Fantastic plant combos of 2013

The end of the year usually marks a roundup of posts. However, this year, I thought I would change things up a bit. Let’s look instead at a series of fantastic plant combos. I mean, we’re in the depths of winter, but the Winter Solstice is past. The days are growing longer, and it’s time to look ahead to the new year and 2014’s garden. The following are combos I saw around the country and here at home that I thought especially beautiful or striking. Will you agree? Let me know what you think.

Several are from my favorite nursery, Bustani Plant Farm which is always worth the drive. I make at least two trips out there every year, in spring and in fall. I go in fall to pick up any asters and non-asters Steve and Ruth found, along with other perennials, but I also go to look at the gardens in their full and bounteous glory. They use a lot of tropicals, and it takes heat to get these babies going. Oklahoma has plenty of summer heat. By Autumn, Bustani’s gardens and mine are at their peak, and I can see how things fared.

'Cathedral Windows' and 'Anna' coleus.' The coleus on the far left is 'Copper,' and the dark plant in the back is Euphorbia continifolia 'Atropurpurea,' Caribbean copper plant.
‘Cathedral Windows’ and ‘Anna’ coleus.’ The coleus on the far left is ‘Copper,’ and the dark plant in the back is Euphorbia continifolia ‘Atropurpurea,’ Caribbean Copper Plant.

I know I’ll be adding ‘Anna’ and ‘Cathedral Windows’ coleus to my collection next year. Hard to believe I’ve never grown them, but I must rectify that. The striking plant in the back is Euphorbia continifolia ‘Atropurpurea,’ Caribbean copper plant–a long name for a very pretty tropical.

'Black Varnish' Pseuderanthemum with coleuse
‘Large Marge’ coleus with ‘Black Varnish’ Pseuderanthemum

On the photo above, I’m not sure about the coleus. It could be ‘Large Marge’ or ‘The Line.’ UPDATE: Steve told me it is ‘Large Marge.’ The real impact of this combo comes from the play of light and dark. This garden sits in partial shade, and the plants look really good together. As you know, I’m a huge coleus fan. Foliage is very important in Oklahoma because summer heat keeps many things from blooming. Not so, for the Crossandra below, though.

Crossandra 'Marmalade' is one plant I'll be adding to next year's repertoire. This is also from Bustani and blooming in full sun.
Crossandra ‘Orange Marmalade’ is one plant I’ll be adding to next year’s repertoire. This is also from Bustani and blooming in full sun.

Steve is really excited about this Crossandra ‘Orange Marmalade.’ He told me it was one plant I need for my garden next year. It’s a very soft orange and would be an attention getter in a couple places in my garden along its sunny edge. One more from Bustani, and then we’ll move on. I think the combo below works because the coleus is only two colors, and the white shrimp plant stands out against them.

Justicia betonica, White Shrimp Plant, in front of 'Alabama Sunset' coleus. Although this coleus is an older variety and doesn't look like much in spring, check out the yellow centers once the heat hits.
Justicia betonica, White Shrimp Plant, in front of ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus. Although this coleus is an older variety and doesn’t look like much in spring, check out the yellow centers once the heat hits.

In my garden, I used a few old favorites to impact the lower beds. I bought the Pink Knockout roses on sale a long time ago before Rose Rosette began to claim the original Knockouts throughout Oklahoma City and Edmond. I now see it in Guthrie too. I’m just hoping my Pink Knockouts survive because I love them so. They bloom all season with very little care. I’ll knock them back by about half in February. Oh my, that’s not very far away. The variegated tapioca I buy from Steve every year. I’m thinking about growing it in large square terra cotta pots this year to get more height and have that solid color beneath to break things up a bit. I’ll run drip irrigation from my soaker lines to the pots so I won’t need to water twice a day.

Variegated tapioca with Pink Knockout roses and 'Little Bunny' fountain grass
Variegated tapioca with Pink Knockout roses and ‘Little Bunny’ fountain grass

Another combo from my garden. I grew the New Zealand castor bean from seed. I will again this year. I’ll start it indoors at the beginning of March or end of February. It’s tropical.

New Zealand castor bean with Helianthus angustifolius, Narrow-leaf Sunflower
New Zealand castor bean with Helianthus angustifolius, Narrow-leaf Sunflower

This was striking not just because of the size of the plants which are both over five feet, but also the color contrast and large, jagged, dark purple leaves versus the thin and reedy sunflower foliage. Note that the sunflower is perennial and needs a lot of space, preferably at the back of the border. This native is somewhat aggressive in a watered garden so I pull up about half of it at the beginning of spring and move it about in other places in the garden.

'Maui Gold' elephant ear with red begonias at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens
‘Maui Gold’ elephant ear with red begonias at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

There are a lot of new elephant ears coming out of Hawaii, hybridized by John Cho, that can handle full sun or partial sun in many places. This is good news for us in Oklahoma. The combination, above, was at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. I visited while I was at the Garden Bloggers’ Conference in September. It’s not a huge botanical garden so you can visit it in half a day or so. I don’t know if these pots are moved about a lot, but they were healthy and thriving when I was there. I’m betting the elephant ear is ‘Maui Gold.’ You can find it at Plant Delights Nursery. I am also excited about ‘Hawaiian Punch’ which is smaller and has red stems. Do I think these can handle Oklahoma’s full sun all summer? No, because we are too dry, but I do think they can stand a bit of morning sun here, and that gives us more options.

Begonia Baby Wing White, Caladium humboldtii Mini White and Hemigraphis exotica
Begonia Baby Wing™ White, Caladium humboldtii ‘Mini White’ and Hemigraphis exotica, purple waffle plant, growing in shade

I must admit I have a love/hate relationship with purple waffle plant. Its crumply, bumpy foliage gives me the creeps especially when it dries up and starts to fall off in our heat. However, it is a great plant for morning sun if you don’t mind its other issues. I would probably replace it with ‘Black Patent Leather‘ coleus though.

Finally, one more from my garden, and then I’ll let you go. It’s good to review what worked and what didn’t. Armchair gardening can be quite satisfactory in the wintertime.

Coleus, probably 'Kiwi Fern' and Tecoma stans Bells of Fire esperanza.
Coleus, probably ‘Kiwi Fern’ and Tecoma stans Bells of Fire esperanza.



  1. Robin L says:

    I’m always fascinated by the plant combinations in public gardens. And while I always swear that I will copy them, I never do. I wander through nurseries admiring the beauties, and then just do my own thing.

  2. Les says:

    I am in the middle of planning the summer displays at work next year, and ‘Orange Marmalade’ should have a large presence. It seems to be orange enough for the minority of people (myself included) who love orange, but too much so to turn off the anti-orange crowd.

  3. Janet Miller says:

    I read in one of your past articles that you use propane heating for your greenhouse. I am struggling this year with two oil heaters to keep the temperature in the 40’s. I am looking for a better heat source for next year and was wondering if you could give me some information on propane heating or any other energy efficient heat source. Love reading your blog and hope to one day have beautiful gardens like you do 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Janet, thanks for writing. Before I can really help, I need to know a couple of things. 1. How big is your greenhouse? 2. Do you have it weather stripped? Bill uses 1 1/4″ x 1 1/4″ foam weather stripping around every window, the door and the roof vents. There are now virtually no air leaks. You must have some so that the propane heating has oxygen to operate well, and you also need good air to breathe. 3. Is your greenhouse glass, or two-ply poly like mine? The two-ply poly is supposed to hold heat better. We have two heaters in the greenhouse. One is a small electric heater than comes on if the propane heater runs out of fuel. The electric heater isn’t very cost efficient so we work hard to keep propane fuel available. The propane heater is 30,000 btu which we thought might be overkill, but this winter has been very cold so far, and it’s worked well. Both heaters have thermostats and sit on the brick floor. We have a small fan to move the heat around. We have two 100 pound propane bottles that are outside of the house. I hope this helps. I’m planning to write a post about the heating system soon although this is pretty much it. One thing to consider is biomass (water tank) because warm water helps keep the greenhouse warm too. Check Bren Haas’ blog. She also has a greenhouse. Good luck. Oh, and where are you gardening? That makes a difference too.

  4. Those Coleus plants are stunning–all of them! I always enjoy potted arrangements of various Coleus varieties–they work so well in shade, and they’re gorgeous. The white Shrimp Plant is fun, too!

  5. Nell Jean says:

    What a fun post and wonderful comments!

    White Shrimp Plant is starting to bloom in a glass of water in my greenhouse. You never know when it will decide to put up blossoms. I love it.

    Persian Shield is another that blooms in the greenhouse better than in the garden, except I had recent garden blooms because frosts were late Both are day-length dependent, hard to know just which days, lol.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      No kidding on the day-length dependent ones. They are quite difficult. I took cuttings of some things this year, but not persian shield. I will next time. Thanks for the suggestion. I’m thrilled about the greenhouse. It makes gardening ever so much fun.~~Dee

  6. It’s interesting to see that coleus in full sun. I always think of them as a shade plant. The crossandra reminds me a bit of a wallflower. I’ll need to research that to see if it will tolerate a zone 7a. Thanks for another great post. 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you! ‘Alabama Sunset’ was one of the first of those coleus that can grow in sun. Now, there are so many, and what’s cool is that these coleus can grow in sun or shade. They are simply colored-differently. The sun brings out different colors. Cool huh?

  7. I am a huge fan of coleus too, Dee — you have some wonderful combinations here. I love the grouping with the roses, too. Glad you are finding time to blog although you are so very busy. Happy New Year! P. x

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Pam, so lovely to see you here. I am getting to blog a bit now the book is nearly done. Thank goodness. Happy New Year to you too!

  8. Barb Matthews says:

    Great combos! I am adding several new plants to my list. Love the Variegated tapioca, just haven’t had any luck finding it in my area.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Barb, you may have to order it from someone. It’s a hard plant to root and pricey because of this I think. I hope you’re able to find some. It’s a great plant. Thanks so much for stopping by.~~Dee

  9. Forgot to mention that the castor bean plant was a pivotal character in a very prominent murder trial here in KC about 20 years ago. A prominent MD was found guilty of murdering her philandering MD husband by gradually feeding him pieces of castor bean seeds until he could cheat no more. I think philanderers in the area took a sudden interest in preparing their own meals or at least helping out in the kitchen. But to all your readers, always give counseling a chance before becoming your own apothecary.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Patrick, you are too funny! Sad that people die from poisoning, but…I’ll take my chances here. I grew oleander too.~~Dee

      1. I cried my heart out when I poisoned a baby turtle as a 10 year old when I put fresh greens including that damn oleander into his tank. Thanks for making me feel bad about myself, Dee.

  10. Thanks for the valuable input my delightful Dee. I provide my nursery with a wish list at the first of the year based on blog reports, articles etc at the first of the year. Been going there since I came to America in 1978 (wish my marriage had lasted that long — laughing through tears — NOT) Anyway will be adding:
    Cathedral Windows
    Crossandra nilotica
    White Shrimp Plant
    Euphorbia cotinifolia (must have)
    Thanks for helping beautify the gardens around Kansas City, Sandra Dee.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Glad to help. I look forward to seeing your photos next summer. ~~Dee

  11. That variegated tapioca is very striking. I doubt I get enough heat for most of the plants in those containers, but I like seeing them on your blog.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Kathy, you’re probably right on that one. I’m sorry, but you can grow Galanthus, and I envy you.~~Dee

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have grown the Crossanda the past few years. It is a tremendous plant. It withstands drought and overwatering. Blooms in little sun and goes until frost. I just love it. I think you will too.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oooh, Lisa, thanks. I look forward to growing it next year. Thanks!

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