Garden Design – Late Summer Combinations

Thinking about lovely planting designs is one of the fun parts about gardening.  I will admit, though, that I seem to spend more time planning designs that shine in spring and early summer.  For some reason, it seems a lot easier to pair plants that bloom at the same time in the early seasons. In the later season it seems that I get nice individual plants in bloom but not in lovely combinations. But there are a few perennial combination in my garden that I want to share. And I recently saw several more among the native plants on the Rose Kennedy Greenway that I hope to use as inspiration for future planting designs.  Let’s take a look.

In My Garden

This is in the pollinator garden the first week in August.  The light colored, odd shaped plant is spotted bee balm (Monarda punctata), planted next to Joe Pye weed (Eutropium dubium).  The spotted bee balm thrives in sandy acidic soils, but it is a short-lived perennial that self-seeds.  This particular plant is not part of my initial planting, but the result of self-seeding in a great place. Behind the Joe-Pye you can see a bluish grass, which is little bluestem (Schizachyrium scopalinum). From a design perspective, what makes this combination pleasing is that both plants have a similar rustic feel, are in the same color family, and have a similar shape as a clump of individual vertical stems.

Also in the pollinator garden that same week is this combination of blazing star (Liatris spicata) and broad-leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum mutatum). The blazing star has these wonderful purple spikes, which I have always admired.  But the rabbits love this plant so I’ve never been able to grow it.  What you see here is a bit of a trick – the blazing star is in a large pot that is just out of camera range. Whatever works!  The mountain mint is an unusual silver color and three plants that were planted just a year ago have spread to this nice mass, which the pollinators appreciate.  Next year I will have to divide it and find another spot for some of it.

This combination is in the cottage garden right behind the house, a mix of natives and non-natives. It was overhauled a year ago, and has started to fill in but there are still bare spots so there will be more tinkering in the future.  But I think this is working so far. The plants in the center of this composition are (from the left) a variegated iris (getting brown), the hardy geranium Rozanne, the yellow and red blanket flower (Gaillardia sp.), white fleabane (Erigon sp.), and yellow coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata cultivar). In the back is a small shrub Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’), a lot of goldenrod that isn’t in bloom yet, and globe thistle (Echinops sp.).   It’s not a typical color combination – lavender, red-orange, yellow – but it’s an informal cottage garden so to my eye it works. I love that in August there is a section of the garden where most of the plants are in bloom at the same time.


Rose Kennedy Greenway

The Greenway is a long thin park in Boston with many different kinds of planting beds.  In the picture below, taken in mid-August, the planting abuts a concrete barrier leading to a highway ramp.  It is Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.) and white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata).  I like that both plants are both daisy-shaped, but have such different size, scale, and color.

Here are two native plants of a similar size and similar leaves, but very different flowers.  The white plant is boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and the blue is great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica). I have both of these plants in my gardens, but not together.  An idea for next year, maybe?

Even in the city, milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) volunteers wherever it can find growing space.  Here it has seeded itself into a bed of what I think are Heliopis, but I can never keep those yellow daisy-like flowers straight. A charming combination.

Finally, here is a combination that has totally captivated me.  Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is interplanted with anise hyssop (Agastache cultivar, maybe ‘Apricot Sunrise’). I love how the colors blend and how they are interplanted rather than in blocks.  I can’t grow echinacea in the ground because of rabbits, but maybe I need a big pot to try this combination myself.

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