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Color combinations can make plant neighbors “pop” and show us that more of the one thing is not always better.

Colorful flower bed.

Sometimes when I look at a favorite flower, I have the urge to go and buy a dozen more exactly the same. It’s as though I can’t get enough. And yet, the rational part of me suggests: plants that are complementary or contrast well may be even better than more.

By complementary I mean something different blooming next to another blooming plant that will enhance rather than just increase the impact.

This could be described as another version of the “enhance the taste of the ice cream you are eating by adding sprinkles, rather than just eat another ice cream that is exactly the same” theory.

I applied that theory this past summer when I resisted buying more Achillea ‘moonbeam’ and instead bought a deep purple salvia to partner with the yarrow instead.

When combined, the bright yellow yarrow and the deep purple salvia, both deer resistant as an added bonus, made each other look even better. And then when some white feverfew volunteered next to them, the duo turned into a trio that looked better still.

Serendipity often does the hard work of creating the most perfect combinations in our gardens. Last spring, the perennial blue forget-me-not, (not Brunnera), self-seeded bountifully on my rock wall near the acid yellow blooms on a low growing sedum. This combination was stunning.

And in my herb garden a bright yellow alyssum danced alongside a lavender.

Color combinations such as these really make plant neighbors “pop” and make gardeners realize that just more of the same is not always better.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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