WHY IT WORKS: This combination has strong all-season structure because of the evergreen shrubs as well as a pleasant seasonal flow provided by the spring blooms of the rhody and colorful emerging foliage of the fern. The bold foliage of the bear's britches (Acanthus 'Hollard's Gold') looks great for months on end; from early spring and during (the occasional) exceptionally mild Pacific Northwest winter, it can look good year-round if growing in a sheltered position.
THE PLANT RECIPE
Cryptomeria japonica 'Little Diamond' Finely textured foliage of rich deep green forms a compact and slow-growing bun that may reach 24 to 36 inches wide in Pacific Northwest gardens. This dwarf conifer is the ultimate in easy-care. Though do keep a watch out for reverting growth, and you may want to periodically give it a light trim to maintain its compact size and rounded shape.
Acanthus 'Hollard's Gold' This variety of bear's breeches is dramatic, bold, and gold and fun to grow! A small word of caution; choose your location carefully. If you happen to change your mind and decide to move your Acanthus to a new location, it can return from small bits of remaining root, so can take some effort to remove. In particular, avoid locations in hot afternoon sun as it can burn the foliage and/or cause unsightly wilting.
Rhododendron 'Flaming Star' is a relatively slow-growing, compact, evergreen shrub with delightfully unique blooms. Some references cite 5 feet as expected size, though our observations lead us to believe it'll likely take a number of years to reach that size, so we've allowed 3 feet in our schematic. If you're averse to the possibility of needing to make adjustments later, give it a bit more room.
Dryopteris 'Red Radiance' the rich bronze tones of this fern's emerging spring foliage pairs wonderfully with the blooms of the rhododendron. In summer, the foliage reads more green, but a second round of new growth may occur when temperatures cool in the fall.
Suitable for gardens in USDA Zone 7 to 9.
The ideal garden situation would provide ample morning sun and afternoon shade. Especially avoid locations with hot afternoon sun to protect the foliage of the Acanthus from burning or wilting.
To try this planting combination out in your own garden, use the plan view schematic below as a guide for placement.