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Designing Successful Plant Combinations is a Balancing Act

The most engaging plant combinations strike a delicate balance between having enough different-ness to capture our attention versus enough same-ness to hold the scene together. When considering the extremes, we can easily see how too much variety can feel jarring and chaotic, and how too much sameness can lead us down a path to ho-hum. Just like Goldilocks, we're striving for "just right" — and even then, there's an enormous range of possibilities, so it can be helpful to know what kind of feeling or mood you're trying to evoke.

Strongly contrasting foliage color (above) can really bring the pop and sizzle to your garden beds. Purple foliage paired with acid yellow is especially vibrant, and may even elevate your heart rate by a beat or two. The addition of blue foliage takes the temperature down a notch, while retaining the striking variation in color. All in all, vividly contrasting foliage colors used together create a scene that says "Look at me!" with its energetic and engaging disposition. (Follow links on the photos for plant IDs and plant combo ideas that use them.)

Compare the mood of the trio up top to the ambiance of this trio (above) where the use of varied foliage shape and texture within a narrow color palette of green foliage accented with white variegation lends an overall quiet and soothing vibe. The simply satisfying effect of this trio is reliant on the markedly different shape and size of the leaves, and the thread of white that is woven through the scene; the fine lines of white variegation sparkling on the grass are echoed in the irregular splotches of white on the big and bold gray-green leaves. These lighter tones are especially handsome in proximity to the glossy, deep green foliage.

Tip: Photos used to illustrate these design concepts link to plant profiles and provide plant combo ideas that incorporate them.

Vive la Différence 🌼 An Invigorating Color Contrast

Showy Tropicalismo Border with Canna and Dahlia

The Epitome of Easygoing 🌿 A Calming Repetition of Color 

Contrasting Foliage Texture in Part Sun Garden

So what are you in the mood for today — are you aiming for zippy and showy, or leaning toward quiet and restful?

Published November 10, 2020

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