Perennial Plant Combinations

There’s no such thing as a truly no-maintenance garden, but allowing flowers to jostle together as they grow will not only make the garden more glorious, it cuts down on weeds.

Many plants will flourish in close quarters without pampering. Most perennial plants are sociable — they actually grow best with other plants, says Roy Diblik, author of Small Perennial Gardens and an advocate of what he calls “the know-maintenance approach.” When you see a garden with each plant growing by itself, surrounded by a sea of mulch, the open space simply gives weeds an opportunity to get started, he says. Instead of using mulch as your only defense against weeds, choose plants that will thrive together in your climate and conditions, and plant them in interesting combinations, creating great sweeps of color and texture. You’ll find yourself working less in the garden and enjoying it more.

Plants native to your region are naturally adapted to local conditions, but you don’t have to stick with natives, Diblik says. Planting exotic Russian sage with a native ornamental grass is fine, if both plants thrive where you live; the combination looks very naturalistic. Diblik likes to use ornamental grasses of various sizes to fill empty spaces in flower beds and give a garden a lush look and a suggestion of flowing movement. “If you don’t know what to do, put a grass in,” he says.

Perennial blue salvias with yellow-flowered yarrow is another combination Diblik favors. He likes to add spring-flowering bulbs for a reassuring burst of color before perennials start to grow in spring, and he favors daylilies of all kinds for their ability to fill in areas between groups of plants in flower beds.

The rhythms and harmonies of music inspire him, and so do prairie landscapes. Both music and prairies are more beautiful because they are compositions, Diblik says.

Prairies are “closed community” landscapes that do not allow weeds to flourish — so follow nature’s example when you plant, he says. Cheerful Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’, a Perennial Plant Association plant of the year, really performs better when it has companions in the garden, like coneflowers, asters, Amsonia, or ornamental grasses. All gardens require maintenance, but make it a little easier on yourself, and let plant partnerships do some of the work.

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