Chanticleer Gardens is one of the most romantic, imaginative, and exciting public gardens in the United States. That's largely thanks to Bill Thomas, the garden's executive director and head gardener. Thomas has a knack for selecting innovative plant combinations that work as beautifully in Chanticleer's grand setting as they would in your home garden. Here, for example, elephant's ear (Colocasia 'Mojito') is paired with cranberry-color coleus (Solenostemon 'Red Head') and cotton-leaf Persian shield (Strobilanthes gossypinus) for a striking mix of color and shapes.
Ornamental banana (Musa 'Black Thai') towers above a blooming imperial bromeliad (Alcantarea imperialis), coleus (Solenostemon 'Red Head'), elephant's ear (Colocasia 'Mojito'), cotton-leaf Persian shield (Strobilanthes gossypinus), and the floating, light pink blooms of globe amaranth (Gomphrena 'Fireworks'). The combination is a whimsical study in textures and subtle color repetition.
Nearly every gardener loves hydrangeas, and they look good when paired with just about everything. Go from good to great by playing with texture. Thomas painted a beautiful example here with the big leaves of Hydrangea'Preziosa' accentuating feathery bluestar (Amsonia hubrechtii). It's fab in fall, too, when the hydrangea leaves go burgundy-red and the bluestar transforms to gold.
Look beyond flowers and foliage for inspiring and intriguing plant combos. Here, for example, toad lily (Tricyrtis formosana) graces a shaded path with its late-summer violet blooms. These flowers are a standout against the coppery-orange bark of crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia 'Choctaw').
Pairing colors that are opposite one another on the color wheel is a surefire strategy for creating a bold, memorable plant combo. Thomas has done that that here with the golden-orange blooms of Dahlia 'David Howard', which appear to glow against the dark purple foliage of Hibiscus 'Jungle Red'.
Grasses create visual interest in the garden, making them a natural plant partner for practically any annual, perennial, or shrub. Amp up the drama by blending them with a bold color. Here, for example, the brilliance of Impatiens SunPatiens Vigorous Orange stands out against an ornamental grass, bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa).
It can be tricky putting together rock-star plant combinations as summer winds down. But as autumn approaches, Thomas creates drama with late-blooming plants. For example, spiky dark purple Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) bursts with color next to the subtle hue and texture of dusty miller (Centaurea cineraria 'Colchester White').
Start with silver, a garden neutral, and you're sure to finish with a knockout combo. Thomas used silver spurflower (Plectranthus argentatus) as a particularly stunning contrast to the dark purple blooms of Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha). The effect is even more magical with the airy plumes of Korean feather reedgrass (Calamagrostis brachytricha). When backlit by the sun, the combo is unforgettable.