Matches Made in Heaven

How Lorraine Roberts conjures up dreamy landscapes using colour, shape – and an appetite for surprise.

March 21, 2016 | | Leisure

Lorraine Roberts didn’t have to cast about for long when pondering the topic of her second book devoted to gardening. Visitors to Caledon’s Plant Paradise Country Gardens, the nursery and botanical gardens she runs with her husband Robb, kept asking how she came up with her innumerable felicitous plant combinations. “On tours, people ask, ‘Why does it look so good?’” she says.

It comes down to the art of combining plants with an eye to how they’ll grow into a space. “When people are purchasing plants, they see a little plant in a pot. They have difficulty imagining how it’s going to grow.”

Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial GardenHence Lorraine’s photo-heavy approach to sharing her insights in Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial Garden. She spells out how important plant leaf and bloom shapes are, using simple terms such as “spires,” “buttons and balls” and “frothy fillers” to get readers oriented.

In the book, Lorraine, whose background in art is obvious in her work, discusses the power of colour (she doesn’t believe there are bad colour pairings, by the way), shapes and planning blooms by season. One of her favourite pairings is the contrasting daisy and spire shapes.

How to know if you’re on the right track? Take black and white photographs of your garden to assess what shapes and structure you have. “Does it still look good even without colour? The shapes of the plants, the flower forms and the leaf forms all combine to make a garden that’s textural and full of interest.”

Not to say that even a well-planned garden stays that way. Lorraine says she embraces the constant surprises – the combinations that look better than she imagined, the self-seeding plants that seem to know where they belong, and even the mistakes, which can be transplanted elsewhere.

So, what of the soothing shade garden on these pages, photographed at the height of last summer? “I’ve already changed it. It’s never finished,” she laughs.

More of Lorraine’s happy matchmakings, excerpted from her book, are featured below. In addition to the descriptions shown here, the book lists the botanical name, sun and soil preference, height, zone and blooming season for each plant.

Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial Garden

Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial Garden is available at Plant Paradise Country Gardens in Caledon, at www.plantparadisecountrygardens.ca, and will be available at local bookstores including Curiosity House Books in Creemore, BookLore in Orangeville and Forster’s Book Garden in Bolton.

Ornamental Onion and Tall Bearded Iris

Ornamental Onion and Tall Bearded Iris

The textural complexity of each flower shape draws you closer to this colour-on-colour composition. The creamy centre of Iris germanica ‘Mother Earth’ adds just enough excitement to bring it all together. Most bulbs go dormant after blooming, so I plant them quite close to perennials which act as the foundation and create an ever-changing display.

Spring to early summer, full sun to partial sun

False Sunflower
, Alpine Sea Holly
 and Perennial Salvia

False Sunflower
, Alpine Sea Holly
 and Perennial Salvia

Foliage takes centre stage with Heliopsis ‘Loraine Sunshine’ (top right). Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ is in the background with its variegated yellow and green foliage. Blues are brought to bear with Eryngium alpinium (left) and Salvia nemorosa ‘Sensation Sky Blue’ (foreground). When it blooms, Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’ (not shown) will complete a triadic colour scheme using the yellow, blue and red primary colours.

Summer to fall, full sun to partial sun

Coral bells and pinks

Coral Bells
 and Pinks

Big swaths of the same perennial will always add the greatest impact. Heuchera ‘Paris’ and Dianthus ‘Rosy Cheeks’ Devon Cottage Series are two long-blooming perennials that make perfect partners. Heuchera ‘Paris’ is one of my favourite coral bells because of its sun or shade adaptability, hardiness and vigour. In the distance is an invasive perennial I’d advise never planting, Artemisia ‘Oriental Limelight’.

Summer to fall, full sun to partial sun

Little Bluestem Grass
, Coral Bells
 and Wormwood

Little Bluestem Grass
, Coral Bells
 and Wormwood

Silver shines in this mostly monochromatic planting with differing foliage textures creating a unified whole. In the forefront of the photo is Sedum sieboldii with its pink-edged, bluish-silver, succulent foliage and pink flower buds. Behind the Sedum lie Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’ (wormwood), Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’ (coral bells) and Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Paradise’ (bluestem grass).

Summer to fall, full sun to partial sun

Giant Fleeceflower
. Perennial Larkspur
 and Asiatic Lily

Giant Fleeceflower
, Perennial Larkspur
 and Asiatic Lily

The white plumes of Persicaria polymorpha are a majestic backdrop to the regal Delphinium elatum spires. Large groups of Asiatic lilies are repeated throughout the garden to enliven a primarily cool colour scheme. As the delphiniums begin to emerge in April, I use an organic slow release fertilizer. To grow into healthy, strong specimens they require regular fertilizing until they bloom. After blooming I cut the flower stems to the ground to encourage new blooms in the fall.

Summer to fall, full sun to partial sun

Species Tulip, 
Grape Hyacinth and 
Dead Nettle

Species Tulip, 
Grape Hyacinth and 
Dead Nettle

In this part-shade, dry and difficult garden, the early spring-blooming perennial bulbs were planted under a ground cover of Lamium (foreground). Muscari latifolium and Tulipa turkestanica are sun perennial bulbs that tolerate part shade. In early to mid-spring there are no leaves on the shade-creating deciduous trees, so most spring-blooming bulbs would be a good choice. For a sunny garden try substituting the ground cover Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ with Tulipa humilis ‘Little Beauty’.

Spring to early summer, full shade to partial shade

Painted Fern
, Shooting Star and 
Plantain Lily

Painted Fern
, Shooting Star and 
Plantain Lily

Native ephemeral plants are very long-lived perennials (trilliums, for example). They bloom in the spring, and then after blooming their leaves die back and the plant seems to disappear only to return the following year. The spring blooms of the native ephemeral Dodecatheon meadia (above, centre) accentuate the strikingly beautiful colour and textures of Athyrium n. p. ‘Burgundy Lace’ (above, foreground). The leaves of Hosta ‘Barbara Ann’ (background) will eventually engulf the space where the Dodecatheon meadia were blooming.

Spring to early summer, full shade to partial shade

Siberian Bugloss
 and Smooth Hydrangea

Siberian Bugloss
 and Smooth Hydrangea

Brunnera m. ‘Jack Frost’ (foreground) has already flowered, but continues to light up this morning sun location with its frosted silver foliage and green veining. We have found only two cultivars of hydrangea to be successful in a great degree of shade – Hydrangea a. ‘Incrediball’ and Hydrangea a. ‘Annabelle’. For late summer to fall blooms, these hydrangeas add a great deal of interest to a shade garden.

Spring to early summer, full shade to partial shade

foliage

Foliage

Everyone loves a perennial garden overflowing with colourful flowers, but using foliage provides a huge impact on creating an appealing and engaging garden. Choosing perennials with outstanding foliage can’t be emphasized enough. Foliage provides colour and textural interest in the garden when the flowers are not in bloom. From a distance we are usually drawn toward large-leaved plants, where small-leaved plants draw us in for a closer appreciation of their beauty. Up close is also where we can appreciate a plant’s leaf texture and shape. This is often an overlooked and underappreciated aspect of the perennial chosen. Repeating plants with distinct foliage can bring a sense of continuity. Uniqueness may include the colour of the foliage combined with leaf shape and texture. In the grouping above, the apple-green fronds and purple stems of Athyrium ‘Ghost’ accent the peach, honey-orange and green tones of Heuchera ‘Marmalade’. Who needs flowers with a foliage partnership like this?

Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial Garden from Plant Paradise Country Gardens in Caledon. Photo by Joanne Garnett.

Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial Garden from Plant Paradise Country Gardens in Caledon. Photo by Joanne Garnett.

About the Author More by Tralee Pearce

Tralee Pearce is an associate editor of In The Hills Magazine.

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