Gardening: Matches made in heaven

By Leigh Bramwell


Our council has perpetrated a crime at the local traffic islands. No, the mayor has not been caught driving the wrong way around the roundabout, and neither has any other council member.

Oh no. It's far worse than that.

A few years ago, when the roundabout and islands were created, they were planted with masses of buttery-coloured day lilies.

Very pretty, we thought. The lilies looked fabulous for a couple of years but have became world-weary.

The council replaced the dead plants with several creeping pink manuka. The two species look about as happy in one another's company as did Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes a few months ago, and I would like to suggest that whoever thought the combination was a marriage made in heaven be sent to botanical couples' counselling.

Pink and yellow can certainly work in combination with myriad other colours in a mad cottage garden.

This is not one. It is a flat and open space where everyone can see that the short, dark, prickly foliage of the manuka (Tom) rubs the soft, strappy leaves of the lilies (Katie) the wrong way.

One can only hope that neither gets the upper hand and that the relationship ends in a speedy divorce.

Then the lilies could be cut back and fertilised so they can once again hold their heads up high, while the manuka could move on and start a new life with a more suitable partner.

Once I'd have been hard pressed to suggest a suitable partner for creeping pink manuka, but I've recently developed a fascination with marrying different types of foliage.

As with the human race, there are few plants for which you can't find a suitable partner, no matter how disparate they might seem to begin with.

Fine Gardening Magazine at www.finegardening.com describes the secret thus: "In human affairs as well as in art, harmony is the product of likeness - of shared qualities and mutual accord. Contrast, on the other hand, depends for its effect on differences, which produce drama and, if those differences are extreme, conflict.

"The secret of combining disparate ingredients is to preserve the peace, but not at the cost of excitement."

Tom and Katie would have done well to take note.

So for a combination of different foliages to work, the arrangement of colours, shapes and sizes must add up to a cohesive unit.

It's a matter of blending similarities and differences in fair and appropriate proportions.

First, choose plants from a similar colour palette.

Dark red flaxes with dark-leafed geranium is pretty gorgeous, and there's enough variation in the texture of the leaves for a bit of excitement.

And as much as I'm not fond of rengarenga lilies, I saw some planted with Mexican orange blossom the other day and they looked delighted with each other.

Hosta and feverfew may sound like the odd couple, but they look great together, and lamium is good with hosta, too.

Mixing up the colour wheel is a bit more difficult, but try silvery plants with very dark-leafed ones, and bronzes with bleached blonds.

I've yet to figure out what works with yellow foliage apart from more yellow foliage. Here are my favourites.

Lavender and astelia:

Similar coloured foliage provides a comfort zone in which the big, strappy spikes of the astelia can infiltrate the soft little lavender leaves.

Abelia and magnolia:

These two were thrown together in my garden by accident - call it a blind date - but they get along like a house on fire. The tiny abelia makes up for the size of its leaves by spreading itself around, while the massive leaves of the magnolia run a protection racket over the top. They flower at different times so there's no competition for attention.

Aloe and scleranthus:


Now this is an inspired mix. The soft, carpet-like scleranthus is a great backdrop for the big, bold spikes of the aloe.

Astelia and banksia:


Who would have thought that a big, tough astelia could make magic with a banksia rose? But it's most certainly a case of beauty and the beast, and even the old building behind has something to add.

Fatsia, pittosporum and carex:


Carex is a lovely foil for pittosporum, and they're both natives so the relationship has a head start. But to spark things up a bit, add a Fatsia japonica to the mix - its large, leathery leaves are a great contrast to the other two and it provides a bit of visual punctuation.

The one that's got me stumped at the moment is Lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius).

It's a bit like my brother - I can't find anything that really wants to be married to it.

Any ideas gratefully received - for the lancewood, not the brother.


Herb about this one?

Tarragon is going to be very big this season. Don't ask me how I know. Known as the king of herbs, it is truly treasured as a top gourmet herb.

It's a hardy perennial grown for its aromatic leaves, which are used to flavour chicken, fish, eggs, salad dressings, vinegar and mustard, and it's an essential ingredient in fine herbes, a mainstay of Mediterranean cuisine.

Luckily, it's easy to grow from cuttings. It likes cooler climates, and grows best in a sunny position in light, well-drained soil. French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is drought-resistant and cold-hardy.

The fragrance is a warm and complex sweet aniseed. Once established it will grow for years but it pays to divide and replant it every couple of years.

 

- Hamilton News

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