Shared Beds Create Excitement In The Garden

Just one plant in a bed can make for a lonely garden. But when plants share, they can benefit each other in many ways.

| February/March 2007

  • Red pepper plants add a burst of color and contrast when planted near geraniums or citrus trees.
    Photo by Helene Pizzi
  • Yellow and orange marigolds, puple basil, blue salvia and other plants work well when mixed into a multilevel garden plan.
    Photo by Helene Pizzi
  • Red and blue salvia mingle playfully with other plants to create a bivrant mixed bed.
    Photo by Helene Pizzi

Plants, like people, stay healthier when they are in a serene environment with pleasant company. A diversity of plant life—herbs sharing beds with flowers and vegetables—creates the healthiest and prettiest of gardens.

Plants growing together help each other in many practical ways: Herbs and flowers draw beneficial insects, such as bees, wasps and ladybugs, to pollinate and help keep down the pest population; others can lure pests away from more desirable plants to areas where they’ll do less damage. Floppy plants can lean on their neighbors for support; tall ones can protect the shade-lovers growing at their feet. But the greatest asset of crowded beds, with many different kinds of plants sharing the space amicably, is the visual impact—the clash and splash of unexpected color combinations, varying leaf shapes, sizes and textures, the serendipity of it all.

When designing and planting your garden, you’ll never know what works until you try it, so be bold. Keep in mind that contrast is the easiest way to make a bed exciting. Start with fun color combinations, not just in flowers but also in foliage. Don’t forget the gray-leaved plants, such as the artemisias and lamb’s-ears, and the dramatic purple-bronze leaves of such plants as bronze fennel, purple basil and perilla, as they provide contrast and set off the greens of the garden beautifully. Add in plants with variegated leaves. Use white flowers, such as feverfew, to brighten the softness of pastels. Then layer texture into the bed, juxtaposing fine, feathery foliage with big, rough, fuzzy leaves and surrounding big, sturdy, single flowers with masses of small, soft ones to create charming vignettes. 

Creative Coupling

Close to the front door of my home I have an established bed that is beautiful all year long. There are five different types of rosemary, both prostrate and upright varieties, which I keep pruned low to allow the roses sharing this bed to grow through. The rose ‘Hacienda’ blooms from May to November, its scent harmonizing with the rosemary for a fragrance that delights everyone who passes by.

This bed is shared with irises, columbines, violets and ajugas, while lamb’s-ears hug the ground around low-growing miniature roses. The eye-catchers in this odd assortment are the two clumps of large-leafed sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’), the blue-green-grayish leaves contrasting beautifully with the other foliage.

All experienced gardeners know that garlic repels pests, such as aphids in the rose garden, and the same can be said of their Allium cousins, chives and garlic chives. In autumn I plant garlic around all my roses, four cloves per plant, simply stuck into the ground around each rose about 6 inches from the base. I’m able to harvest the garlic in early summer, and I hang garlic braids in the kitchen within easy reach. You also can plant garlic in the spring for a fall harvest. I grow dozens of hardy roses in my Zone 5 Milwaukee garden and in my garden in Rome, Italy.

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