Plant Combinations in the Summer Border

When I designed the summer border (featured in the last post) I made a conscious effort to experiment with plant combinations. Mostly, the results were pleasing - to my eyes , anyway - and sometimes surprising. The brief from my client was to keep the planting relatively low and to give the border a cottage feel rather than, say, the new 'prairie' style. They were not plantsmen or even keen to garden themselves: the only plant they really knew they wanted, and in quantity, were lavenders. This gave me my starting point.

The lavender hedge not only gave me plenty of lavenders, it also softened the curved and hard edge of the stone path that extended the whole length of the border. An unforeseen bonus was with the reflected heat from the stone - it seemed to heighten their scent, filling the air along with myriads of bees and butterflies that were attracted to it. Another good bee plant was Purple Loosetrife, Lythrum salicifolium, a native plant normally found in damp places and by pond edges. This is a garden cultivar 'Robert', which is shorter than the type and was quite at home in ordinary garden soil. The ground cover rose 'Magic Carpet' was a close match in colour, the result quite strident but tempered by the lighter centre of the rose flower. I wouldn't describe this as me at my most subtle!

A much quieter planting and taking cottage style to it's extreme was this combination of Icelandic poppies and scabious. I didn't notice the bumblebee at the time but it really 'makes' the photo! The Magic Carpet rose looks much easier on the eye planted against lavender and red sage.
Climbing roses are a passion - no garden should be without at least one. This is a David Austin variety called Snow Goose and is one of my signature plants: it goes into many of the gardens I work with. It is easy, disease free, relatively low growing (about 9ft) so ideal for all sorts of odd corners. It sadly lacks scent which normally would rule it out for me. Certain plants such as roses, sweet peas and pinks, for example, have to have scent, for surely that is their 'raison d'etre'. Here Snow Goose is growing through Photinia davidiana 'Palette' which is being trained as a wall shrub. I love the way the tiny white flowers of the Photinia mimic the rose and the white splashes on the leaves are emphasised by the flower colour.

Rosa glauca is another rose that I use regularly. It is grown mostly for its wonderful foliage although the flowers are pretty, if somewhat fleeting. This shrub rose will grow to 6ft or more but to get the best foliage and stem colour it is best to prune it hard. Cut back severely it sends out these long, dusky wands which are perfect for cutting for use in the house. Here it is teamed with the Oriental poppy 'Patty's Plum'. The poppy was planted inside a trio of the roses which hides the poppy's leaves as these tend to become rather shabby. The thorns of the rose also hook the floppy stems of the poppy flowers which means that there is no need for staking and tying in: why bother with a chore like that when nature can do it for you?

A combination of blues against a blue sky using Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella), Salvia nemerosa 'Rugen' and two Iris, 'Jane Phillips', pale blue with a pleasant scent and 'Deep Blue' with its dark, almost black flowers. The tall, ferny foliage in the background is the giant scabious, Cephalaria giganteum. Its pale yellow flowers give a complete colour variation to this part of the border as the iris fade and the Cephalaria opens to glow like moonshine behind the nigella and salvia.

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  1. I do love your combinations. I like growing lavender and I have always like Icelandic Poppies, but have never grown any. I like your David Austin rose. I am impatiently waiting for me 3 newly planted Austin roses to grow.

  2. You can't imagine how I envy the plants you are able to grow! Most of those that you've used would melt in a moment in the Atlanta heat and humidity! I guess I can always dream!

  3. Fabulous Post Johnson. Like Tim, we are not able to use a lot of your plants. But we strive for the same look and feel. Just beautiful......sigh........

  4. Johnson, lovely, simply lovely. Lavender is at the top of our list: we have several meandering borders and in the summer we especially love brushing against one strategically placed at a corner's edge as we stroll along the paths.

    So that's what it needs (my Rosa glauca)- a severe cutting. Your combination with the poppy is a show stopper. And I love the Cephalaria giganteum as do the Tiger Swallowtails in our garden.

    Johnson, your clients must be ecstatic with the beautiful garden you created.

  5. Johnson,
    I have always been smitten with the dusky blue-grey of R. glauca, and think you have created a stunning combo with the Papaver.... how I would love to be able to stop and admire this combination every morning and evening. Fabulous!

  6. Stunning photos of beautiful flowers. Thanks so much for posting these incredible delights of nature.

  7. Hi Johnson. What a wonderful post! I love lavendar and the pic is exactly what I desire in my garden, it just doesn't seem to happen :-(

  8. Dear Johnson, You have chosen to illustrate here, and comment upon, some very captivating combinations. The lavender hedge is most effective and I wonder, although completely unimportant, which variety you have used.

    The partnering of Papaver o. 'Patty's Plum' with the Rosa glauca is simply magical. In past experience I always found the poppy a little on the tricky side - perhaps not giving it ideal conditions.

    I wonder if you use Verbena bonariensis, a plant which would fit well with these colour schemes? How nice to be looking at all of these 'out of season'.

  9. Many thanks all of you for your compliments. It is especially interesting to hear of your experiences too. I shall try hard in future not to complain about our climate: mildish, grey winters and coolish, damp summers. However it is a very British thing to moan about the weather all the time and I must maintain tradition!

    The Icelandic poppies I just scatter the seed about and then pull out those colours I don't want as they come into flower.

    The lavender is a variety called 'Munstead' which is a low growing type - it can be grown from seed although I always buy plants.

    The Oriental poppies I've never had problems growing apart from the occasional slug attack when the shoots first appear. After flowering, the plant often dies back and/or looks shabby but I usually cut them back to ground level anyway as soon as the flowers fade. Within days new growth appears and sometimes there is a second flowering.

    Finally, yes, I do use Verbena bonariensis which is another favourite of mine and also of the butterflies. Like the Cephalaria, it is a good tall plant that can be seen through and neither ever need staking.


  10. I love all of these combinations and am now going to be in search of a climbing rose!

  11. Your lovely blog has made me nostalgic for England. And it is possible to be nostalgic about a place I've visited just once. I squeezed a drive through the Cotswolds into our itinerary. Wish we could have spent a few days there.
    Quite agree that no garden should be without climbing roses. We don't have a garden, but I plan to have them in a planter on a balcony.
    At the moment I'm waiting for poppies to bloom. I had planted poppy seeds in flower pots and they are growing rapidly. It is springtime here in north India, and I hope they flower before the weather gets too hot.

  12. How I envy the thought of your warm spring weather, Roshni!

  13. Canada flower shops
    Nice effort, very informative, this will help me to complete my task.

  14. Oh, I just love the combination of one of my favourites, the Rosa glauca and purple poppies! If it were up to me I'd fill half the garden with that mix of flowers right away. It looks so gorgeous.

    My real favourite poppies are paeony poppies, but I think the oriental poppy in the pic probably looks better against the delicate rose foliage.


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