In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
January, 2004
Regional Report

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Colors, shapes, and textures that work together: blue Mexican petunia, Texas star hibiscus, and narrowleaf zinnia.

Plants That Get Along

Plants that grow together must have three things in common. Their need for sunlight, water, and space must be similar for the planting to be successful. It helps if they also appreciate the same fertilizers, and perhaps most important, look good in each other's company.

Sunny Combos
Hibiscus is a natural for sunny borders, but such a dominating form needs strong companions, such as Mexican petunias, canna lilies, and narrowleaf zinnias, to balance its power. Texas Star hibiscus may be the most reliable of the perennials, usually tall but not always bushy, with heart-stopping red flowers. Adding colorful sword-shaped cannas (like 'Tropicanna' or 'Bengal Tiger') provides a fuller look to the back of the border. Ruellia repeats the flower shape of the hibiscus in a multitude of blue blooms emerging from the axils of strappy leaves in an upright clump.

This threesome can fill the border for years with bold, hold-their-own beauty. But add an annual planting of white narrowleaf zinnias to complete the scene. Without a blooming front row, this border would look rootless, all green at its feet, and floating in space. By repeating the rounded form dominant in this planting along its edge, the balance is tipped in the viewer's favor.

This group of plants can be grown together easily, since they are equally aggressive and all need sun, good drainage, regular watering, and fertilizer no more than twice a season.

Shady Friends
Choose plants to combine in shaded areas based on the compatibility of their rate of growth, general shape, and most important, the color of leaves and flowers. The deeper the shade, the more important these qualities can be in the overall success of the planting, both in the way it grows and how it pleases the eye. Ardisia and lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) grow slowly, so they can be planted closely, with the evergreen, berried ardisia complementing the lusher, lighter green hellebores. Add a fast-growing but neat plant like ajuga in the front row for a purplish color to set off the cream-pink-purple of the lenten rose. As a plus, the ajuga blooms later on in the spring with crystal blue, spikey flowers.

Best Vegetable Buddies
Tomatoes and basil make the best combination in the vegetable garden for my taste and their friendly habits. Not only does a bushy basil fill the space between the tomatoes and help shade out any weeds in the area, but the tomatoes, in turn, tower over the basil and shade them as summer wears on. The fact that the two make great plate companions in a simple salad is a distinct plus.


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