, coreopsis and toadflax
Using shades of the same colour
Different shades of the same colour can be used to dramatic effect. Here, bright orange geum ‘Tangerine Dream‘ grows alongside the apricot-pink blooms of Verbascum ‘Firedance’. Ornamental grasses act as a foil for both colours, while the pink astrantia ‘Star of Beauty’ offers a contrasting colour, which underlines the unity of the others.
Bright orange geums blended with apricot verbascums and grasses
Using foliage to bring out flower colour
Plants with dark foliage can be used to bring out similarly coloured flowers, while ornamental grasses can soften a planting scheme. Here, the foliage of Hylotelephium ‘Jose Aubergine’ and Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ bring out the pink of round-headed garlic, Allium sphaerocephalon, while the pennisetum flowerheads soften the scheme.
Purple hylotelephium and pennisetum foliage complementing small purple-pink alliums
Planting flowers of one colour
Using one colour can be very effective, especially when using different flower shapes and heights. Here, white veronicastrum and Ammi majus bring a cool elegance and beauty to the border, while perfectly bringing out the fresh green of the foliage.
Delicate white spires of veronicastrum flowers extending above white clusters of Ammi majus flowers
Creating different planting styles
Sometimes plants can be used together to create a certain look or fit a certain style. Here, agapanthus and Stipa tenuissima work in an informal, prarie-style scheme, perfect for a hot, dry border.
Giant blue Agapanthus africanus with Stipa tenuissima
Using colour to create depth
Close shades of the same or different plants can work well. This combination of dark and light purple alliums brings greater depth and variety than would be achieved with just one variety. This technique can help to make small gardens appear bigger.
Dark and light purple alliums blooming
Mixing formal and informal planting can create a stylish, contemporary feel. Here, a formally clipped box square sets off the wafting catmint spires and rigid stems of the brightly coloured cirsium. Bronze-leaf fennel and Stipa tenuissima unify the scheme, while the euphorbia in the background sets off the different shades of blue and pink.
A modern planting of contrasting textures, featuring: clipped box, bright-purple thistles, lime euphorbia, feathery bronze fennel and catmint