By Sean Conway

One key to creating an attractive garden is to use contrasting leaf shapes, textures and colors

One key to creating an attractive garden is to use contrasting leaf shapes, textures and colors

This time of year, I get a lot of visitors stopping by to see my garden. Some are avid gardeners and others not. While walking around, I usually point out interesting vistas, or direct their attention to favorite plants that are blooming or about to come into bloom.

I wish I could say that my guided tours are strictly for pointing out the highlights of my garden, but in fact sometimes I am steering my visitors away from disasters I don't want them to see.

I was struck by the comments of one recent visitor. She was under the impression that there was some innate skill to gardening that I possessed, and that she didn't. I assured her that I was not born with any more gardening knowledge than she was, and that my garden acumen was more a result of trial and error than innate skill.

I told her that I have killed more than my fair share of plants, and that the true secret to having a good garden is to just keep trying. Plant, plant and plant some more. When you are done, weed, weed and weed some more.

Of course, that is a bit simplistic. After pondering the matter for a bit, I explained that good gardening is very much like getting dressed in the morning -- doing it right is a largely a matter of choosing what to pair together. Plant combinations can be just as compelling as clothing combinations.

Some people just seem to understand this concept and leave the house looking great, while others seem to fall short. The same is true in gardens. Some people just have a knack for pairing plants, while others need examples of what works. As with clothing, there are a few simple rules to guide you, and once you know them the results will show it.

First, a general rule of thumb: Think about plants in terms of color, shape, texture, ultimate size and cultural requirements. Don't get bogged down by Latin names or whether the plant is a hosta or a rose. Once you do that, you will feel free to start mixing and matching to stunning effect.

Next, keep in mind that, in general, contrasting leaf shapes look good together. Wide, flat leaves will stand out when paired with thin, narrow leaves. An example would be a large-leafed hosta planted next to a narrow-bladed grass such as a Carex. Each plant stands out.

Contrasting textures also compliment each other. The soft, frothy looking, cream-colored flowers of Tiarella wherryi (sometimes called foamflower) are the perfect foil for the dark green, rigid leaves of English Ivy. Both plants are perfectly adapted to growing in the shade -- a must if they are to be paired together.

When it comes to color, really anything goes. Contrasting colors work well planted near each other, but so do complimentary colors. Moderation is the key. A garden full of contrasting colors would be very unsettling to look at, much like a room full of people in clown outfits would be.

The opposite is true also. A garden of all complimentary colors with no contrast would seem a bit drab to most. A room full of Harvard math professors comes to mind.

If you are able to leave the house each day looking reasonably well put together, then you have what it takes to have a good looking garden. Few if any people are born with that knack. Rather, it takes time and practice to get it right. One look at some old high school photos will show how far you've come in your clothing choices. The same holds true for your garden -- it just takes a little time!


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Home & Garden - Creating a Beautiful Garden Can Be as Easy as Getting Dressed in the Morning