Secrets to beautiful plant pairings

A garden designer shares her ideas and inspiration

Asiatic lily and hydrangea

A pink Asiatic lily accents blue hydrangea and variegated Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekka-sugi'.

Jim McCausland

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"I think in terms of composition," says Cindy Stockett, as she looks out the window at her garden in Vashon Island, Washington.

"The key is to take a few elements and repeat them." One glance at her plantings ― carefully orchestrated for color and texture ― reveals her artistry.

Clumps of New Zealand flax, ornamental grasses, and drifts of lilies are repeated throughout the garden, visually connecting the various beds and borders.

Colors are repeated too; in one section of a border, for example, reddish purple foliage shows up in smoke trees, Japanese barberry, maples, and Japanese blood grass.

Putting together a living work of art sounds simple, and Stockett's garden actually makes it look simple ― but in the same way that Olympic figure skaters make triple axels look effortless. How does she do it?

Stockett says her design successes are partly intuitive, partly serendipitous, and mostly lots of hard work.

"As I maintain the garden, I get ideas about what to change," she explains. "When I make a bad plant combination, I move the plant that doesn't fit. And I move plants a lot. I'd love to have plants on wheels, but for now I bring a plant home from the nursery, set it out in the garden, and watch it for a few days. If it doesn't work with the plants around it, it's easy to move."


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