Stunning combination: Giant Kale and Pincushion Flower

pincushion flower and giant kale

Here are a couple of views of Giant Kale planted with Burgundy Pincushion Flower (Knautia macedonica, formerly called scabiosa) growing in the idea garden at Cantigny Park. I love the masses of small, intense flowers around the solid sculptural forms of the kale, and the contrast of the burgundy and silver. I think you could also get this effect with Agave and Geum – I’m going to try that combination in my own garden.

pincushion flower and giant kale


Garden ideas: complicated containers made simple

how to plant a mixed container

These beautiful pots look complicated but they all follow a basic formula. From the center radiating out to the edge, plant something:

  1. Tall, upright, and spiky in the center:
    Hollyhocks – here are some black and burgundy ones. So cool.
  2. Upright and bushy
  3. Upright and spreading
    Osteospermum (African Daisy)
  4. Mounding and compact
  5. And finally,
    Trailing, sprawling plants around all the edges:
    Calibrachoa (Million Bells). They look like tiny petunias. I’m in love with them, especially Tangerine and Peach Evolution.
    Verbena canadensis ‘Homestead Purple’

As far as containers go, you literally cannot go wrong with weathered terra cotta in a classic shape. And it will only look better with age.

how to plant a mixed container

how to plant a mixed container

how to plant a mixed container

Easy garden design idea: underplanting trees

tree underplanted with grasses

This is the easiest garden design idea ever: underplant your trees with lots of one thing. You see a lot of trees underplanted with grasses in contemporary gardens, but as you can see by the above photo, this looks just as great in traditional gardens.

tree underplanted with helichrysum

Helichrysum petiolare always looks good, can take some shade and a whole lot of neglect, and only needs water once a week at the most.

sidewalk garden

Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), another easy keeper.

lemon tree underplanted with pineapple salvia

Some trees don’t like other plants growing in their root zones, so it’s worth doing a little research on your trees first. For example, I don’t plant anything under my native oak. However, everything I’ve read tells me not to plant under citrus. And here is my lemon tree with a pineapple salvia happily growing underneath. They’ve been together for at least ten years, which seems like a bizarrely long life for a salvia.




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A vintage modern container garden

charming container group

A charming vignette with a vintage, eclectic feel. This garden belongs to a friend of mine, a jewelry designer who restyles vintage pieces, and her garden definitely reflects her aesthetic.


  1. Weathered pavers and mix of containers, all with age and patina.
  2. Traditional, almost old fashioned plants: ferns, petunias, mandevilla vine, lavender, clover, and jade.
  3. All of the plant choices are lush and delicate.
  4. A soft feminine palette is modernized with a jolt of black and dark purple.
  5. The container palette takes the same approach: soft natural materials or painted black and dark purple.

black petunia container

Love this pairing of bold black and delicate white flowers.

delicate flowers and black clover containers

The delicacy of the large pot is offset and its colors amplified by the big black clover. Blue and yellow is classic, but then you throw that black clover in there and it changes the whole effect.

vintage modern window box

The bold black and delicate white theme is repeated here, and the window box is painted dark purple instead of black.

Growing vines: morning glory and trumpet creeper

Trumpet vine and morning glory

Spotted this while walking through my neighborhood the other day. A Morning Glory and a Scarlet Trumpet Vine (Distictis buccinatoria) growing together on a trellis.

I’ve never grown a Morning Glory vine, but Sunset has some good information here.

Trumpet Vine is easy. Hummingbirds love it and it grows like crazy- as in 30 vigorous feet of crazy. It flowers all summer and early fall. You need to support it but you don’t need to tie it. Give it full sun. After its first growing season it doesn’t need much water – once a week, tops. To keep it under control, you can cut it back hard after it flowers.

Garden Reading: A Garden Makes a House a Home

Garden Reading

A Garden Makes a House a Home by veteran shelter magazine garden editor Elvin McDonald

25 beautiful gardens covering every region of the US – there is something here for everybody. Lots of ideas and inspiration of course, but there’s plenty of the practical how-to stuff as well. This will be one you’ll keep out and read again and again. 

garden reading: a garden makes a house a home

Garden ideas: intense color combinations

buttterfly weed, coleus, and petunias

Butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa), Petunia ‘Hurrah Velvet’ and Coleus ‘Limelight’

coleus, zinnia, and mist flower

Zinnias, Coleus ‘Watermelon’ and Mint Flower (Conoclinium coelestinum), the world’s most adorable plant.

celosia and zinnia

Celosia ‘Tomato Red’ and Zinnia ‘Profusion Yellow’

bee balm and liatris

Monarda and Liatris again but this time it’s a shocking pink more densely planted.

Pretty, low maintenance perennial combinations

poppies and zinnias

Eschscholzia californica ‘Apricot Chiffon’ with Zinnias

All of these are low maintenance, drought tolerant, long blooming, and handle poor or clay soils just fine.

monarda daylilies liatris

Monarda (Bee Balm) with Liatris and Daylilies

echinacea, lyatris, achillea

Echinacea, Liatris, and Alchillea (Yarrow)

Black Plants

persian shield

Persian shield and Sweet potato vine ‘Garnet Lace’

Black (and deep purple and maroon) plants give you everything: high impact, drama, mystery, and sophistication. They’re an easy way to add a focal point where you need one, and they intensify the colors of everything around them. All of these photos were taken in the gardens at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, IL.

dahlia mystic illusion

Dahlia ‘Mystic Illusion’ mass planting in front of a green hedge. This variety doesn’t need to be staked.

sambuca black lace

Sambuca ‘Black Lace’ (Sambucus nigra). It looks like a Japanese Maple, but it’s an actually an Elderberry!

persian shield

Persian shield with Coleus


A single black coleus adds depth and cools down this hot group.

Garden ideas: ways to pair white flowering plants

Two ways with white flowers: big bold contrast, or white on white serenity.

cosmos and mahogany hibiscus

White Cosmos and Hibiscus ‘Mahogany Splendor’ with Impatiens ‘Sonic Scarlet’ in the idea garden at Cantigny Park.

hydrangea and clematis

The opposite approach, in my mother’s garden. White Clematis and Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).