Associating Garden Plants Together

April 8, 2019 By Viona Cathryn In Garden Plants

What one considers to be a perfect piece of plant association, or a series of eye-satisfying pictures, might be to someone else no more than a jarring discord. Hopefully, the following suggestions will, even if they do not win universal approval, at least please the majority.

There is a proverb which insists that between the saying and the doing lies a long, hard road. This is truth, indeed, when applied to the making of a garden, except that most of the work is enjoyable and creative. By treating the border to be planted as a series of compartments and not as a single unit, the tricky business of achieving the right balance is made much easier.

Then instead of trying to blend one plant with the next, which can be a real test of patience, there is the simpler task of joining a series of groups together, each one complete in its own right. Remember also the particular setting in which a plant association is first seen; the weather conditions and our frame of mind at the time have an important bearing on our reactions.

Sunlight has a softness as if filtered through sea water, which reveals subtle gradations of color not evident at any other season. Winter colors are moss green, straw yellow, silver grey, subdued yet in no way melancholy under winter sunshine. The flowers which are in bloom then reflect this pastel-shaded quality.

Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ is typical of this fragile beauty, for the autumn cherry belies its popular name by opening a succession of semi-double white flowers from October to April. The most improbable and yet curiously attractive association that I have come across is only a short walk from here: three well grown specimens of winter cherry, two with white flowers and one with pink, growing. On a winter day when the sunlight is filtering through flower-laden branches to glisten on the bright copper, bronze, and white of the bantam chickens scratching underneath, the grassy becomes a Japanese cameo.

In due season the grass is bright with violets, native daffodils and meadow until autumn discovers the purple goblets of Colchicum pushing up through a scarlet and fawn carpet of fallen leaves. The autumn cherry needs always to be the of any association, for the flowers are of such a delicate texture as to be almost an illusion.

Underplant Galanthus nivalis double or single, and the Cyclamen, a 3in (8cm) high native of woodland which offers flowers varying in color from white or pink to a dark crimson throughout the winter. Include also a corm or two of Cyclamen which flowers in autumn, and then spreads a carpet of marbled leaves which persist throughout winter.

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