I never get tire of this plant combo. Design trends come and go, but I’ve been inspired by this perfect plant pairing and gorgeous image for over a decade.
‘The Garden of Contrast’, was created by James Van Sweden and Sheila Brady. You can visit it yourself at Cornerstone Gardens in California.
Michelle Derviss at Derviss Design in Novato, CA took the award winning image.
This dry garden features plants that can endure low water situations. There are three main elements to this planting – Agave Americana, Allium sphaerocephalon & Nassella tenuissima. Nassella tenuissima is also known as Mexican feathergrass, and formerly known as Stipa tenuissima. It is an emerging invasive plant in some areas of California. (so, before you plant it, check locally about how it will behave where you live)
Why this plant pairing works
It’s all about contrast. Imagine this same image turned black and white. In black and white, we would not see the contrast of the blue agave and the gold of the grasses. The image would, however still be interesting because there is a strong contrast of shape and texture. The agave sits sturdily among the froth of grass like a prized sculpture. There’s a strong shape and a haze that grabs our attention in the same way a murky figure might spook us, if we see it only through a misty fog.
Even without the punctuating dots provided by the Allium flower heads this image would be strong. The allium is like the chefs kiss, giving the whole thing a playfulness and adding in great color. If you want to pack this kind of punch in your planting design, you will have to contrast more than color. You will need to also make impact with texture and shape.
Get the Look
Agave Americana – Commonly known as Century Plant is not hardy outside of USDA zones 8-11. If you can’t grow the agave, you could alternatively get the look with an equally structural plant like Yucca filamentosa ‘Excalibur’. For a twist, you might also try Yucca Bright Edge -the spires are green with a yellow edge instead of blue grey tones.
Allium sphaerocephalon – Commonly called Drumstick allium is a mid season allium. It will bloom in the summer as opposed to other allium that bloom earlier in the season. Allium, which in Latin means “garlic” are easy to grow bulbs. If you can’t or don’t want to plant this variety, you might alternatively grow Millenium Allium. More purple than pink, Millenium allium also grows into a bigger clump. It has has won numerous awards for easy growing perennials – but will give this plant pairing a little less of an airy wiry look and more of a substantial mass of purple blooms (but still with that always appealing popsicle shape).
Nassella tenuissima- Also knows as Mexican Feather Grass is a native grass that has been an increasingly popular grass, but it has shown itself to become invasive in some areas (so check before you plant!). If you need to go with an alternate, try Priarie dropseed (Sporobolus airoides), Mexican deer grass (Muhlenbergia dubia) or Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris, esp. ‘White Cloud’) instead. All of these grasses produce a mid height lightweight (feathery) look that can fill the space between the more sturctural plant and which provide a base for the allium to hover above.
If you have a combo you have created or seen, snap a photo, email it to me and I will share it here.
You might also be interested in these other Plant Partners Posts:
Plant Partners: Witch Hazel, Hellebores & Dogwood
Breathtaking Plant Partners: Inspiration from Megaherbs in New Zealand
Natural Plant Partners: Callicarpa & Verbena