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Chesapeake Native Plant Perennials: Combinations for Sunnier Spots

Paired plantings

I was once at a local nursery on an extremely busy spring day when I found myself behind a slow moving pair of shoppers with an overflowing cart. I was mesmerized by the amazing array of pastel colors of blooms in that cart. I soon realized the pair must be a garden designer and client. The designer was popping pots in and out of the cart tweaking the color palette among what seemed like frosted shades of sorbet; he was literally painting with plants and asking his client what she thought. His color combinations have stayed with me to this day. Inspired by that afternoon, these are color pairings I have not yet planted but would like to try.

Gardening experts recommend combining plants that have similar "habits" so the plants grow well in the same conditions and one plant won't crowd out the other. For example, goldenrods are vigorous growers. I once added some goldenrods (Solidago) to a mix of wildflowers to add some late fall color. The first year everything looked great. The second year it turned into a planting of just goldenrods as the goldenrods spread through the planting. The wildflowers just could not compete. On the other hand, a combination of asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and goldenrods would fair better as both grow well in dry sun, bloom in early fall and are more equal in growing habit which is why these two are such a classic pairing for fall flowers. This is something I always have to remind myself to think about.

Mod Color

Obedient Plant and Black-eyed Susan

These are two intense colors on their own. Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) is noted for reaching peak bloom in late summer after many other perennials have finished blooming. Its rich fuchsia pink color is saturated. Combine it with the brilliant gold of black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) and they balance each other out creating a very eye catching combo. Black-eyed susans typically start blooming much earlier but would still have blooms when the obedient plant came into flower, particularly if you deadhead the black-eyed susans.

A Sea of Greens

Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) and blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) are often planted for their foliage. The foliage of both stays strong and green after flowering and all through the summer heat. This is why they are often recommended to fill out flower beds. The fresh lime green of bluestar in spring would pop combined with the brilliant blue false indigo flowers. Bluestar foliage turns a truer green as summer goes on. Blue false indigo retains its bluer shade. The contrast of the greens and shapes of leaves might make for great contrast through the summer. In fall, the blue false indigo have interesting black seedpods and bluestar turns a brilliant yellow, also possibly a very interesting combination. Please note bluestar is the amsonia native to Arkansas. Amsonia tabernaemontana is the one native to the Chesapeake watershed.

You can read more about bluestar here.

Pastel Power

Mountain Mint and Anise Hyssop

Mountain mints (Pycanthemum) are strong growing perennials that are pollinator magnets and need virtually no care. Even if you don't cut dead stems back in spring, the plant will flush in new growth with no problem. I have also read it is considered a native perennial with one of the longest bloom periods. The white flowers are quite small but profuse and from a distance look like clouds of minty green. That minty green would be sublime with the pale lavender purple color of anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), another strong grower. Both of these grow well in dry conditions once established.

A Peppy Pair

Golden Alexanders and Indian Pink

Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica) grows in dappled sun as does golden alexander (Zizia aurea). I think the lacy yellow flowers of golden alexander would blend and let indian pinks pop. Golden alexander is a strong growing plant. Indian pink is strong but slow to get established. If I were to try this combination, I would add the golden alexander once the indian pinks were established. You would then be able to easily pull out any golden alexander crowding the indian pink. Golden alexanders bloom before indian pink but continue to bloom sporadically through the summer, enough to add yellow flowers and green foliage as background to indian pink.

Thorns and Roses

Adam's Needle and Muhly Grass

Adam's Needle (Yucca filamentosa) is native to the southeast and one of the few plants I have not been tempted by. It seems too coastal and not naturally suited to the piedmont region. A few weeks back, when I saw the plant combination on the left though, a cultivar of the native yucca and an unknown grass, it made me think adam's needle could be planted with native muhly grass (Muhlenbergia cappilaris) and the stark shape would contrast with the whispy pink flowers. It could be quite modern.

I am a self taught gardener. Professionals have literally written volumes on plant pairings and how to select plants to create natural plantings and symbiotic relationships. These ideas are not that; rather, they are musings of an amateur. Have you tried any of these? Are you thinking of combos you would like? If so, please consider sharing in the comments!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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