By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
No cottage garden is complete without graceful delphiniums standing tall in the background. Delphinium, hollyhock or mammoth sunflowers are the most common plants used for back borders of flowerbeds or grown along fences. Commonly known as larkspur, delphiniums earned a beloved place in the Victorian language of flowers by representing an open heart. Delphinium flowers were often used in wedding bouquets and garlands along with lilies and chrysanthemums. Continue reading to learn about companions for delphinium in the garden.
Depending on variety, delphinium plants can grow 2- to 6-feet (.6 to 1.8 m.) tall and 1- to 2-feet (30 to 61 cm.) wide. Oftentimes, tall delphiniums will need staking or some kind of support, as they can get beaten down by heavy rains or wind. They can sometimes become so laden with blooms that even the slightest breeze or little pollinator landing on them can seem to make them topple over. Using other tall border plants as delphinium plant companions can help shelter them from winds and rains while offering additional support too. These may include:
If using stakes or plant rings for support, planting medium height perennials as delphinium companion plants can help hide the unsightly stakes and supports. Any of the following will work well for this:
When companion planting with delphinium, you have many options, and what to plant next to delphiniums is completely up to you. Using certain plants like chamomile, chervil or legumes may have some nutrient benefits as companions for delphinium, but no plants seem to cause it harm or irregular growth when planted next to nearby.
Delphiniums are deer resistant, and though Japanese beetles are attracted to the plants, they reportedly die from eating toxins from within them. Delphinium plant companions may benefit from this pest resistance.
Delphiniums early summer soft pink, white, and purple blooms make them beautiful companion plants for numerous perennials. Plant them in cottage style flower beds with any of the previously mentioned plants above in addition to:
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"Last August I planted some Bearded Iris in two very different spots on my property - one bed is very formal, and the other is more of a wild & natural look. I chose to plant shades of blue in the formal bed and multiple colors in the natural area and was delighted by how beautiful they looked when they flowered this spring. Now I would like to make them the focal point of these gardens, both of which are quite new. Can you recommend some perennial plants that may complement my Bearded Iris plantings?"- Stacey B., Vineland, New Jersey
Great question! Whenever a question of good companion plants arises, we find it helpful to learn more about your centerpiece plant, in this case, Bearded Iris. What do they need to thrive? Read on to learn what Bearded Iris plants need to thrive, as well as our favorite companion plants that will be happy in similar conditions, for a beautiful and easy-care garden.
Hibiscus are very attractive shrubs that sport large blooms, which attract butterflies and humming birds. The hardy hibiscus, also known as rose or swamp mallows, was developed by the Fleming Brothers and have a more compact growth habit than the tropical hibiscus species. Hardy hibiscus are used for borders or in large planters, surviving to -30 degrees F and thriving in USDA zones 4 through 9. Choosing companion plants for the hardy hibiscus is not difficult. In fact, there are many attractive plant species that make for good companions.
Plant the coreopsis, also known as “tickseed,” after all danger of frost has passed, allowing a 1 foot radius for their growth. Coreopsis are bushy plants, reaching about 2 feet in height. You can plant them in sandy soils, and once established they will not require fertilizer and do not need much water. Coreopsis bloom all summer and into the fall with large flowers that will remind you of daisies. Dig up and separate coreopsis every two or three years.
Plant campanula persicifolia, or “blue waterfall,” as a companion to the hardy hibiscus. Blue waterfall is a very easy and adaptable plant to grow, and is often used as ground cover. Plant blue waterfall in full sun after the last frost and feed it an application of a slow-release fertilizer once a year, also in the spring.
Plant the mango meodowbright coneflower (an echinacea hybrid) as a companion if you have poorer soil quality. This plant will adapt to a wide range of conditions, featuring large yellow blooms from summer until the first frost. Give this plant a slow-release fertilizer once every spring and it will grow to 2 feet wide and reach 2 to 4 feet in height. Be sure to plant it in full sun or partial shade and leave the seeds on the flower heads to attract song birds.
Try baptisia as a companion to the hardy hibiscus. Baptisia is a flowering perennial with blooms that resemble pea blossoms that grows to 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. The plant will bloom starting in June and throughout the whole summer. The plant has dense foliage and likes full sun and well-drained soil. When planting, space the baptisia plants 20 to 30 inches apart.
Try a mixture of other easy-to-grow companion plants, such as daylilies, delphinium, alium, poppies, peonies and bearded iris. They all grow well in the same soil condition, light and water requirements as the hardy hibiscus.
All these companion plants require little water, and possibly once-a-year application of slow-release fertilizer. Most are drought-resistant and like full sun to partial shade.
Avoid waterlogged soil for these plants. Do not over water or over fertilize them.
Use barberry as a companion plant to large varieties of weigelas (those that get up to 6 feet tall). "French Lace," for example, is a weigela cultivar that reaches heights of over 6 feet. This variety has bright-green, variegated leaves, which contrast nicely with any plant that has burgundy foliage, according to Monrovia. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a small shrub with foliage that remains a bright burgundy color throughout the growing season. In addition, it has the same temperate-climate culture needs. Alternate barberry bushes with weigela shrubs for a colorful hedge that will remain beautiful from spring to fall.
This post about hardy geraniums, popularly called cranesbills, (not the pelargoniums) is the second in my series on companion plants.
Blue hydrangea with geranium companion plant
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Companion plants complement the showy ornamentals society loves – roses, peonies, delphiniums and hollyhocks – filling in the gaps in the flower border and helping it flow. They’re pretty enough on their own terms and happy to mingle in, above or below other plants. Good neighbours, they will not compete too aggressively for food, water or space.
Their presence encourages a healthier ecosystem by attracting beneficial insects which is why companion plants are often recommended for kitchen gardens. To find out more about what makes a plant a good companion, check out the first post in the series, on astrantias.
Roses with geraniums at Bodnant Gardens
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If you show me a decent sized English garden that doesn’t have a geranium, I’ll show you a garden that is missing a trick. Suppliers variously describe them as forgiving, easy, undemanding, generous and enduring. I don’t have a horse in the race, but I’d agree with them.
Geranium Sue Crûg and Stachys byzantina
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The main reasons to grow hardy geraniums as companion plants include their:
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Some growers contend that geraniums don’t particularly appeal to slugs, snails and rabbits, although if they are a slug’s only choice of food, all bets are off. I suppose if slugs were our only choice of food, the big ones would look delicious.
Rosa ‘Harlow Carr’ with geraniums
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Writing about astrantias as companion plants was straightforward as they are broadly similar in flower, leaf, height and habit. Geraniums are another kettle of fish – their characters and habits are varied.
As I was writing the bullet points above, exceptions were springing to mind. I ended up imagining a series of job interviews for geraniums for a vacant spot in the garden at the stage when candidates are asked to share their weaknesses.
Geranium x magnificum (one of my favourites) would explain it only flowers once each year, but is guaranteed to get the season off to a magnificent start.
The oxonianums ought to admit that, as they are such good mixers, they cross easily and their myriad seedlings may be bland and/or straggly.
Geranium oxonianum ‘Wageningen’
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In their defence we can hand-pluck any nondescript seedlings out of the ground after they first flower and their straggliness is nothing a pair of shears won’t sort out in 20 seconds.
Geranium psilostemon with yellow loosestrife
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Geranium psilostomen should confess that if it is left for a decade or so to settle in then you ask it to redeploy elsewhere, you’ll struggle to shift it. On the plus side, it’s more than a match for other powerful personalities in the border such as yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctuata).
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Geranium macrorrhizum should say it will gradually smother a low wall if invited to tumble over it and suggest interviewing a Geranium dalmaticum if you’re looking for something daintier (but who’s going to do that in an interview?) Take a close look at this screen shot from the Geranium macrorrhizum entry in the RHS plant database:
Geranium macrorrhizum will grow in almost any condition
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Can you imagine any plant being less fussy about where we choose to put it?
Geranium ‘Buxton’s Blue’ might observe that the gardening elite thinks it is too prevalent to be fashionable, but that attests to the power and allure of its blue (and white) eyes. On the other hand, Geranium ‘Mrs Kendall Clarke’ could point to her enduring popularity at flower shows and claim she has no weaknesses at all.
Geranium pratense ‘Mrs Kendall Clark’ in a show garden at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show
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Monocarpic Geranium maderense should say it is tender so needs winter protection and will take some time to get around to flowering, when it will astonish everyone with its glory and fade away so you’d better have a succession plan in place.
All geraniums could with justification claim they are too nice, too modest, too easy to overlook for promotion to one of the best garden spots, but that given a chance, they’d shine.
We all have our own ideas about what we’d like to grow as companion plants with our sunflowers. It took me year after year to discover the variety of each vegetable, salad and herb that I personally enjoyed to bring to my table, and for their easiness to grow.
I’ve had a few mishaps with companions for my sunflowers too, but hopefully what I’ve suggested below will give you some ideas to start companion planting for yourself.
You can buy seedling plugs From your local garden markets or garden centers, but if you can not get to these places and would like to grow them from seed I’ve found all the ones I have great success with linked to its corresponding name below.
So, Here are my top 10 vegetables and salads to grow with your sunflowers. They are easy to grow and I’ve great success with them.
Let’s begin on the ground with 5 salad and vegetables which act as weed inhibitors, and keep the ground cool as well as help the soil retain moisture.
These plants relish being in the shade of sunflowers. It helps with not scorching their delicate leaves. They can spread out with floppy leaves or grow compact light and crispy. If you find a little more space between you lettuces, you might want to pop some radishes in there too.
These fast growing plants have a bountiful supply of crop throughout the growing season.. Sometimes the flowers are hidden behind their giant leaves. Luckily The sunflowers bring in many pollinators to share with the squash plants and they soon find the flowers amongst leaves.
Onions are great at keeping certain pests away. Their smell also might deter rabbits and squirrels coming too close and munching on your other plants
As with onions, spring onions can be a ‘keep out’ sign for unfriendly bugs and feasting wild life. I also found that spring onions mature fast and with staggered planting I could have a plentiful supply throughout the summer.
Kale is another cool loving vegetable. Its love of the shade is a welcomed respite from the sunflowers canopy. Kale grows fast and is a very easy plant to grow from seeds, put the seeds straight into the ground where you want to grow them.
The next 5 salad and vegetables on my list are ones that benefit from the support sunflowers plants can give them. But if your climate is prone to high winds or heavy downpours of rain, and you find your sunflowers drooping or floppy, then additional support may be required, you can find that here
Cucumbers are vine plants and need a little support to lift their fruits off the ground. Depending on how big those fruits are, you might need to help your sunflower support them. Hopefully they help each other.
tomatoes – an ideal companion for sunflowers
Growing tomatoes next to my sunflowers has been a lovely experience to me. I try out 2 or 3 different varieties every year. From sweet tasting Cherry sized ones to great big beef ones. The reds of them look striking against the yellow of my sunflowers.
Peppers, like tomatoes, are an up right plant that needs sunlight, but not to the extreme of being scorched. The dappled shade and support they require from the sunflowers allow the right amount of companionship they need.
As peas start to grow their soft twisting and winding tendrils need gentle encouragement to find their way upwards. I check my pea plants daily for this reason, and I must admit, when no one, but my sunflowers are looking, I’m guilty off popping the pods open and feasting on the young, sweet peas sshhh…dont tell anyone!
Beans are great to grow along side sunflowers. Beans bring beneficial bugs and they will also share the support you give sunflowers. they give an abundant amount of crops from only a few plants.
Oriental Poppies offer deep clear red flowers -- the one color Bearded Iris do not have. Tall and showy, with similar needs, they are great companions. Use white flowering Oriental Poppies for a calming effect, red for a pop of color, or peach colored flowers for a soft look. They will die back in summer, so plant other perennials in front of them to hide the dying foliage. Plant Oriental Poppy Seeds or Perennial Oriental Poppies (plants available seasonally).
Lupines will help create a lovely wildflower look to your Iris, with tall, colorful stems of long lasting flowers. Lupine are available in both warm and cool colors, with flowers blooming in spring. Plant Lupine Seeds or Lupine Plants (plants available seasonally).
Alliums give a sculptural element to the garden, and are available in several heights, from short to very tall. They are easy to grow and long lasting pollinator favorites. For a formal look, choose Allium of medium height, and plant them in a linear or defined way. In an informal setting, tall Allium planted throughout a perennial garden make great garden features with a whimsical feel. Fall-planted Allium Bulbs are available in pink, blue, white, yellow, or classic purple (bulbs available seasonally).
The lovely tall wands of Larkspur (Delphinium) are excellent choices to grow with Bearded Iris. Shades of purples, blues, pinks, and white offer lovely accompaniment for a late spring display. Plant Rocket Larkspur Seeds or Perennial Delphinium (plants available seasonally).
Baptisia, also known as Indigo, is a great choice in shades of yellows and blues. Try yellow Baptisia with white, gold or blue Iris. Blue flowering Baptisia is lovely with Bearded Iris in blues,purples, or other contrasting colors. Plant Indigo Seeds or Baptisia Plants (available seasonally).
Peonies are one of the most well-known spring blooming perennials. With dark green foliage and blossoms that open to a lush, fragrant, and long lasting flower, Peonies are an excellent Bearded Iris companion. While slow to establish, these long-lived plants will live for decades in the right conditions. See our selection of bareroot Peonies (available seasonally).
Daylilies are an easy-to-grow choice to pair with Bearded Iris. These plants also have long, strappy foliage that help to fill in a garden. Some even rebloom along with the Bearded Iris. See our current selection of Daylilies (available seasonally).
Salvia will add a colorful border to your Iris garden with its colorful, and long lasting flowers that attract a parade of pollinators. Typically available with dark purple or red flowers. In a formal setting, a nice border can be created, if informal, plant them in groups of 3’s or 5’s for a more natural look. Plant Salvia, also known as Sage (plants available seasonally).
With their wide array of colors, sizes and bloom times, mixing more Bearded Iris into your existing bed can increase the season of blooms with a kaleidoscope of colors, patterns, and textures.
If you have a reblooming variety, remember to add in some late season bloomers like Agastache, Aster, and Salvia.
And, most importantly, have fun! Experiment – sometimes it’s important to break the rules. Pay attention to the foliage, too. Bearded Iris adds a beautiful vertical element to your garden with its upright foliage.
'Speed Limit' Reblooming Bearded Iris captures the eye with its bold, deep-blue color. Its lower petals are each adorned with a pristine white spot directly in the center of each pet.