When it comes to making a garden and combining plants there are dozens of criteria on which you can make your decisions. You can combine to complement or contrast, you can plant so an area has plants that flower together or at different times to prolong the colour, you can contrast or combine textures, colours and sizes of leaves and also of flowers and you could even combine fragrances. But I must admit that I tend to start with what the plants actually like. This is because I like plants and I would not knowingly plant two together that did not like the same conditions and therefore would die, no matter how good they looked side by side – for a few weeks.
This can make for limited plant associations but on the other hand it can make decisions easier if you have a smaller choice. When people ask me what they should put in their garden it is always easier to give an answer if they also make specific requests and if they don’t then I try to narrow the choice by asking questions. Of course most people want evergreens that grow quickly and then stop, have fragrant flowers for 10 months, berries and do not need spraying or pruning. Once we get past that sort of nonsense and we discover that we are talking about a sunny border and the owners hate yellow then we can make some sensible choices.
I have already said in an earlier post that I am not keen on pink and yellow as a combination but I have a real penchant for yellow and blue. I am not sure why this is but whether it is baby blue and primrose or royal blue and canary yellow I am lost in admiration at the combination. I suppose that, apart from anything else, it looks fresh and clean. Maybe it is a hankering for golden beaches and blue skies of the holidays I have rarely had. Anyway, I find it really satisfying. So, this combination of two very different plants ticks the boxes for me.
If you have a sunny or partially shaded spot with good soil that is never soggy or baked dry and, ideally, enriched with plenty of organic matter, you can enjoy Corydalis flexuosa ‘Purple Leaf’ (or any other variety) and Doronicum orientale ‘Little Leo’. Now not only do these two contrast in flower colour and form, they are plants of very different character, to me at least.
Doronicums are cheerful, easy plants and, I have to say, a bit common. They are about as subtle as a stamp on the foot. They have rather boring leaves, heart-shaped and spinach green in this case, and once they have bloomed they are about as attractive as acne. They have an unpleasant habit of drooping and scorching in dry soil in mid summer so you either need to grow them well, plant something, such as a hardy geranium, to flop over them or you walk past them quickly in August.
‘Little Leo’ is a seed-raised variety, bred, I think, by Benary in Germany. Because it is seed raised it varies a little but is basically about 30cm high and wide and although the flowers are not as big as some they are freely produced, from late March to May, with several per stem. The narrow ‘petals’ are the same colour as the central disc. These flowers are as cheerful and simple as a dandelion and they just make you smile.
Corydalis ‘Purple Leaf” is a different plant all together. There are lots of corydalis we can grow in gardens and some are a bit weedy. Others are temperamental and tricky. Until twenty years ago the most commonly seen blue corydalis was C. cashmeriana which is a lovely thing but a bit tricky in ‘normal’ garden conditions. Then in the early 1990’s three different forms of C. flexuosa were introduced from China. This one has purple leaves, touched with red when they are young and truly captivating blue flowers. It can behave a little oddly, especially if the summer is hot and you can expect it to appear in spring, flower in late spring and early summer and then disappear for mid and late summer. Sometimes it appears above ground in autumn and can even flower again but this is not always the case. It prefers a moist, humus-rich soil but it is not really very fussy. More traditional companions with a woodland feel would be hostas, ferns or epimediums but I like the raw contrast of the doronicum. There are other blue forms of this such as the pale ‘Blue Panda’. There is also the curiously named ‘Tory MP’ but whenever I have tried this I have never been able to resist smacking it with the back of the spade and planting it 6ft deep.