PERFECT PARTNER

THE SECRET TO TURNING A BUNCH OF PLANTS INTO A TRAFFIC-STOPPING ORGANIC FLOWER GARDEN IS TO MATCH THEM WITH THEIR IDEAL MATES.

Spring is a glorious time for flower gardeners, as we revel in the vivid colors of blooming bulbs, perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees. But spring also presents a challenge: With so many flowers to choose from, which should you plant to transform your beds and borders into the landscape you dream of? On these pages, you'll see combinations that deliver the beauty you crave and the organic bonus of being drought-tolerant, easy-care, native, or bird-friendly. Now, that's the perfect partnership we all wish for.
SAY IT WITH FOLIAGE

Earlier in spring, these swirly seedheads were the purple blossoms of pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris). Paired with 'Palace Purple' coral bells (Heuchera) and a taller but equally feathery grass (Festuca ovina var. glauca), they make a textural combination that's as winsome in a bouquet as it is graceful at the front of a border.
RHAPSODY IN BLUE

Blue flowers are calming to look at, so include them in your natural landscape. Here, woodland phlox and columbine--a prolific self-seeder--surround a birdbath. Hellebore foliage, a hardy geranium with magenta flowers, and a variegated hosta draw your attention to more woodland phlox in the background.

Growing Tip: Shrubs (like nandina and goldstem dogwood, below) protected with a layer of mulch are larger, more vigorous, and more likely to survive their first year than unmulched plants, report researchers at Washington State University.
TREE OF A KIND

A well-chosen tree, like this river birch (resistant to the destructive bronze birch borer), gives your flower border a more authentic look. The bitch's exfoliating bark makes an exquisite backdrop to the orange petals and yellow stamens of the native columbine. During the summer, Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum)--the foliage behind the tree--will use the trunk as a prop for its white spires. The iris leaves in the foreground promise that the colorful show will continue later in spring.
ODD COUPLE

You don't often find bulbs with low-growing shrubs in ordinary landscapes, but you can see here how natural 'Hans Anrud' tulips and Spirea X bumalda 'Gold Flame' look together. Periwinkle (Vinca minor) makes the scenario look unfussed. For another stunning shrub/ bulb combo, try redtwig dogwood, pink-centered daffodils, and Siberian squill, suggests Kris Jarantoski of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

Red coral-bell flowers stand out against the gray stone in this rock garden. The emerging nandina foliage, copper now, turns the same hue as the blue-green columbine leaves in front of it. These plants are stunning, but they also are about as easy-care and pest- and disease-free as gardening gets.

Growing Tip: The very tips of plants' roots take up most water and nutrients, and link to essential soil microbes. Handle the delicate root tips gently when planting perennials, such as pasque flower and blue fescue, right.
JADE IN THE SHADE

Introduce one bright color to light up an all-green garden. In this shady space, apricot tulips flicker like flames above a green foliage sea. The shapes and textures of the leaves wouldn't be nearly as distinctive without that conga line of happy tulips. This is one instance where planting in a row succeeds (but notice the uneven spacing, which keeps the composition from looking as if it belongs in front of a municipal building). The secret ingredient that gives this planting its punch: The tulip bulbs were planted beneath coral bells with purple--almost black--leaves.
SOME LIKE IT DAMP

You can enjoy vibrant spring color even in your most challenging sites. In a low or seasonally boggy spot, plant Siberian irises and candelabra primroses, which thrive in consistently moist (but not waterlogged) soil. Behind them, moisture-loving rodgersia has leaves big enough for a dinosaur's lunch.
NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T

The cleverest plant combinations not only look terrific; they camouflage, too. In this Georgia garden, 'Menton' tulips, woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), and star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) grab the attention. But look closely, and you'll glimpse the foliage of the poppies, irises, and larkspurs to follow.

The leaves and flowers of the up-and-comers will hide the yellowing foliage of the plants presently blooming. You can also use hostas, peonies, and black-eyed Susans to hide fading foliage.
RETURN OF THE NATIVES

Plant flowers native to your region. They're adapted to your soil and weather, so they thrive without coddling, look beautiful, and attract pollinators. This California garden is filled with (what else?) California poppies, underplanted with meadow foam (Limnanthes douglasii). These annuals reseed enthusiastically, doing the work for you. Find spring-blooming plants native to your region at the Plant Conservation Alliance Web site, nps.gov/plants.

Growing Tip: Plant perennials, like geraniums and hostas, below, with their crowns (the place where the shoots meet the roots) slightly above the soil surface, say researchers at Cornell University's Flower Bulb Research Program.

Find more about spring gardening, including current research on planting and fertilizing, at OrganicGardening.com.

PHOTO (COLOR)

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By Therese Ciesinski

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