Many of my favorite plant combinations are serendipitous. I love the way larkspur finds its way into the bare spots in a flowerbed, sending up spires of heavenly blue flowers in early summer. A gardener in my neighborhood lets it reseed every year, and this summer it bloomed along with bright-yellow yarrow, purple coneflowers and hollyhock ‘Zebrina’. The perennial border changes around the larkspur every year: Sometimes the larkspur comes up along the front edge, sometimes toward the back, and always in profusion.
Native red-and-yellow columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) moves around my garden the same way, reseeding here and there and finding new places to thrive. It’s never invasive, always charming, and, like larkspur, it’s easy to grow from seed sown directly in the garden.
In spring and fall I plant pretty loose-leaf lettuce and violas together in pots on my front porch. The little violas bloom happily through the challenging temperature fluctuations in these in-between seasons, when garden-fresh lettuce is at its best. Both can be grown from seed, but I recommend transplants for an instant cottage garden in a pot.
This fall I made room for annual dianthus in my pots too — and for a few parsley plants. The violas and dianthus will stop blooming as cold temperatures set in, but they’re likely to come back into bloom in spring. If a hard winter kills them, I’ll just plant more as soon as they are available in early March — weeks before I can set out warm-season annuals.
I enjoy the drama of ornamental grasses against the fiery autumn colors of the trees and shrubs, and I love the moment in summer when black-eyed Susans and butterfly milkweed are at the peak of their bloom. But carefully planned combinations are not really my focus in the garden. More than anything I love the progression of flowers and foliage through the seasons, and the details I discover on my way through the garden every day. Combinations are great, but all it takes is one beautiful detail to stop me in my tracks.
If you have favorite combinations that catch you by surprise, I’d love to hear about them.