Saturday, January 11, 2014

Some Perennial Companion Plants for Roses

I wrote a post on companion plants for roses just after I started this blog, and it turned out to be one of my most popular posts.

Hermann Lindecke and feverfew (chrysanthemum parthenium 'Aureum')

Gladiolus byzantinus with Rosette Delizy and cl. Cecile Brunner
I thought it might be time for an update. Below are a few notes on perennials, my favorite type of companion for roses. Even though I like them best, I do also grow many other flowering plants. Among bulbs,  freesia, Dutch irises, tazetta daffodils, lilies, smaller gladioli all work for me and are not too invasive.

Shrubs are good for contrasting foliage and to give the garden structure. I grow mostly flowering and evergreen shrubs.

My Purple Pavement is vigorous and coexists quite well with a common snowball (viburnum opulus 'Roseum'). They both sucker:)

 Loropetalums and spireas are particularly pretty to me and seem to generally get along with roses. Viburnums not so much.

'Old Korbel Gold' lost its battle with Summer Snowflake viburnum (v. plicatum tomentosum) and had to be dug out and potted up this summer. 

 However, including all these other plants would be like writing a small encyclopedia, and I do not feel up to the task :)

Zephirine Drouhin and spanish lavender (l. stoechas 'Otto Quast') with some Goodwin Creek Grey lavender surround my garden bench

Selecting plants is easy.

A California towhee examining some daisies (chrysanthemum frutescens)

 I choose those that like roughly the same cultural conditions as roses, especially in terms of tolerance of or preference for regular water and fertilizer applications.

A foxglove with Souvenir de Claudius Denoyel in the back

 Most full sun to part shade plants work for me. Many gardeners look for plants that offer some contrast to roses in terms of color and shape of blooms and foliage.

Magnificent Perfume next to linum lewisii, a reliably perennial flax with short lived flowers and a delicate airy growth habit. It does well on very little water

I particularly try to look for something that is not very attractive to snails and slugs :), but that does provide food and cover to bees, butterflies and birds.

Agastache hybrid 'Red Fortune'

One rule I have discovered is that there are no hard and fast rules.

Carding Mill and a tagless salvia

 Most of my garden came together from successive plantings of impulse purchases wherever I could find a patch of bare ground.

Scabiosa ochroleuca

Although I seem to have acquired some knowledge, my ignorance is vast.

Barcelona and geranium "Rozanne"

 I do not anticipate ever attaining that perfect state of boredom when I can simply sit down and predict with certainty how plants will grow in my garden.

'Hoag House Cream' with lavandula angustifolia 'Potpourri White' and scabiosa columbaria 'Harlequin Blue'

One of the first perennials I bought was verbena bonariensis.

I had an idea that its airy stems would grow through the roses using their canes for support. Not so. It grows away from the roses into the sun, reaches 6 feet high and, if it windy (it always is, here) flops over. By itself it is a coarse, ungainly plant, though easy to grow, not needing much water or fertilizer. 

Its fragrant flowers are an important source of nectar and attract many pollinators.

I grow many penstemons, species and hybrids. In my experience penstemons do not like hard pruning: they do not come back well, stay small and don't bloom as much. Nowadays I only cut them back by not more than 1/3.

A hybrid penstemon with Julia Child

On the other hand, they become huge, the stems flop to the ground and root through the mulch :) Despite their reputation for drought tolerance, all my penstemons, species included, do well with or actually prefer regular water.

Hybrid penstemon 'Midnight'

I love pelargoniums even though a lot of them seem to me to be too showy and clash with roses. Many die back in our winters with scented geraniums especially hard hit. I have twice lost most scented varieties I collected and intend to resist as hard as I can spending any more money on them in future.

A variegated scented leaf pelargonium (p. graveolens hybrid)

Over the years, I have accumulated many lavender plants of several types.

 Lavender is a ubiquitous plant in a Mediterranean climate, so I will only mention a few less well known hybrids. All my Madrid series lavenders (l. stoechas crosses) rebloom. Viridis lavenders bloom only once (and not too long at that).

L. viridis 'Tiara Blue'

 My lavender is regularly but sparingly watered (it's mostly drip irrigation).

Potted lavender dries out very quickly and needs to be watered frequently. In my experience, once lavender shows conspicuous signs of drying out it becomes difficult to restore its vigor.

Many other herbs grow well with roses in my climate. My favorite has become oregano.

Origanum sipyleum 'Showy Pink'
 I have over a dozen plants, culinary and ornamental, that do very well on drip.

Origanum laevigatum 'Hopley's Purple'

I bought several rehmannia plants a few years ago because I liked their shaggy foxglove look. I planted all of them, as instructed, in dappled shade. For the last plant, there was no room, and I regretfully put it into an almost full sun location along a west facing stone wall.

 Interestingly, it was the only one that survived :) It has been spreading steadily and is now about a 10 foot long planting that blooms all summer long meandering through roses and sending flower spikes where it wants. Beautiful and no trouble at all so far.

Over the years, many of my roses have grown much bigger than expected and started shading out the plants that grow with them.

Campanula primulifolia

The biggest challenge I am facing now is maintaining a balance: not to sacrifice too many blooms by pruning my roses too hard, yet making sure there is enough room for the companion plants.

Cl. Cecile Brunner hugging Azure Bush germander (teucrium fruticans 'Azureum')

 It is a tricky, but fun experiment.

Penelope with some penstemons and osteospermum daisies


  1. Dear Masha, what a lovely post! The topic of companion plants for roses always interests me and you created some very nice combinations. Actually I have the same experience with penstemons. I cut mine back hard, because I didn't know any better, and they never recovered from that. I also noticed that they need more water than I thought. In my garden some varieties of salvia make excellent companion plants. I especially like salvia 'Mystic Spires Blue'. My favorite photo in your post is the one of 'Hoag House Cream' together with the white flowering lavender and the scabiosa. I am so sad that my 'Hoag House Cream' died. I am sure this will become another very popular post on your blog. Thanks for putting it together, it must have been a lot of work! Warm regards,

  2. Gorgeous post ! I will take notes :) Thank you, Masha !

  3. Piękne towarzystwo dobrałaś różom i ślicznie to wygląda. Podobają mi się bardzo z hortensjami i niebieskimi kwiatkami. Cudowne zdjęcia. Pozdrawiam.
    Beautiful red roses dobrałaś company and pretty it looks. I like much of hydrangeas and blue flowers. Wonderful pictures. Yours.

  4. Your pictures are just stunning!!! Love the combinations of perennials with roses. I also use perennials, herbs and annuals between the roses, but one thing.....I envy your climate, in comparison with us you have an endless summer. I try to have all year flowers, but in winter there is not so much to see and to do in the garden, we have to wait till temperature rises again.

  5. I've always liked roses and lavender together and you have some especially lovely combinations. I'm not familiar with Rehmannia but it is definitely a plant that I will be looking for. I gained a lot of inspiration from your post! I think I will try moving some of the Tall Verbena to be companions my front yard roses. I finally got it going from some little seedlings from a demonstration garden, and now it reseeds like crazy. Thank you for another look at your beautiful roses and their companions!

  6. I enjoyed to look at your photos Masha! They are so bright and sunny in these winter cold and snowy days here. I love roses and hydrangea and roses and salvia. Thank you!

  7. Yes, Roses and Foxgloves, please! All your combinations are enchanting--you not only know your Roses, but you also have a great eye and sense for companion planting. The photo of the Hummingbird with the Agastache must be framed on your wall! Incredible.

  8. What a wonderful series of photos and commentary on your roses and their companions! Too many gorgeous combos to single out, but I love the photo of your bench. Sitting there (Do you ever sit?) must bring you great joy as you look over the paradise you have created. Thanks for bringing some beauty into my dreary winter night!

  9. Bonjour, C'est une très jolie série de photos :)

  10. Ach tut das gut, deine Bilder anzuschauen. Die vielen Rosen und anderen Blüten, ich vermisse sie sehr. Es wird noch einige Wochen dauern, bis es hier wieder etwas wärmer und bunter wird.
    Ich habe auf deinen Bildern viele schöne Anregungen für meine Rosenunterpflanzung gefunden. Besonders gut gefallen mir die Salvien.
    Gruß, Anette

  11. Oooh, so many ideas! I am a huge fan of salvias, and I am curious to know about what you refer to as Spanish lavender and the "Madrid series". In my yard, I have native Spanish Lavandula stoechas, but it is a bit of a pain. It is difficult to transplant (only survives if done on a cold winter's day after a good rain when the soil is softer) and is very sensitive to water (can't have it anywhere near a drip system). I'm sure the varieties you talk about are not as persnickety, but I have never seen them here in Spain.

    Are you on Pinterest? I use it to organize my brain with photos of garden ideas to try, and I would love to "pin" some of your potos (loooove the scabiosa). Thanks for such an interesting post!

  12. Thank you!

    Christina, I have that salvia also, and 'Hot Lips' of course, and Black-and-Blue :). I love autumn sages, pineapple sage in particular (salvia elegans) although it gets huge for me. I am sorry your HHC died, maybe you should try it again?

    Deb, I do sit on that bench although I usually find something needs to be done and get up pretty quickly :).

    Lady of LaMancha, the Madrid series lavenders are crosses between l. stoechas and viridis that have blue, purple or pink flowers with purple, yellow or beige bracts. There are Madrid Pink, Madrid Blue and Madrid Purple that I can remember now. I am not on Pinterest (honestly I can't keep up with all of Facebook, blogger, twitter, instagram et al), but I know my photos have been pinned there before, so feel free to do whatever you want.

    1. Thank you. I'll be sure to reference the potos with the name of your blog.

  13. I love the companions you have chosen for your roses. You have created so many beautiful combinations, and so many beautiful images too.

  14. All flowers and photos and companions are so wonderful, I like goo much Masha

  15. How wonderful pictures! I loved them all. Roses are so beautiful with their companions!

  16. You provide some very good suggestions and many of your photos are incredibly beautiful!

  17. Very interesting! I've already started using lavender as a companion plant and you've provided me with lots of other tried and tested ideas to try out this year.


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