Monrovia Plant Savvy
design, inspiration and practical ideas from the plant experts. May 2010
combining design styles: hard and soft
  Dear Savvy Gardener,

Love the spiky plants like Phormium, Yucca and Agave, but not sure if you’re ready to commit to a modern garden design? Those and other architectural plants have large, often spiky, leaves; interesting foliage; and a strong and an upright shape that adds structure to the landscape and draws the eye upward. Try combining a few of these hard plants in with some soft, flowering varieties for a fresh look. Many of the hard varieties tend to be full sun and water-wise so you’ll need to plan a little bit, tucking those drought-tolerant plants in the dry spots in the garden and redirecting your drip system toward the soft , flowering plants. Containers are a perfect solution for plants with different water, soil and sun needs. Think of each pot as its own ecosystem to account for different requirements. And you can move them around for different design effects.

  New Zealand Flax and Roses
Rainbow Queen New Zealand Flax has olive green leaves with red margins that fade to a creamy white in summer. Soften the look with Flower Carpet® and Knock Out® roses. Both prefer full sun and, once established, need only occasional watering.
the beauty is in the contrast
  Sarah Bernhardt Double Peony Mystery Gardenia Pink Elf French Hydrangea leafgif   soft and sweet… just like mom

Here are some soft plants that pair well with the bolder varieties – and make excellent Mother’s Day gifts! Peonies spill forth with huge, colorful blooms and, because they like full sun, mix well with many varieties of architectural plants. Try the big double blooms of Sarah Barnhardt (pink) and Shirley Temple (white with a hint of rose). The new hybrid Itoh Peonies can produce 50 or more flowers on one plant. Our latest flavors are Pink Double Dandy and Yellow Doodle Dandy.

Add some fragrance with Gardenias, like August Beauty, First Love® and Mystery. We graft these beauties onto G. thunbergerii rootstock, which is nematode-resistant and better able to absorb nutrients from the soil. These easy-care Gardenias will flourish in your garden and indoors. Hydrangeas provide a colorful backdrop for the hard and soft garden look. Opt for the mophead varieties, (H. mycraphylla) with enormous blooms. Nikko Blue, Pink Elf® and Buttons ‘N Bows® are prized for their fantastic flower clusters. A Climbing Hydrangea will cling to walls, arbors and trellises, producing a profusion of white lace cap blooms.

Dawn's Chorus Azalea Flower Carpet Amber Rose

strong and sentimental

Exbury Azaleas were bred for improved flowers and cold hardiness. Their profusion of soft, fluttering blooms will add plenty of color to the garden. The very hardy Dawn’s Chorus is pink with a white and orange blotch and a lovely light fragrance. Red Sunset is a true, deep red color, and Cannon’s Double has multi-colored blossoms of pink, peach and cream.

Don’t forget about easy-care Roses, which have a long blooming season. Flower Carpet® varieties can be grown as a groundcover and, because they are drought-tolerant, they pair well with water-wise hard plants. Mix in some floriferous Shrub Roses like Knock Out®, Lady Elsie May and Caramba® and climbers like Cecile Brunner or William Baffin, one of the most cold-hardy climbing roses.

Rainbow Queen New Zealand Flax

now for the hard part

The hard upright, spiky growers have modern lines that contrast well with our soft, flowering plants. The super popular New Zealand Flax is an ideal choice. These evergreen, warm-climate favorites have clump-forming foliage and range from 18 inches to four feet high. Tough as can be, they flourish in a range of conditions, from tropical to cool and full sun to light shade. The deep bronze leaves of the Bronze New Zealand Flax make a spectacular contrast with bright green and silver foliaged plants.

Golden Sword Yucca Variegated Dwarf Century Plant

getting edgy

Dracaena Palms have sword-like leaves that can reach upward of five feet in length. Bauer’s, Red Star and Festival Grass™ all have varying shades of rich burgundy-red leaves. Blue has a distinctive blue-green color and tree-like habit, reaching up to 10 feet. Yuccas, with their tough, sword-shaped leaves, topped by very tall stalks of whitish flower clusters, make a striking silhouette. Many varieties, like Golden Sword, are cold hardy to Zone 4. Silver Desert Spoon boasts spiky, saw-toothed silver-blue foliage.

Agaves, like this variegated dwarf variety are growing in popularity. These succulents have all the characteristics of great architectural plants: large clumps of fleshy, strap-shaped leaves that range from twisty and curly, to thick and spiky. Plant them in containers in colder climates to overwinter indoors. The Twin Flowered Agave forms a symmetrical rosette with unarmed leaves, making it a great selection for pathways and near pools.

Mint Julep Juniper Alphonse Karr Bamboo

focal points

Topiaries can add great structure in the landscape or in containers. San Jose Juniper is water-wise and easy to grow. Plus, birds love it and deer don’t! Mint Julep® Juniper has brilliant green foliage and is stunning when trained in a pompon shape. Or go with a tall, upright Italian Cypress like Swane’s Golden , with pretty golden foliage, and the densely branched, blue-green foliage of Blue Italian Cypress.

Bamboo is sort of a self-contained hard-soft plant. The upright, rigid canes are backed by soft foliage. A favorite is Alphonse Karr, with its brilliantly striped canes. Several varieties, like Sunset Glow Bamboo, are cold-hardy. Another hard-soft plant is Canna , which has tall broad leaf foliage, with pretty flower spikes that soften the dramatic foliage. The dazzling multi-colored foliage of Tropicanna™ is a wow in the garden and fantastic in a cut-flower arrangement.