In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2014
Regional Report

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Imitate nature when you choose plants for a shady retreat, and your garden will invite you to linger.

Create Moods with Plant Combinations

To create a specific mood in the garden you need to select plants that fit that particular setting, and that's where plant combinations come in. Think of landscaping a garden as dressing a stage for a play. If you want to create a desert scene, you don't use ferns and philodendrons.

The most important thing to keep in mind when you are planning combinations of different plants in the same area is that each variety be compatible with the others. They all must have the same growing requirements or some of them won't be happy.

Plants for a Shady Retreat
A shady dell is the kind of place that invites you to linger and hide for a while. To create a secluded dell, include lush greenery -- combinations of ferns, large and small, and hostas, with their broad ribbed leaves adding contrast to the airy texture of the ferns (if you can protect them from hungry snails).

Ferns and hostas set a peaceful stage. To add interest and drama, include some impatiens and perhaps some coralbells (Heuchera). But nothing too bright because you want the garden to have a restful quality. If the area is protected, you could even add some tropicals, such as schefflera or weeping fig.

Matters of Height
Another aspect you want to take into consideration in combination plantings is the height of each plant. Although sometimes you may want every plant to be the exact same size, such as along the border of a walkway, you'll find it much more interesting to use the design element of high, medium, and low heights.

Try planting large containers with multiple plants based on a color scheme. For example, you might combine asparagus fern (Asparagus meyerii), a California fuchsia (Zauschneria), purple alyssum, blue lobelia 'Crystal Palace', and Calceolaria integrifolia 'Golden Nugget'. The asparagus fern has lovely, sculptural, octopus arms that bridge the vertical and horizontal lines, the California fuchsia adds a vertical element, the alyssum and lobelia spill over the sides of the pot, and the golden nugget fills in the middle ground. The combo is a winner!

Carnivorous Medleys
For a really unusual combination, plant carnivorous plants. Little nepenthes, butterworts, and sundews will delight you with their voracious appetites and unusual foliage. The prickly sundews glisten in the morning sun, and the lovely light green of the butterworts contrasts with the pink-tipped lips of the nepenthe. These little plants will thrive happily together indoors in an old 5-gallon aquarium, and provide some insect control for free!

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