Winning combinations

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A beautiful plant can look even more beautiful alongside the right companion. Successfully combining flowers and foliage is an art form that takes time and experimentation, even for the most practiced gardener. But happily, we can also depend on some classic combos that always come up trumps.

Tone on tone foliage and flowers

Autumn is bulb planting time. Complement spring flowering bulbs with permanent groundcover perennials, such as Heuchera, Tiarella or Heucherella. These foliage plants come in a huge range of colours so you can have fun colour coordinating them with your bulb flowers! When the bulbs die down at the end of spring, these evergreen perennials keep on growing. Other classic bulb companions are pansies, violas, Primula malacoides (fairy primrose) and forget-me-nots.

Spikes, discs and domes

Combine flowers with contrasting shapes. Perennials with flowers borne on spikes (such as Penstemon, Kniphofia or Delphinium) look great with horizontal flower forms (such as Achillea, Echinacea and sedum) and plants with a dome-shape growth habit (such as Leucanthemum, Corepsosis or Scabiosa). A pairing of flowers with the same colour but contrasting shapes is especially effective.

Chunky and static versus fine and fluid

Strongly architectural plants like bromeliads and succulents look all the more striking when their muscular and motionless form is juxtaposed with fine flowing grasses that move in the breeze.

Flowers with grasses

Ornamental grasses also make a lovely complement to flowering perennials such as Sedum, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Helenium, Kniphofia, Dahlia ordaylilies.

Big and flouncy with fine and lacy

Foliage perennials with big rounded and shiny leaves always work well with ferns or fern-like plants. Those with big leaves include Bergenia, Heuchera, Philodendron, Begonias, Chatham Island forget-me-nots, and Ligularias. There are ground ferns for every situation, pus those perennials with fern-like foliage such as Astilbe, Corydalis, and Polymonium.

Rough with smooth

A bright green carpet of moss plant Scleranthus makes a striking contrast with strongly symmetrical succulents. Scleranthus also looks great next to a shaggy thicket of mondo grass or with vertical accents of Libertia or dwarf flax.

Chartreuse with purple

For a colour contrast that’s stylishly stunning, pair lime green with purple or burgundy. For example, plant chartreuse euphorbias with lavender, Heuchera ‘Lime Marmalade’ with Heuchera ‘Sugar Plum’, or golden marjoram with Salvia ‘Aztec Blue’.

Red with silver

Plants with silver or bronze leaves are extremely effective as accents to green. They also look spectacular with red flowers. Silver foliage plants are generally very drought tolerant and great in coastal gardens. Punches of dark foliage add to the excitement in a ‘hot’ coloured flower border or a subtropical setting with bright flowers.

Design tips:

  • Choose plants appropriate for the amount of sun or shade, the soil type and your climate.
  • Check that your plant combinations are of compatible size and vigour. A large or rampant thug can too quickly smother a more delicate plant in its path. 
  • The most effective results come from keeping the plant list short and repeating clumps of the same plant throughout.
  • When you find a plant pairing that works, consider mass planting it in bold groups.
  • Wide garden beds generally look better than skinny ones, and are easier to look after.

Autumn flowering perennials

  • Aster
  • Achillea (Yarrow)
  • Coreopsis
  • Dahlias 
  • Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
  • Echinacea (Coneflower)
  • Hemerocalis (day lily)
  • Helianthus
  • Leucanthemum (shasta daisy)
  • Rudbeckia
  • Salvia
  • Sedum spectabile

Fabulous Foliage  

  • Bergenia
  • Bromeliads
  • Canna
  • Ferns
  • Flax
  • Heuchera
  • Hosta
  • Ligularia
  • Ornamental Grasses


Look for these products, tips and advice at a Go Gardening Store near you.



Tulips with Heuchera 'Sugar Plum'
Tulips with Heuchera 'Sugar Plum'

Hot pokers (Kniphofia)    and Echinacea
Hot pokers (Kniphofia) and Echinacea

Big bromeliad, Alcantara      imperialis with native grass,    Anemanthele lessoniana
Big bromeliad, Alcantara imperialis with native grass, Anemanthele lessoniana

Sedum flowers and    grass, Hakonechloa    aureola
Sedum flowers and grass, Hakonechloa aureola

Ligularia Britt-Marie  Crawford and      deciduous fern,    Athyrium 'Silver Falls'
Ligularia 'Britt-Marie Crawford' and deciduous fern, Athyrium 'Silver Falls'

Moss plant (Scleranthus) with succulents
Moss plant (Scleranthus) with succulents

Purple and lime green Heuchera varieties
Purple and lime green Heuchera varieties

Marlborough rock daisy    (Pachystegia) with grasses and    red verbena
Marlborough rock daisy (Pachystegia) with grasses and red verbena