Do you ever wonder what plants look good together?  Below are pictures of some of my favorite plant combinations along with some general guidelines that I follow when designing a garden.

Sometimes red and pink colors always compliment each other.  Introducing yellow flowering plants provide a high color contrast that brings out the red and pink colors.  Above is a golf course landscape that I planted with Valentine shrub (Eremophila ‘Valentine’), Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) against the backdrop of foothill palo verde trees.

 

Parry’s agave (Agave parryi) with purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Also, succulents paired with perennials almost always compliment each other with their contrasting shades of green and textures.  Other recommended succulent and perennial pairings include desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) alongside black dalea (Dalea frutescens), prickly pear species with penstemon or try octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) with purple or white trailing lantana.

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Red’)
   
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

I use plants with white flowers as a backdrop for plants with red, pink and purple flowers; I like the way the white flowers emphasize the other colors.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae) & Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Most of the time the pairing of purple flowering plants with those that have orange flowers always looks great.  When deciding what colors look good when paired together, it helps to look at a color wheel.  In general, the colors that are opposite each other look great when paired together because their colors contrast so well.  Other orange, purple plant combinations to try are cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) with (Leucophyllum species), or  Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) with purple lantana. 

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
 

Also, I believe that any garden looks better with some yellow flowering plants.  As I mentioned earlier, the color yellow makes the other plants look better, (think of the color wheel).   I have had clients that have said they do not like yellow until I show them how much better their other plants look when we introduce just a few yellow flowering plants to their landscape and they quickly change their mind.

 
Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)
Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’
 

I often recommend the following for those who are looking for large shrub combinations.  Okay, I realize that many people either love or hate bougainvillea. Personally, I love them.  I have two bougainvilleas and since I don’t have a swimming pool, so I am not bothered by their litter. Their beautiful and vibrant colors are amazing.

I pair my bougainvillea with yellow bell shrubs.  Their colors contrast nicely, and they screen out the back wall of my garden.  I give them plenty of room to grow, and they produce beautiful flowers spring through fall.  If you do have a swimming pool and don’t like bougainvillea, how about trying orange jubilee (Tecoma hybrid ‘Orange Jubilee’) and Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) together?
 
Weber’s agave (Agave weberi) and purple trailing lantana
 
I have just one more tip –  if you want to pair flowering plants together to enjoy the contrasting colors, make sure that they bloom at the same time of year.  It is so easy to visit the plant nursery and see the pretty photos of flowers on the different plants and pick what ones you think will look great together only to discover later that one flower in the fall while the other blooms in spring and so you never see their flowers at the same time.
 
So, visit your local nursery and try some of the suggested plant combinations or see what beautiful plant pairings you come up with for your garden.
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

31 replies
  1. LeSan
    LeSan says:

    I sure wish I had known about you when I lived in Arizona. LOL You make such beautiful landscapes! Great advice on color combinations, I can definitely use that advice here in the North.

  2. Rosey Pollen
    Rosey Pollen says:

    Noelle,
    I am glad you said that about the color yellow, I never thought of it before as a color to bring out other colors and complement them.
    The heat of the desert seems to bring out the beauty of these plants you selected. No wonder my parents go to AZ every winter!
    Rosey

  3. Kiki
    Kiki says:

    Great tips as always! Another array of stunning plant combos!Beautiful!! Everytime I saw one I liked..then another and another!! Fabulous job!

  4. John
    John says:

    This is a helpful explanation for why some combos are just really striking. I often find that white is remarkable for drawing out the other colors (including the foliage). And of course your explanation also explains why I like the red flowers and green foliage combinations so much (like cardinal flowers or roses for example). I too like the Bougainvilleas. So much so that I take four of them into the basement every winter in pots since they don't overwinter here.

  5. Nell Jean
    Nell Jean says:

    Lovely, all of it. I saw three plants, no, four that I grow:
    Lantana montevidensis, melampodium, Red BOP which I call Pride of Barbados, Tecoma stans (these last two I plant together).

    The tip about bloom times is right on. I would guess that next to failing to allow for growth, that is the most common garden mistake. It is the one at which I work hardest.

  6. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    This was such an informative post! I was reading more about using the color wheel and how certain colors compliment others. I love purple and orange together. The other good point is when you see flowers in pictures blooming together it doesn't mean they'll bloom at the same time where you live.
    I love seeing all those plants that just won't make it over the winter here. The Ocotopus Agave is really neat.

  7. Carol
    Carol says:

    Hi Noelle,

    I love the color choices and how you seem to pick drought tolerant plants … as well as others that may need more TLC. Very striking first image! Soon I too will be longing to be in one of your gardens. Carol

  8. teresa
    teresa says:

    Everything looks great! Amazing how different colors bring out the best in their opposites. I usually just mish mash flowers together but I always admire thought out color schemes.

  9. Lucy Corrander
    Lucy Corrander says:

    I'm startled and impressed by how soft and restful the landscape is in the top photos, despite there being very few plants.

    It is a timely post.

    Yesterday, the International Olympic Committee said golf could count at an Olympic sport. This was greeted by some with mixed feelings because, in a lot of places, golf is a very unecological sport because of the care given to fairways. Perhaps golf doesn't need as much grass as some of us tend to think.

    Incidentally, I find white a funny 'colour'. It doesn't show up in shady spots anywhere near as well as yellow.

    Oh, and say the very words 'orange and purple' in the same breath and I can feel the corners of my lips turn up in a smile.

    Lucy

  10. catmint
    catmint says:

    Thanks for interesting thoughtful post. I used to be very conseervative and only have pastel colours, now I love and use orange but haven't quite graduated to the bravery of using yellow. I grow santolina and usually remove their yellow flowers and just keep them for their grey leaves, but maybe just this once I will (try to) leave them on. Cheers, catmint

  11. mania
    mania says:

    Its my first visit here and I like your blog very much.
    Its a great informative post and I agree on you that yellow brings good to other plants.

  12. Mike
    Mike says:

    Great article, love the photos. The gardens are so neat and tidy which adds greatly to the plants you use. Some Australian gardeners try and make their gardens look like the Australian bush with leaf litter and fallen bark but I really like the clean lines of these gardens which is enhanced by the use of the gravel and stones. I always think of the plants being the "stars" of the show and that's what you've done here.

  13. Sue
    Sue says:

    I like yellow flowers, but the only thing I don't like about them, is that they are difficult to photograph to put on my blog. LOL

    Your landscape is awesome, and a contrast to mine. Thanks for your comment on my before and after photos. I wasn't as organized about it as I had first planned to be. I couldn't get to all the buds in the snow.

  14. Msrobin
    Msrobin says:

    Oh goody, following your blog is going to tell me what some of the flowers are that I saw in your lovely state! I've already learned several. When I get around to posting my photos, please feel free to tell me what they are! Sedona was fabulous, we had a great time. But Arizona is so much more empty than Ohio that I often felt like I was on the moon.

  15. janie
    janie says:

    Great post! We can, and do grow every plant you mentioned, with the exception of that octopus agave! I need one of those! We are collectors….

    Do the yellow bells grow as natives there? They are not native in my neighborhood, but grow very well here, a staple in my garden.

  16. Rebecca @ In The Garden
    Rebecca @ In The Garden says:

    What a wonderful post. I love the colour combinations. I had kept yellow with white, and away from pinks, purples and blues, but combined them this year and loved the result. They really do enhance eachother beautifully. I don't know if I'm brave enough to try red, we'll see next year. The Agave is stunning. 🙂 Rebecca

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