September 16, 2011

cutting patch series: planting combinations

We are right in the middle of the best month for planting your annual seeds for next year, and the shops are full of lovely bulbs to plant too, so you may have started looking through the catalogues, or garden centres, or even got some seeds into the ground already?

On a previous post in this series, someone asked about planting combinations, which different plants to grow together, and it is something I have been considering this week as I plant my seeds. The thing is I can't be prescriptive about these combinations, because of course it is all about personal taste and what plants you want to see growing in your garden and in your house. What I can share is some things that have and haven't worked for me, and some general principles.

As I have discussed in earlier posts, how you arrange your cutting patch will depend on its location and the style of your garden in general - it might be in regimental rows, which is brilliant for weeding and harvesting, allotment/kitchen garden style or it might be laid out more like a traditional flowerbed to blend in with the rest of your garden. Thinking first of colour, which ever type of cutting patch you have, it is worth putting in a bit of time considering what you want it to look like in spring, summer and early autumn in particular. What colours do you love, what colours would work well in your garden as a whole, and in certain rooms in your house? Do you favour vibrant, punchy, rich colours, or a softer pastel palatte? Is your patch next to other planting areas that have a definite colour scheme going on? All these questions will inform your choices.

My cutting patch can be seen directly from the main window of our sitting room, and is next to a border which is full of lime greens and purples, with some whites and deep plum colours at certain times of the year.

For this reason, I have tried to keep the hotter reds and yellows which make their presence felt in late summer, at the furthest end of the cutting patch, away from the purples and lilacs of the next-door flowerbed, because I'm not fond of that jarring colour combination.

Here is a general principle of colour combining in the garden that I have picked up along the way, that I have really found to be true: rich, vibrant colours, however they clash can work together (if noisily sometimes!), if there is enough green amongst them, the green seems to pull them all together. What doesn't work so well, in my experience, is bright, saturated colours alongside soft pastels - each seems to ruin the charm of the other and the combination jarrs the eye. I had a perfect example of this, this year when for some unknown reason I planted a mauve scabious right beside my deep red and yellow heleniums, the combination was awful - the mauve just looked insipid and the red garish, and the two together ridiculous! Really poor planting choice. I think this can also be true of broadly different types of plants to some degree, I am not a huge fan of mixing, say, exotic tropical plants with very traditional cottage garden planting - think gypsophila and canna lillies together, or palms and daisies! But 'rules' can be broken with stunning effect sometimes so I never say never! Infact don't think 'rules' at all, just think of things to be wary of.

So what has worked for me? In vases and bouquets I have really enjoyed the following combinations, so where possible have planted them near eachother, with a mind to the amount of sun they need, and the height to which they grow. So, I have taken the quirky approach of thinking of the cut flowers I like together in a vase, and working backwards to whether they would grow successfully together in my cutting patch. Here are my current fave combinations in the vase and the starting point of my decision of what to grow where:

lime greens and blues/purples: alchemilla mollis flowers with catmint, verbena, alliums, tulips and salvias, campanulas, bupleurum

deepest black/reds with lime green: dark dahlias with irish bells, dark red cornflowers, dark annual scabious, darkest tulips with white and greeny ones, cotinus foliage and dill foliage adding dark or limegreen accents.

late summer brights together: achillea, cotinus, heleniums, rudbeckia, dahlias, zinnias - lovely with grasses and seedheads

white and green: alliums, tulips, narcissi, cosmos, nigella, scabious, anemones, dill, irish bells, alchemilla flowers, white dahlias, mint and rosemary, bupleurum, acidanthera, ammi, orlaya grandiflora, poppy seedheads, grasses like briza minima or hare's tail grass. Maybe the most popular combination?

pink and grey/green: peonies and roses with eucalyptus, poppy seedheads, white nigella as a filler flower, apple mint

bright pink and purples colours: peonies, rananculus, alliums, tulips, de caen anemones, bupleurum and dill as foliage, dahlias, deep pink cosmos

orange and blue: cornflowers with calendula, heleniums, salvias

dark shades with white: dahlias, cotinus, anemones, ammi, dark cornflowers

With any colour combination you love, remember to consider whether they need the same growing conditions, how much sun do they need, what kind of soil to they thrive in? Both will need the same basic condions obviously. Also worth noting, is the eventual height and spread of each plant in the grouping, they either need to be similar or arranged, maybe with the shortest infront of the higher growing, so that no plant gets swamped by another, and the shapes they make in the cutting patch are both pleasing to you and helpful to the successful growth of each plant. I love growing plants in blocks for this reason, for inspiration check out the designs of Piet Oudolf, my garden hero (his latest book, Landscapes in Landscapes is my new favourite gardening inspiration book!). For fabulous combinations of flowers to grow in your cutting patch, Grow Your Own Cut Flowers by Sarah Raven has a gadzillion ideas and planting plans.

My mantra: grow what you love, in combinations that please your eye and suit the needs of the plants!


  1. Incredibly useful and interesting post. Very generous of you!

  2. Hi Belinda - you mention planting annual seeds for next year. Is it best to scatter them straight onto the ground (if they're hardy annuals)? I know sweet peas can be given a head start if planted now but what about other half hardy annuals? This bit of info would be so useful! Thankyou in advance.

  3. Beautiful bloom combinations and plenty of good advice. Thank you.

  4. This is definitely Planting 301, and I am still trying to master 101! Fortunately, I only ordered pink, blue and white seeds ... because... well we know the answer to that. I am planning to get some of the dahlias in darker colors for next fall - love your dark purple with the whites and lime greens.

    It's a work in progress... and so much fun! thanks. xoxo

  5. Thank you so much - I am learning and gaining a massive amount of inspiration from these posts of yours!

  6. Oh gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!! I find your blog so completely inspiring, Belinda. THANK YOU so much for sharing all this information with us. I reeeeally look forward to these posts!

    Big hugs,

  7. finally home from work/ hair cut and all the other flotsam of the day that kept me from reading this post my early am.

    I like the idea of planting as I would design. My garden is a not unpleasing patchwork of colors and textures but it is often left to its own devices.

    I will start with thee bulbs this weekend. swear to God.

    xo jane

  8. Simply lovely flower combinations, as usual :) In my previous garden, I had a no red or orange flower rule - then everything seemed to look good together. But you use them beautifully. XOL

  9. Fabulous photos. I have never really got togrips with autumn sowing for annuals. Do you direct sow? Keep them in a cold greenhouse? Direct sowing rarely works for me so in spring everything is grown in the greenhouse. How does that work for autumn sowings?

  10. You have an inspiriting and beautiful blog. We are about to lanscape our back garden. We have dug it all up and now the fun begins. As we live in a Victorian house, we have found a lot of bottles and broken plates and jugs.
    Have a lovely weekend
    Isabelle x

  11. I can only admire and sigh looking at your wonderful flower arrangements!

  12. Belinda you are so clever! I am just thinking about a mammoth bulb order as I want to under plant the apple trees in the orchard and I am going for snakeshead fritilarias I think!I am also mad about anemone coronaria and fancy a huge bed of them, but I keep changing my mind, and I am very stressed as I don't have a greenhouse here yet and I want to sow my sweet peas into loo rolls but have nowhere to over winter them.....I shall just keep coming to see what you are up to and remeber Rome wasn't built in a day!

    Sarah x

  13. Great advice and I agree that personal choice does come into planting. I invited people living in the village to come and put something in the church for Harvest Festival. A few made their own floral arrangements. Most people picked flowers and foliage from their gardens or purchased them from our local flower shop. These were left to be arranged by me. How I could have done with your expert guidance Belinda... I find growing flowers far easier than making them work together in beds and bouquets! xx

  14. Hi Belinda,

    Thank you for your advice! I enjoyed seeing your combinations of flowers and colour. You make beautiful bouquets!

    Happy evening,

    Madelief x