Bulbs and Buddies: Lessons In Companion Planting, Part Two

Sunflower Heliopsis (Helianthus helianthoides)(Ants optional)
In yesterday's post, I reviewed the wide variety of bulbs Chris Wiesinger, the bulb hunter from Southern Bulb Company, talked about at the Bulbs & Buddies Bash at The Arbor Gate last Saturday.  Today in Part Two of Lessons in Companion Planting, I'd like to share some of the plants Heidi Sheesley of Treesearch Farms suggests you combine with bulbs for beautiful low-maintenance gardens with year-round interest.  As I said yesterday, I've known Heidi for quite a few years now and she has been the impetus for many of my plant purchases over the years.  Her enthusiasm is contagious and her knowledge considerable, which is evident from her talks ... one on one in front of a plant she's convinced you must have, you are powerless to resist.  Habitat and wildlife gardening, especially for butterflies and hummingbirds, are a special passion for Heidi and many of the plants she grows are designed to provide the winged beauties with the plants they need.  Heidi is also a big advocate of "right plant, right place": while many of the plants she grows are native to Texas, she also grows a great many plants from other parts of the country and the world that are well adapted to our various growing conditions. 
Curcuma Ginger 'Pink Siam Tulip'
Amongst those in the latter category, Gingers are a Treesearch favorite and The Arbor Gate had a great selection of them on hand.  Costus erythrophyllus varieties included a Blood Red Spiral Ginger  and a 'Grey Form' Artichoke Ginger, with spiral foliage and colorful 2 inch flowers.  Although I haven't grown many gingers in the past, Heidi's converting me to the idea with such lovelies as Curcuma 'Emerald Chocozebra', whose blooms sport apple-green bracts that have rich bronze-brown stripes at the base in summer.  Other Curcumas she's growing include 'Kimono Deep Rose' and 'Pink Siam Tulip', both of which have bloomed for her over 4 months this summer.  Critical to success with the Curcumas is leaving the yellowing foliage and allowing them to go dormant after they bloom. As with most bulbs, doing this will help the plants store energy for the next year's blooms.  The tiny yellow and pink blooms of 'Dancing Lady' Ginger (Globba winnitii 'Grandiflora') are best viewed up close while the Kaempferia Gingers such as 'Shazam' and 'Brush Strokes' are grown primarily for their bold foliage.  The Kaempferias' low mounding habits make them great for ground covers in shady areas.  If you're looking for a tall Ginger to grace your garden, Zingiber zerumbet 'Darceyi', the Variegated Pinecone Ginger, has 4 foot tall stalks of green leaves edged in white and produces large green cones with creamy yellow flowers.  Costus speciosus, White Crepe Ginger, grows 3 to 4 feet tall and flowers in summer.
Prairie Aster (A. oblongifolius)
There are numerous sun loving perennials Heidi recommends for our growing area that will provide multiple seasons of bloom, foliage color and texture.  If you don't have fall-blooming asters in your garden, get thee to a nursery, Ophelia, and remedy that! Aster oblongifolius, Prairie Aster, is covered with pinkish-lavender daisy like flowers in fall and is a butterfly favorite in both Heidi's garden and mine.  Anemone sp. 'Alice Staub' also blooms in early fall: the mounding foliage is topped with 2 to 3 foot stems that can bear hundreds of  2 inch wide mauve-pink blooms.  'Country Girl' Chrysanthemum, also known as 'Clara Curtis', has a profusion of pale pink Shasta Daisy type flowers.  Red Oriental Hibiscus, Abelmoschus moschatus, forms a 3 foot mound with 3 inch wide red-coral hibiscus-like blooms from late spring until frost.   Sunflower Heliopsis, Heliopsis helianthoides, has small sunny yellow blooms all summer long.  Don't overlook the white blooming Phlox maculata 'Miss Lingard', which flowers from May to September.  Heidi is also a fan of my favorite spring perennial, Gulf Coast Penstemon, and its tubular lavender blooms that appear in spring.  These are just a few of the many perennials we can grow in sun.  (I'll add lists at the end of this post of the others in each category she discussed.)
'Jitsuko' Ligularia (Farfugium japonicum 'Jitsuko')
Treesearch has a great selection of perennials for shade.  One of my personal favorites in Acanthus mollis, known as Bear's Breeches, for its striking architectural foliage as well as its spiky blooms. Treesearch grow the variety 'Summer Beauty', which flowers from late spring through mid-summer.  Another plant that has handsome foliage is Farfugium japonicum 'Giganteum', Giant Ligularia: 6 inch wide glossy dark green leaves are topped with spikes of yellow daisy-shaped blooms in fall.  New to me is the picture variety F. japonicum 'Jitsuko', which is shorter and has smaller leaves and double flowers.  If you want to plant for the fruit-loving birds that visit your garden, Prunus sp. 'Hirome', Hirome Dwarf Cherry, grows up to 6 feet tall and produces pink blooms in early spring, followed by tart cherries later in the year.  Another personal favorite of mine, 'Samurai' Toad Lily (Tricyrtis formosana) has light purple blooms spotted with darker purple from late summer into fall.
Buddleia 'Attraction'
Sun-loving shrubs such as Buddleias provide sweetly scented blooms that are attractive to butterflies.  These shrubs will need excellent drainage and may sulk after a period of heavy rain.  Since they bloom on new wood, they can be cut back if the mankiness factor gets to be too much for you.  'Attraction', pictured above, is considered the reddest of the buddleias.  One of the new Buddleias available from Treesearch is the compact variety 'Blue Chip', bred by Dr. Denny Werner in North Carolina.  This two foot tall and wide shrub has lavender-blue flowers and is deer resistant.  Also attractive to butterflies is the Mexican Bauhinia (B. mexicana), whose feathery orchid like blooms are white flushed with pale pink.  Like many of the shrubs we grow in our area, this one can be limbed up to become a small tree, as can Sweet Almond Verbena (Aloysia virgata).  In my garden, Sweet Almond Verbena repeat blooms from spring through fall and perfumes the air with what Heidi calls "a heavenly honey-vanilla scent".
'Oscar's Dwarf Yaupon' (Yaupon sp.)
For your shadier areas, Heidi recommends several shrubs that will provide a variety of foliage, flowers and fragrance.  'Oscar's Dwarf Yaupon' is a compact form of the evergreen yaupons so ubiquitous in Houston landscapes; it can be sheared into tidy shapes for a box or knot garden.  Another evergreen that provides a dark green background for bulbs and perennials is Prostrate Plum Yew (Cephalataxus harringtonia).  'Frosty' Deutzia features clouds of white flowers in mid-spring against both dark green and yellow mottled foliage.  A favorite of mine here at Wit's End is Michelia skinneriana, Skinner's Banana Shrub.  This 10-12 foot shrub or small tree has pale creamy yellow fragrant blooms that do indeed smell like bananas; its medium to deep green glossy foliage sets the blooms off beautifully.  'Daisy' Gardenia's fragrant blooms are shaped like daisies, hence the name; this compact shrub blooms from spring through summer.  All of these and more can be found at The Arbor Gate.    Be sure to mention that you read about the plants and the nursery on this blog!

Below is the  list of plants from Heidi not already mentioned in this post.

Agastache sp. 'Black Adder' 
Allium texasanum, Native Texas Allium
Alstroemeria sp. 'Dandy Candy', Dandy Candy Peruvian Lily
Antericum sandersonia, Variegated Shooting Star Lily
Baptisia x 'Purple Smoke', Purple Smoke Baptisia
Calliandra emarginata, Dwarf Fairy Duster
Capsicum annuum var. aviculara, Chili Pequin
Cassia corymbosa, Flowering Senna
Dyschoriste oblongifolia, Florida Snake Herb
Hibiscus acetosella 'Maple Sugar', Maple Sugar Hibiscus
Lespedeza liukiuensis 'Little Volcano', Little Volcano Lespedeza
Lespedeza thunbergia 'White Fountains', White Fountains Lespedeza
Melochia tomentosa, Tea Bush or Pyramid Bush
Pavonia peruviensis, Peruvian or Brazilian Pavonia
Phlox paniculata 'John Fanick', John Fanick Phlox
Poliomintha longiflora, Mexican Oregano
Salvia sp. 'Otahal', Otahal Salvia
Stemodia tomentosa, Wooly Stemodia or Silver Stemodia
Stokesia sp. 'Peachie's Pick', Peachie's Pick Stokes' Aster


Amsonia tabernaemontana, Eastern Bluestar
Barlieria striata, Blue Philippine Violet
Bletilla striata, Purple Ground Orchid
Odontenema strictum 'Pink Goddess', Pink Goddess Firespike
Ruellia sp. 'Blue Shade', Blue Shade Ruellia
Spathoglottis plicata, Peach-Pink Philippine Ground Orchid
Spathoglottis plicata, Purple Philippine Ground Orchid


Buddleia davidii 'Dubonnet', Dubonnet Butterfly Bush
Cordia boissieri, Mexican Olive or Texas Olive
Eremophila sp., Blue Emu Bush
Ilex decidua, Possumhaw Holly
Ligustrum sp. 'Wimbei', Wimbei Ligustrum
Viburnum luzonicum, Luzon Viburnum
Viburnum obovatum densata, Compact Walter's Viburnum


Magnolia x soulangiana 'Anne', Anne Saucer Magnolia
Philadelphus 'Innocence', Innocence Mock Orange


I'm used to thinking of plants like Hostas as good bulb companions, but the ex-Asters would make good companions. I always forget how small they are in early spring. Thanks for the suggestions.
Mary Ann said…
Nice post! Thanks for the info.
Dorothy Borders said…
I'm sorry I missed this event, but you've given me some very helpful information from it. Thank you.
Robin Ripley said…
Cindy, it's been a while since I visited. I have to say I am in awe of your header photo. Gorgeous. And I know just where it is!!!
Great post Cindy. Thanks for sharing all of this information. It was great seeing you at Arbor Gate!
A baby ligularia! I have to have one! Thanks so much -- I wish I had been there with you!