You Asked for It: Billy's Killer Combos?
by Billy Goodnick
In our last episode I listed five plants I would never use in a client's garden. Boy did that stir up a few opinions. Some readers rose in defense of camellias. A few of you got downright apoplectic when I dissed the ubiquitous impatiens - nothing like goring a few sacred cows before my morning Peet's decaf.
Others shouted a hearty "here, here" regarding my abject abhorrence for Algerian ivy. Some wanted a list of the good guys. Pope commented, "Good stuff Billy. I would like a list of plants you do recommend too. I know that it's hard, but just pick a few that are your most commonly installed." He wasn't alone in his quest for the Holy Grail of all gardeners - the sacred list of perfect plants. In my twenty years teaching landscape design for Adult Ed, the most popular night of class is when I hand out my collection of plant lists I've developed for my designs.
Sure, I could just start posting lists all over the internet. A few of you would likely offer to collect discarded dental gold and create an idol in my image, or perhaps put in a good word with the Nobel committee. If only it were that easy. Every site has a different set of growing conditions and aesthetic needs. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a one-size-fits-all list? But then I'd be out of a job and every garden in Santa Barbara would look alike.
I am sensitive to your whimpering and am offering a bit of help in my next few columns. I've generated a "list of lists" that might be useful. In future columns I'll be sharing my "go to" plants and organizing them by styles and uses, including CA natives, cottage, southwest, great shrubs, sumptuous succulents, light colored foliage plants for shade, plants for "edgy" compositions and more. All will be appropriate for low-water using gardens and require minimal care if correctly spaced. You'll have to do your own research regarding proper use.
I give you "Billy's Killer Combos." Each of the plants on this list can be used on its own, but these are pairings I've used in local gardens that truly brings out the best of both plants--not unlike matching the right wine to each course. In the interest of space and clarity, I'm using only botanical names (come on; you can handle it). Start your research by copying and pasting the ones that interest you into Google to get the common name and find out more about them. Your Sunset Western Garden book should have most of these as well.
I started with thirteen combos, but there's only room here for five. For the rest, visit my Flickr site, click on my photo stream and look for the "Killer Combo" collection in the far right column - it'll be like a mini-course in plant composition.
Dasylirion longissima + Euphorbia resinosa: True confession time—this isn't a garden I designed, but a photo I took at the Santa Barbara Mission. What I love about this pairing is the contrast of color and form created as the Dasylirion in the back explodes with energy and the Euphorbia's light colored "skin" stands out against the darker green. These are very drought tolerant and require no special care. Try them as a bold accent in a sunny prime location. Go easy on the water.
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Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart' + Agave americana: Continuing with a dramatic theme, this is a combo I suggested for a hot, west-facing slope near Earl Warren. Tradescantia surrounds the silvery Agave leaves. You can read about these plants at San Marcos Growers' website. Every time I drive past this garden I get goose bumps.
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Canna ‘Eribus' + Tulbaghia violacea: This lovely couple once greeted visitors to the Goleta Water District's main office—I'm not sure they're still dating. It's my favorite example of balancing harmony and contrast. Both plants are strongly vertical but the variation in leaf shape and color creates contrast. The flowers of both are pastel tints of equal intensity, but on the opposite poles of the color wheel.
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Coleonema pulchrum + Cerastium tomentosum: This combo is all about delicateness. There's a cottage garden feel that comes from the simple joining of pink and white. And you can't go wrong with a mat of gray foliage to amplify the other colors. Don't let the gentle appearance fool you—these are two plants that need little water once they're established.
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Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea' + Ophiopogon japonica: These multi-syllabic, diminutive plants will play together nicely in a dryish shady garden. Contradicting the myth that you can't grow anything under a California pepper tree, this duo edges a brick path and get along just fine with an occasional deep soaking. The chartreuse colored leaves make the perfect foil for the grassy blades. They look best when planted in broad, distinct swaths, rather than intermixed.
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Well, this should be enough to get you started. Feel free to leave a comment with plant lists that you're interested in and I'll see what I can do.
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Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.
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