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Get More Creative with Combinations

In Part One of this article, Four Star’s Signature Garden Designer Ian McGreevy shared his techniques for choosing containers and selecting plants and colors that guarantee beautiful combinations. He explores using texture and surprise elements here, along with ways to ensure those plants stay beautiful all season long.

Mix it Up with Texture

“Texture can really ramp up interest,” says Ian McGreevy. “Try using different textures and types of plants.  Experiment with flowers of different shapes and sizes, especially double flowers like Rockapulco® Impatiens, Superbells® Double, Supertunia® Double and Illumination® Begonia.”

Ian McGreevy
This elegant combination combines various colors and textures that contrast and complement the container.


Ian recommends using tropicals and foliage-focused plants like Heart to Heart™ Caladiums or ColorBlaze® Coleus to create contrast with flower-heavy ones as well.  “Don’t be afraid to add foliage with deep lobes or scallops, variegation or asymmetry. With an interesting flower nearby, these really pop!”

“Certain lighter thrillers like Gaura and Graceful Grasses® Pennisetum will also look great swaying in the breeze.”

Go for the surprise element

Many winning combinations have that surprise element, such as a shrub or perennial, a tropical plant, an herb or edible plant, or a grass that takes it to another level. Retailers are finding that consumers really like these new options.

Ian McGreevy
The tall, colorful foliage lends an unexpected element to this beautiful combination in the Four Star Display Garden.


Ian has used several shrubs and perennials in his combinations with great success.  “Generally, I look for upright and tidy varieties to use as thrillers in combos,” he says.  “Tall, narrow evergreens fit the bill, such as Buxus, Ilex and Fine Line® Rhamnus. For more texture, I like to use the leafy, wild habits of Ligustrum, Weigela, Spiraea, Physocarpus, Lace® Sambucus, Pugster® Buddleia and others in a decorative, single-plant pot.”

“Remember that perennials and shrubs are in bloom for just part of the season, so they ought to have long-lasting flowers or attractive foliage to fill in after they’re done,” he explains.  “For flowers, I like to use Dolce® or Primo® Heuchera, Echinacea, Lamium, Spiraea and Buddleia.  Dwarf Hydrangeas like Bobo® or Little Quick Fire® and compact Weigela like Spilled Wine® and Sonic Bloom® are great for monoculture pots. For foliage, perennials that work well are Hosta, Brunnera, ferns, grasses and Goldilocks Lysimachia.”

As an added bonus, perennials and shrubs can be transplanted into the landscape at the end of the season.

Encouraging interaction

Ian suggests using interactive elements like fragrance, texture and edible plants to make a container more enticing.  “Fragrant plants like Cerveza ‘n Lime® Plectranthus, Lantana, Proven Accents® Rockin’® ‘Golden Delicious’ Salvia, Angelonia, and At Last® Rosa draw in visitors, and make great container plants.  I like to use them in patios and high-traffic areas to get the most out of them.”

Ian McGreevy
By choosing plants that interact with each other in terms of textures, fragrance, pollinator attraction or other factors, you can create combinations that look beautiful together and create a unique setting.


“Pleasant-to-touch textures are just as attractive in pots, such as Proven Accents® Lemon Coral® Sedum, Helichrysum, Mexican Feather Grass Nassella, Spiralis Juncus, and various ferns or foliage plants.  Try to avoid mixing these with scratchy or sticky plants such as Lantana, roses and others.” he adds.

He also uses pollinator-friendly plants like Salvia, Echinacea, rose, Vermillionaire® Cuphea, Buddleia and Helianthus to attract a daily show of local bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.

Edible plants and herbs are seeing more popularity in combinations as well, thanks to their season-long appeal and practicality.  Some of his favorites are Amazel Basil™, thyme, peppers and double flowering Berried Treasure™ strawberries.

Arranging within a container

Ian McGreevy
Different combinations enhance a variety of containers on display every summer at the Four Star Display Garden.


Ian explains his rules of thumb for arranging plants in a combination.  He offers several recommendations for plant placement and container styles:

  • When using a highly decorative container, keep the plants simple and symmetrical and let the pot do the work. The exciting pot will make a one-or-two-plant combo or single specimen plant really shine.
  • Likewise, you can elevate a simple container with an exciting and varied combo – this is a perfect place to experiment with asymmetry and interesting plant selection, like tropicals or the basil, strawberries and peppers in the Proven Harvest™ collection.
  • Standard production hanging baskets look best with a symmetrical arrangement that will quickly grow down to cover the pot while staying balanced.
  • However, larger or more unique hangers have room for exciting combos, seasonal interest, and even small thrillers. For example, try a wicker basket featuring kale, Heuchera, Pennisetum, and Superbells Calibrachoa.

Don’t forget planting requirements!

Combinations that last are the goal, so Ian suggests designers consider sun, shade, soil and water needs when putting plants together, especially in hanging baskets where maintenance and water are more of a challenge. Vigor rates, soil pH and amount of fertilizer, pest attractants and maintenance also come into play when creating combinations that will help customers achieve success at home.

For more information and tips on creating great combinations, click here. See Part One of this article here.