by Mary-Kate Mackey
All spring my Encore® Azaleas were making promises. Each plant was heaped in buds. Now, it’s May in the Pacific Northwest and they’re starting to deliver. And what a show. Autumn Bonfire™ was the first to arrive. The two containers that flank my entry walk presented a welcome splash of color right at my front door. These were followed closely by the Autumn Bonfire™ I’d planted in the garden last fall.
Now I want to figure out what other plants will complement their bright glory. I’ve got a lot of requirements. I need plants that can stand up to that strong color but will also look good with the paler pinks and whites of the other Encores as well. They can’t overpower the azaleas with rampant growth. I’d like plants with different leaf forms, both in color and shape. For flowers, I’m leaning toward the harmonious, similar in hue to the Encores, or contrasting, such as blue or yellow.
They must also be good at weed control. If plants occupy every niche, from tree to groundcover, weeds have less chance of taking hold. The low-growers can establish themselves as a living mulch. However, some of these matting plants have a reputation for aggressive behavior in ideal garden conditions.
I’m taking a chance on them because my garden is less than ideal. I have heavy clay and little natural water in summer. I’m hoping that because the Encore® Azaleas get so much bigger—3 to 4 feet tall and wide—that the low growers around them will occupy a different root zone and won’t get a chance to bully them. I’m experimenting. I’ve only bought a few of each groundcover. At the first sign of thuggery, they will be dug out. But if they play well, I’ll buy more and fill in.
So, I’m on the hunt. Here’s what I’ve put in so far.
Ajuga reptens ‘Valfredda’ (aka Chocolate Chip)– A dwarf 2-inch tall bugleweed with dark foliage and small upright purple flowers forms a spreading mat. Some ajuga is invasive for parts of the U.S. but not here in Oregon.
Campanula portenshlagiana– This 3- to 6-inch Dalmatian bellflower also spreads out in a fibrous mat, ideal for keeping weeds down. The blue flowers appear at the same time as the Encores’ spring show.
C. garganica ‘Dickson’s Gold’ – Another 6-inch bellflower, this one has bright gold foliage, so it’s a good contrast to the Encore’s dark green leaves. Its matting habit should be an effective weed barrier.
Pratia pedunculata‘County Park’– This 4- to 6-inch groundcover has starry deep blue flowers all summer long. The blooms will be an excellent foil for the repeat performance of the Encores.
This list will get longer. I’m also planting bulbs in the fall that will be companions for next spring’s show. I’ll let you know what I discover.