I was fortunate enough to have popped on Twitter just when Michelle Gervais asked if any bloggers out there wanted a review copy of Fine Gardening’s Plant Combinations Vol. 4. I must admit that Fine Gardening magazine is a bit hit and miss for me. Not that there is anything wrong with it. It’s a wonderful, well thought out magazine. It’s just that at this stage in my gardening career, I tend to be more focused in the topics that interest me. Growing roses, for example, does not. I think they are gorgeous and smell wonderful, but I’ll just admire them in my neighbor’s garden. So an issue with pages of rose growing tips would be one I would pass on. Plant combinations and interesting new cultivars, however, are topics I can sink my teeth into.
One of the benefits of these special editions is the lack of advertising. With just a couple of pages of ads in the front and back, you certainly get what you pay for. As a matter of fact, at $7.99, you get a pretty good deal. Most magazines are ‘read and donate’ for me. I rarely pick them up and look at them again. But the issues on plant combos actually find a space on my shelf. They are a wonderful reference for gardeners and designers when you feel a bit tapped out in the creativity department. Which is reason number two that I’m glad I checked my Twitter stream that morning. In the nursery industry, we are going through what we call the summertime blahs. It’s still a great time to garden (especially here in California where it finally feels warm). But it’s the time of year when the plant material starts to feel a little boring. We are at the end of the early growing season and not quite yet into the next one. After months and months of seeing the same plants on grower’s availability lists, you crave something new. Something…anything, exciting. This edition was certainly the shot in the arm I needed. Page after page of interesting plant combination with tried and true standbys as well as new and unusual plants.
The issue is broken into sections featuring plants for sun, partial sun and shade. Within each section there are pages featuring one plant in several different designs. Seeing a particular plant in different combinations really makes one view a plant differently. Suddenly something as common (on the West Coast at least) as yuccas seem new and fresh when paired with Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’ or Euphorbia myrsinites. Carpet bugelweed goes from being just a groundcover to a showstopper when blue fescue and sedum. Seeing plants through fresh eyes allows you pick up on the subtle color nuances you may have overlooked. Another reason I like designs featured in Fine Gardening’s magazines is they don’t shy away from color. One of my favorite hues, chartreuse, makes an appearance on several pages. But in addition to pairing colors from bold to mild, the editors never fail to inspire with their selection of designs that play up texture. Often it’s the designs with no flowers at all that become some of my favorites. And as always, the design graphic makes it easy to identify exactly which plant just stole your heart. If I have a complaint about the issue, it’s a minor one and mostly just my opinion. Stipa tenuissima is featured, but not included in the warning list of possibly invasive plants. Although it is not currently listed at Invasive.org it does need to be used with a bit of caution here in California because it loves our climate.
So just who should pick up this magazine? Anyone who is feeling a bit blah about their garden or their view of gardening in general. Anyone who finds themselves reaching for the same plants over and over again. Seeing these gorgeous combinations really raises the design bar. It challenges us to play with texture, combine colors that might make us feel a little uncomfortable at first and look at plants with more possibility of potential. Get yourself a cup of coffee, grab some Post-it notes and a pen and find yourself a spot in the garden some Sunday morning soon. But don’t just bookmark designs you want to try. Read through the magazine, then read it again. Let the ideas sort of sink in. Then go to an independent garden center and play. Grab a cart and start mixing and matching. Really look past the bright flowers to the more subtle foliage. Notice what looks great in morning light or what shines in the shade. Challenge yourself to try and work with a color that daunts you. Take note of the variety of leaf shapes and sizes. Don’t just imitate the designs. Learn from them and then go create your own.