|Baptisia makes a wonderful companion to bearded irises|
|A deep red bearded iris just beginning to open, surrounded by Allium 'Purple Sensation'|
|Deep red bearded iris with Siberian iris in the background. To the left is Crambe maritima or sea kale. The white flowers are fragrant!|
One of the most interesting aspects to being a garden designer is creating good marriages. Combining plants that have contrasting shapes, textures, and forms makes every plant in the marriage "pop". Of course, the plants have to like the same conditions such as high or low light, wet or dry soil, and so forth. They have to be of a fairly equal growth rate or one will overtake the other.
The trickiest part is to figure out exactly which plants bloom at the exact same time. I did an extensive study of this subject, which is the subject of my book Succession of Bloom in the Perennial Garden. Of course, it only deals with Connecticut, the only state I know about in minute detail.
Lately, with the extremes of heat and cold coming at strange times, plants have been tending to bloom differently than my 25 years of observation has tracked. Still, there are some classic combinations that seem foolproof. When talking about bearded irises, I have a few favorites. Of course, irises, peonies, and poppies spring to mind immediately. I adore all Baptisias, especially now that they are available in such a wide range of colors. They pair beautifully with bearded irises as they are two completely different flower forms. Crambe maritima, or sea kale, is rare in the trade, but I have had a huge patch of it at Natureworks for over 20 years. Big, broad, blue green cabbage-like foliage is the same color as bearded iris leaves, but the low, round heads of delicate white flowers are a perfect foil for all of the colors of the rainbow that these irises can produce. June blooming Alliums are also fun, as you can surround the patches of irises with these bulbs in the fall and viola! A magical marriage bursts forth.
One of my key design techniques is to always be on the lookout for good plant marriages. Once I see them, I can plug them into future plans. Sometimes they are serendipitous- self sown plants land where I least expect them and create a marriage I would never have thought of. But believe you me, once I see it, I won't forget to use it again!