Growbag Blog

10 stonking colour combinations


We’re talking about which plants look great together this week so obviously I’m going first. Laura is only interested the provenance, the botany, the rarity value and the drama of single specimens.

Interesting (she yawned) but the horticultural equivalent of self-indulgent navel-gazing as far as I’m concerned, and I have grave suspicion that Caroline’s idea of plant combinations is how many different colours of Busy Lizzie she can get in her supermarket trolley.

Now I, their big sister, have always been about the legendary ‘bigger picture’ – i.e. I don’t care so much about how ‘choice’ a plant is, I want to work out how well it will sit in a particular garden position. What’s behind it? What’s in front of it? Do the plants near each other flower at the same time, or follow on? Are they the same height? Am I aiming for a contrast or a blending – of colour? or form?

Here are four such summer pictures that have given me a lot of pleasure and may do the same for you.

Physocarpus “Lady in Red’ and Crocosmia ‘Tangerine Queen’ make an arresting contrast
  1. Being generally considered quite an exuberant gardener (barking mad, some might say), I relish the startling contrast of a combo like this, with the juicy orange of Crocosmia ‘Tangerine Queen’ against the subtle orange-mauve tones of Physocarpus ‘Lady in Red’. This shrub clothes itself in leaves all the way down the stems so it doesn’t matter when or how high the Crocosmia flowers, and using foliage as part of a plant combination means that the colour contrasts can be longer-lived.
The gentle cottagey tones of Rosa glauca and Geranium ‘Wargrave Pink’

2. This ‘picture’ also uses foliage, but this time with more of a blended feel. The Geranium ‘Wargrave Pink’ makes a cottagey and long-flowering ground-cover for Rosa glauca, whose plum-coloured leaves pick up the rosy tones of the cranesbill.

Two sorts of rose and a tawny daylily combine beautifully

3. A fabulous planting combination can involve a lot more than just two plants, of course. Here I put together some whose shades are quite close together on the Colour Wheel : this is basically the colour spectrum bent round into a circle, and used as a basis for theories about what looks good together – if you’re interested in finding out more, check out the BBC’s page on it. So here we have Rosa ‘Westerland’ with its big blowsy flowers and lush crimson shoots, mixed in together with a tawny daylily Hemerocallis fulva, and another rose ‘Super Trooper’ leading the charge from the rear. All too messy and out of control, I suspect, for tidy gardeners, but I love it!

Lavatera ‘Burgundy Wine’ and Anemanthele for a contrast in texture

4. My last offering brings the idea of contrasting form into play. This Lavatera ‘Burgundy Wine’ has got its legs covered by a clump of pheasant grass – which has the truly fabulous Latin name of Anemanthele lessoniana ! – and not only do I like the way the tips of the grass echo the deep pink of Lavatera, I love the contrast between its soft plumes and the solidity of the hollyhock-like flowers.


Ughhh I knew she was going to bring up the ‘Colour Wheel’ …..that instrument of torture designed to make us normal gardeners feel inadequate. I have a different approach to colour combinations. Whenever I visit a garden designed by one of my horticultural heroes and spot an inspired assembly of plants I hang onto that memory and try to create a cameo of it in my own garden.

Take Piet Oudolf for example. His painterly combinations are breathtaking, just look at our feature picture this week; Echinacea pallida, flanked by Perovskia and Eryngium ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’.

5. I have replicated another of Piet’s favourite combinations (seen in the grass borders he designed at RHS Wisley) in my own garden. The blood red of that vigorous bee magnet Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’ against the high summer buff of grass Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’

Persicaria and Calamagrostis
My homage to Piet Oudolf, Persicaria ‘Firetail’ framed against the bleached vertical backdrop Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’

6. My next combination was inspired by a visit to Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex. She had positioned a clump of tree poppies, Romneya coulteri, in a corner of the public car park next to a olive tree. My variation on this theme involved pairing the poppy with a pink Saponaria, which flowers at the same time. Both plants are utter thugs so can slug it out between them, separated from the main flower beds by area of hoggin.

Romneya and Saponaria
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d pitched up at Beth Chatto’s as you swing into our car park.

7. I have yet to re-enact my final plant combination, but it’s one inspired by one of our greatest plant picture creators, Gertrude Jekyll in a garden she designed at Greywalls in East Lothian. The structure and backdrop of the tightly clipped silver pear, lifts the rusty brown helenium into another realm.

A Gertrude Jekyll masterpiece – and if the model looks familiar it’s Caroline’s daughter Briege (there’s a clue in her hand – this apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree)


Well who wouldn’t feel more usefully employed arranging a little al fresco hospitality than wasting time intellectualising the perfectly simple hobby of gardening? My daughter agrees.

But I’ll put my glass down for a minute to help E and L with this plant combo thing. Basically you just need to grow colourful plants next to something grey. Take note, if you will, of that silver pear in the Gertrude Jekyll designed garden.

In any case grey is THE colour now – grey carpets, grey sofas and grey plants. So in my book, that’s catmint if it’s low down, eryngium if it’s mid-height and thalictrum if it’s a whopper. How hard can it be? Oh I forgot, helichrysum for, whisper it, hanging baskets (was that the sound of my snooty sisters fainting?)

8. For instance my Diascia personata which is, to be fair, a rather insistent pink but it withstands our constant 30mph onshore wind, has found a perfect companion in catmint (Nepeta). They both flower for literally months and in those rare moments when they are at rest – they look really, well, restful.

Diascia personata finding a natural partner with the grey of catmint.

If you’re worried a proliferation of grey might make your garden look like a semi-submerged battleship, I still wouldn’t be tempted by Laura’s dreary prairie planting or Elaine’s flopping roses, what about a bit of zing?

9. Yes I mean lime green. It’s young, it’s happening, it’s ‘life in the fast lane’ and partnered with a bit of chocolate, has real class. Want an example? Well the Dalrymples who own one of Scotland’s iconic gardens, Broadwoodside in East Lothian, partnered Euphorbia wallichii with the wonderful smoke bush (or Cotinus) pictured here in late August. What a knock-out! Yes, you’re starting to understand why the other two are so jealous of me now aren’t you?

Cotinus and Euphorbia wallichii at Broadwoodside. Vibrant and classy. This is the sort of look I go for. No intellectualising required.

10. Let’s finish on a high,. Probably the best planting combo I’ve seen this year was in fact in Laura’s garden. Her spaniel Jura setting off some Iris unguicularis perfectly in the early spring.

Jura planted herself among the irises creating the best combination of all!

Louise is on my side this week as she tells us of a lovely plant combination that includes, of course, a glaucous grey. Click on her box in the bottom left to find out what it is.

NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags just enter your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

4 replies on “10 stonking colour combinations”

Disappointed because a lot of your images won’t load on my screen. I left it ages and all I’m getting is the top two and the bottom two. On a more positive note, the top one of the dark purple and orange….that’s my favourite colour combo. All shades of purple/violet and orange/peach are wonderful together and so lively. And the spaniel in the Iris….aw! 🙂

So sorry to hear that you’re having problems getting our photos to load, we always try to make sure they’re not high resolution ones so I don’t know why this is happening. Glad you like my little spaniel though – that’s her favourite winter sunbathing spot, right in the middle of my iris! Best wishes, Laura

Gorgeous combinations. Today I actually visited Scampston Hall and Gardens in North Yorkshire which has a Piet Oudolf designed garden and the combination of colour and form in the walled garden is stunning.

Ooh how lovely Linda, I’m very envious, I’ve read about that garden and would love to see it. Piet Oudolf’s designs have a flowing dreamlike quality don’t they? Best wishes Laura

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