Mixing It Up

Mixing form, color and texture in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Mixing form, color and texture (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

One of the most common questions I’m asked when people visit my gardens is how to select and combine plants so that they look great together.  How to choose bloom and foliage colors? Which heights work best?  When to consider texture?  Are there plants that don’t require much maintenance?  And how about keeping the critters away? It’s a tall order to answer all of these questions in detail, but I’ll share some of the tips that have worked best for me . . .

Combine plants you love in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Combine plants you love (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

First and foremost, select plants that you love.  Despite what anyone says, if you start with a few “can’t live without” plants, the rest of your garden will evolve from there.  That doesn’t mean you can plant a tropical zone 8 banana in zone 4, but if you visit a local nursery (or peruse the many plant catalogs that have been filling your mail box lately) I’m sure you’ll discover dozens of plants with qualities you simply can’t resist, that are hardy to your zone and growing conditions.  And this process can be used whether you’re starting a new garden or changing-up an old one that hasn’t been looking up to par.

Pairing plants with similarities in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Pairing plants with similarities (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Deciding how to group your plants is also entirely up to you and what appeals to you.  Think about the way you decorate your home, if you like a contemporary look, you may want less color and more structure. On the other hand, if you love a French country feeling, you may prefer lots of blossoms and plants that trail loosely into the walkway.  I have never followed any garden rules when I design my gardens, I simply pair what looks good to me.  As long as you’re providing the proper soil and sunlight requirements, the sky is the limit.  I mix tall plants and short plants at the front of my border; as long as they don’t block the view to other areas of the garden.  I don’t plant large masses of one type of plant, instead I chose similar attributes such as variegated foliage or leaf color to promote a cohesive feeling.

Rudbeckia provides long season bloom in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Rudbeckia provides long season bloom (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

If having long season bloom is important, you’ll want to research flowering times and duration for your plants.  For example, many catmints (nepeta) bloom in spring and can be sheared to bloom again through summer. Black eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, is a reliable bloomer in my sunny garden from July through September.  Finding out when and how long plants bloom will help when you decide which to plant where.  Just as you would change a light fixture, relocate a couch, or add a few pillows to revive a room’s scheme, it’s equally simple to move a plant if it doesn’t look great with the surrounding companions.  This doesn’t hold true for trees and large shrubs, however, so use  care when siting these.

Combine shrubs with perennials in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Combine shrubs with perennials (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

To avoid conflict of bloom and to ease in the maintenance process, I focus on foliage (color, shape and size), form (height and stature) and texture (soft or spiky).  Incorporating smaller shrubs has provided lots of options for these qualities, while keeping maintenance to a minimum.  When selecting shrubs, consider evergreens and deciduous, as both offer wonderful ranges of hue and flower choices.  You can add another element of surprise by under-planting a few spots with spring bulbs (daffodils for cheer, alliums for pizzazz).  Perennials make fabulous  partners with bulbs and shrubs, and if you maintain your focus on similarities, everything will meld beautifully.

Planting herbs in the garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Fennel & lovage in the garden (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The last word I’d like to share is herbs.  Using herbs in an ornamental garden setting is not only attractive, but beneficial in repelling many critters as well.  Like perennials and shrubs, herbs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, and are worthy of incorporating into your design.  The feathery stems of bronze fennel add texture and softness, while providing food for you and the swallowtail caterpillar.  Lovage is another statuesque herb, which produces bright yellow flowers in summer and celery flavored stems for your salad.  Though shorter, thyme and sage are equally tasty members of the herb clan that hold their foliage well into winter. And for those with grazing visitors, the scent of herbs is a natural deterrent that may protect your new plantings for years to come.


  1. Thanks for all the great info, the Gardens are GORGEOUS!!!!! We know where you spend all your spare time….

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