Creating a plant combination that pops is tricky. You have to use plants that like similar conditions of light, water, and soil. Then you have to create an overall design that incorporates varying shapes and colors that both clash and recall each other’s characteristics. While it takes a bit of work, the general rules of it can be learned.
Earlier this summer, my friend Angela who’s a container designer created this lovely arrangement for part-sun with a general potting soil. So I thought I’d talk about why it works so well in an effort to demystify the process.
A pleasing plant combination, whether in a border or pot, needs some kind of height. To create verticality, Angela used Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ in the center. It’s the smokey green plant with tubular orange-red flowers. Then to widen that verticality into a cool arc, she tucked in a variegated New Zealand flax (phormium tenax ‘Variegata’) in the back. While the fuchsia creates a dominant focal point, the flax creates a spiky vertical echo with its sword-like leaves.
Filled With Mounds and Trails
Just as an arrangement needs verticality, it also needs more mounding plants to fill out the space horizontally. Then, trailing plants can extend the design downward. For the mounding middle section, Angela used a chartreuse pineapple sage (salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’), coleus (ruffle series), and New Guinea impatiens. For the lower trailing section, she used a potato vine (ipomaea batatas ‘Margarita’), lobelia (lobelia erinus, probably Laguna Compact Blue), black mondo grass (ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), and blue daisy (felicia amelloides ‘Variegata’). All of these plants together broadened the robust feel of the arrangement and softened the pot’s geometric line.
Contrasts Create Energy
To create energy and vibrance in a plant combination, designers often contrast leaf shapes. Here, we see narrow blades and broader leaves, spiky swords and rambling ovals. Angela used the coleus’s ruffles to contrast the fuchsia’s smoother wider shapes. The tiny lobelia cheerily rambles into the sharpness of the black mondo grass before giving way to the delicate daisy stems.
In terms of color, the rich red fuchsia blooms bang against the vivid chartreuse leaves. The fuchsia and impatiens smokey green leaves soften the busy variegation in the flax and daisy. The mondo grass’s blunt blackness pops against the lobelia’s true blue flowers.
Recalling Colors Bring Harmony
But to avoid chaos and create a cohesive pattern that’s pleasing, Angela limited the palette to certain colors. Notice at the left how the orange impatiens recall the fuchsia’s orange-red blooms at the center. The coleus’s maroon splotches, the flax’s narrow stripe of carmine, and the fuchsia’s scarlet veination all echo the reddish tones as well.
Similarly, the bright beam of the salvia’s chartreuse leaves lead the eye down to the potato vine, where the chartreuse repeats. Then the coleus’s leaf margins and the flax’s yellow stripes recall the beaming light. Even the light green band on the pot ties in with the chartreuse tones.
A Feast for the Eyes
Overall, I love how this container vibrates with texture and punches with color. Notice how there are spikes at the top and bottom? Notice how the fuchsia blooms cascade downward in layers, bringing the viewer’s eye to the lone unusual color of blue? And how the daisies’ white-lined leaves peek through here and there. Angela’s container is a stunning display. She shows, with some careful choices, how plant combinations really can be an artistic masterpiece.