Saturday, March 1, 2014


We try various plant combinations in our gardens.  Some work beautifully, others are not as successful. However, I think that the best combinations are the result of a stroke of luck. Many planned combinations, even when they are successful, have a slight staginess about them, whereas the ones nature creates prolifically, in or outside our gardens, can be just right.  This is, no doubt, because our aesthetic sense was learned from nature in the first place.   

In some cases, it is difficult to say whether the result you achieved was due to planning or chance. It can be a mixture of both. It is the case with these regale lilies and California poppies. I planted them next to each other, but without remembering that the lily's yellow center is a perfect echo to the poppy.

California poppies and Regale lilies

Serendipity plays an even more important role with this double Papaver somniferum that not only seeded itself right in the middle of these lilies, but opened just at the moment when the lily pods, on their way to turning red, were on the same wave length as the poppy. This kind of timing would be almost impossible to plan as it would vary from year to year.

Lily and double Papaver somniferum

Just outside one of the garden doors, in makeshift beds where I let garden plants fight it out with the weeds, there is a perennial candytuft (Iberis sempervirens). Under it, one of the creeping veronicas has decided to seed itself creating an interesting layered effect. Both happen to bloom at the same time as the buttercups that are all over the field. The three of them make for a dynamic combination.

Another combination outside the garden proper is made up of Iris sintensisii with bird's foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), a European forage plant that has naturalized in North America. Somehow, all these seem to get along year after year, the iris able to fight off the grass.

A flower of peony Sarah Bernhardt poking through a clump of catnip (Nepeta Walker's Low).

Some plants are usually best left to seed themselves. This is the case of the tall mulleins (Verbascum spp.). They turn up in unexpected places, but it is very often the perfect spot. I would not have seeded them right in front of the coldframe but somehow, it seems just right. 

Verbascum species
As Beverley Nichols puts it in his book, Garden Open Tomorrow: "The gardener can provide the frame, set up his easel, and sketch the pattern, but as time marches on he must constantly step aside and hand over his brush to Nature."


  1. Lovely photos! You can take some credit for serendipity, I think. It's the gardener's sense of knowing when to leave well enough alone and let nature do her thing.

  2. Lovely combinations. I have tried and in some cases it has worked, but I think more often than not the good combinations appear by chance.

  3. The display created by Lilium regale and Californian poppies is awesome. I wouldn't have dared putting those two together but I think I'll copy it :)
    I guess you're right it seems that the most beautiful combinations is a game of chance. My experiences agree with you.
    A bientôt

  4. Plants do seed themselves in some unusual places. You've chosen some interesting examples of nature as a designer.

  5. The first photo looks like a painting, and I love the teeny-tinies of the fourth photo. I can't wait till my plants live long enough to look interesting!

  6. The rose nestled in with the catnip is almost a classic these days isn't it. What really caught my eye is the bird's foot trefoil and the irises. An unusual combination , that is quite visually striking.

  7. I think nature knows exactly where to put her seeds. Your photos show wonderful combinations, they are all so beautiful. Lots of self seeding goes on in the garden here,only occasionally do I have to step in and do a bit of editing.

  8. Lovely photos and colour combinations.
    Serendipity is one of my favourite words. You are right plants often put themselves in just the right spot. I have to admit that when garden visitors congratulate me on a winning combination which is none of my doing I have been known to thank them modestly. Oh dear; am I the only one to do this?

  9. The combinations you show us certainly look very happy and I agree, it's sometimes most succesful if we let our plants have their way. I often put a plant somewhere and after a while it tells me it found a better place by moving somewhere else. Only goes to show how much we can learn from them and how much fun it is not to be in control all the time. Have a good week, Alain :)

  10. I loved that quote. I am going to put it in my blog or in my garden diary. So, true and perfect. I made each of your picture larger size and saw them. I have to agree that they are all looking so perfect and beautiful. I really want those in my garden.

  11. Love the California poppies with the regal lilies.

  12. Very pretty combinations. I love the poppies in the first one.


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