Favorite Plant Combinations

Echinacea and agastache.

Echinacea, Agastache and Solidago planted together to create this beautiful combination.

Horticulturist David Salman's Favorite Combos

For me, the most satisfying element about gardening is when you create, either by plan or accident, wonderful plant combinations. Not only do companion plants make each other look better, but many plants actually grow better alongside compatible neighbors. I often make the analogy that putting a new plant into the garden is like assembling a new outfit. It's not done when you buy the jacket. It's all the other parts of the outfit like the pants, shirt, tie and socks that make the jacket really standout.

Factors to Consider When Putting Together Plant Combinations

Pink flamingo and blonde ambition.

Muhlenbergia 'Pink Flamingo' and Bouteloua 'Blonde Ambition' (Blue Grama Grass), Salvia Raspberry Delight (in the rear)..

Make sure that the basic growing conditions preferred by the plants in the planting combination are a match. Here are the questions I ask myself before creating a combination planting:

Asclepias tuberosa and lavandula.

Western gold mix Butterfly Weed and Sharon Roberts English Lavender.
  • Do they like the same type of soil and soil pH?
  • Are their watering requirements similar?
  • Do they have the same sunlight needs?
  • Are they matched for mature size and plant vigor? Don't plant a tiny rock garden species that grows one inch per year with a "race horse" that triples in size the first growing season and gets three feet tall.
  • Design Considerations

    Plant combinations are always more satisfying when using these basic design principles:

    • When room allows, plant in groups of three or five plants of each species used in the combination. It makes for a more effective visual impact than putting one of each plant together.
    • Be sure to understand the best angle from which the combination will be viewed and arrange accordingly. If planted against a wall, tallest plants go to the back while the shortest ones are up front.
    • Put plants together that bloom at the same time and chose complementary colors or similar hues of the same color (like a shades-of-blue combination).
    • Agave haavardiana with nasella and helictotrichon.

      Agave haavardiana contrasted with Nasella and Helictotrichon.
    • Contrast foliage types and colors. Blue and gray foliage are nice together. Planting fine and bold textured foliage together makes a great combo.
    • Consider making a group of plants that might be found together in their native habitat. For example, a grouping of South African perennials from the Drakensberg Mountains or a sampling of short grass prairie plants from TX, OK and KS. This is a fun way to re-create regional collections from across the globe in your landscape while teaching you more about the plants and where they come from.

    A Few of My Favorite Combinations

    Agastache ava and helianthus santa fe.

    Agastache Ava and Helianthus Santa Fe and Blue Spires Russian Sage (Perovskia).

    Here are some combinations that work very well. Some are concepts (contrasting flower shapes) and some are specific plant combinations. It's mind expanding to start thinking about all the wonderful ways plants can be woven together in the landscape.

    Bonus: Staff Favorite Combinations

    English Lavender (Lavandula), Coreopsis (Tickseed), Partridge Feather (Tanacetum) and Silky Thread Grass (Nasella)

    Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender ), Tickseed (Coreopsis), Partridge Feather (Tanacetum) and Silky Thread Grass (Nasella)
    Yarrow, Butterfly Weed and Liatris

    Liatris (Blazing Star), Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) and Achillea (Yarrow)
    Zauschneria Orange Carpet and Aster

    Zauschneria Orange Carpet (Hummingbird Trumpet) and Aster
    Bee Balm (Monarda) with Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

    Monarda Bee Balm (Monarda) with Rudbeckia fulgida Goldstrum (Black Eyed Susan)

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2 thoughts on “Favorite Plant Combinations”

  • vinny

    I found that Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) with Ceanothus americana (New Jearsey Tea), Arctostaphylos uva ursi (Bearberry), Lupinus perennis (Sundial Lupine), Ionactis linariifolia (bristly Aster), Liatris novae-angliae (New England Blazing Star), Echinacea and Ratibida pinata seem to be an awesome combo for sandy to sandy loam for an east coast sunny spot. And will give a little color in almost every season as well as some low to mid structure. Pop in a clump of Switch Grass, Indian Grass or Prairie Dropseed if you need a little hight and fluff. ;]

    Reply
    • Wendy

      Thanks for the suggestions Vinny. Those sound like a lovely combination for Northeastern gardeners. -- Best, Wendy

      Reply
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