Acer palmatum Seiryu

Plant combinations for shape and form

Discover ideas for beautiful plant combinations in your garden, using shape, structure and form.


Introducing plants with appealing structure and form to the garden couldn’t be simpler. And by contrasting colours and textures you can make some beautiful combinations.


Plants with dramatic colouring, like red, orange and green-stemmed dogwoods or the chalky white stems of Rubus biflorus, are ideal for brightening up the winter garden.

The value of foliage can’t be overstated either – trees are ideal for this, and there are plenty for small gardens, too. While larger shrubs and trees can be impressive by their size alone, planting under and around them is a sure way to make them stand out even more.

Discover some of our favourite plant combinations for shape and form, below.

Trees and shrubs are an ideal starting point in bringing some height and focus to a border or planting scheme.

White-stemmed bramble and ophiopogon

White-stemmed brambles like Rubus biflorus and R. cockburnianus are at their most dazzling in winter. Flowers and berries in summer and autumn give it brilliant wildlife value, too. Here, a striking contrast is created by underplanting R. biflorus with the glossy, black Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’.


Cornus, carex and pittosporum

By combining the red-stemmed Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ with the dark, evergreen foliage of Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’, an effective, year-round backdrop is given, for the stems in winter and green leaves in summer. The combination is set off by splashes of bright green and cream, provided by Carex morrowii ‘Fishers Form’.


Acer and molinia

You don’t have to contrast colours to create a standout display – while both have a beautiful golden tone, it’s the attractive branching form of Acer rufinerve ‘Erythrocladum’ combined with the linear leaves of Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Zuneigung’ that makes this pairing work.


Acer and evergreen underplanting

Trees and shrubs are an ideal starting point in bringing some height and focus to a border or planting scheme. Here, Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Seiryu’ is the focal point, but other trees, for example the wedding cake tree Cornus controversa or an olive tree, would work equally well.


Ceratostigma, brunnera and cyclamen

Shape and form is just as important on a smaller scale, for example in pots and containers. By using plants with a mixture of heights and widths, you can create a container that looks more impressive than one with a single plant in. This container is planted with Ceratostigma willmottianum, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ and Cyclamen hederifolium.


Cut back dogwoods for brighter stems

Cut the stems of dogwoods down to the ground in spring, to give an even better display of colourful stems next winter.