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Favorite perennial plant combinations for the Brainerd Lakes Area

Perennial Plant Combinations

As a landscape architect in the Brainerd Lakes Area there are two questions that I receive most frequently from clients. The first is, "How do I deer proof my yard?" The second question that I invariably receive is, "What perennial plant combinations should I use for maximum effect?" This article will attempt to provide some inspirations for the second question on mixing and matching perennials, and is based upon 30 years experience in Minnesota landscape design and the use of plant materials.

To begin it is important to remember that it depends to a great extent on whether the perennials will be in shade, part shade or sunny areas. Further, it is important to remember that we are in the zone 3 hardiness zone, so plants suited for zone 4, 5 or beyond should be generally bypassed with a few exceptions.

The biggest exception to the zone 3 rule is Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'). It is normally rated as a zone 4 or even a zone 5 plant, and yet it does amazingly well in Brainerd Lakes Country and is extremely hardy here. This four foot tall clump grass with wheat like seed heads waving in the breeze makes the perfect match for other sun loving perennials. It makes a dramatic backdrop for multiple plantings of Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'). It's also a wonderful way to set up late summer and early fall bloomers such as Woods Purple Aster (Aster dumosus 'Wood's Purple'), Neon Sedum (Sedum spectabile 'Neon'), or even Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pupurea 'Magnus').

Fern-leaved Bleeding Heart (Dicentra 'Luxuriant') and August Moon Hosta (Hosta 'August Moon') make a terrific combination in shade to semi-shaded areas. The lacey foliage of this Bleeding Heart contrasts nicely with the much broader, coarser leaves of the hosta. An added bonus is the beautiful reddish heart shaped blooms of the Bleeding Heart. This combination is a keeper.

Astilbes have always been one of my favorites and combine so nicely with Blue Angel Hostas (Hosta ‘Blue Angel’). The astilbes that I prefer are the Rheinland Astilbe (Astilbe 'Rheinland') or Sister Theresa Astilbe (Astilbe 'Sister Theresa'). This is another one of those exceptions to the zone 3 rule, as both astilbes are rated for zone 4 but do famously well here in the Brainerd Lakes area. Simply find a semi-shade or shady area, plant three, five or seven Blue Angel Hostas to the rear and a mass planting of astilbes with their plumes of pink to rose pink flowers in front and you have a landscape ready for photos.

Here is a great groundcover combination for part to full shade. Mix and match Heartleaf Bergenia (Bergnia cordifolia 'Winter Glow') with Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow'). The low growing ajuga leaves contrast perfectly with the large glossy leaves of the bergenia creating a lovely combination for those bare areas. Bergenia is a greatly underused perennial and deserves more attention in the landscape.

Another zone 4 plant that I have used effectively is Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). It enjoys ample sunlight, is 36" to 48" tall and the lavender blue blooms literally invite plantings in front such as the long red blooming Pardon Me Daylily (Hemerocallis 'Pardon Me'), the rose colored Vera Biaglow Daylily (Hemerocallis 'Vera Biaglow') or the Jacob Cline Bee Balm (Monarda 'Jacob Cline') with its bright red flowers. The added treat for the Brainerd Lakes area is that the bee balm is a favorite of hummingbirds.

Here is a real eye catcher for semi-shade. The Krossa Regal Hosta (Hosta 'Krossa Regal') is a splendid, large leaved hosta which makes a perfect background. Why not plant a number of Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum pedatum) in front to highlight their lacy, soft almost prehistoric looking foliage. Remember though not to let them dry out. For a little added fun plant a few Foamflower (Tiarella wherryi) along with them.

Here is my favorite combination of all. In my opinion Goat's Beard is the most underused and underappreciated perennial of all with its wispy astilbe like blooms. It is fantastic in shade to semi-shaded areas and mixes extremely well with hostas. Paul's Glory Hosta (Hosta 'Paul's Glory') is my favorite to pair it with. Allow the lacey blooms to cantilever over the hosta leaves for maximum effect. Try it, you’ll like it.

These are just a few of my favorite perennial combinations for here in the Brainerd Lakes Country. This will give you ideas and hopefully inspirations, and always remember that perennials are easy to transplant. If there is a combination you don’t like, simply alter it next year. That's half the fun.

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