Use plants with contrasting shapes to create appealing compositions
Water, cupped in a container or basin, is a thing of beauty. Its flickering reflections are a welcome presence in any garden. But dressing it up with plants transports the display to a whole new dimension. I like to create compositions that are vibrant and dynamic, so I use plants with contrasting shapes, colors, and sizes. For me, the more contrast, the better.
I like to combine the tall, slender, spiky shapes of an erect, fine-leaved marginal plant like yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) or sweet flag (Acorus calamus) with the broad-leaved foliage of an easy-to-grow tropical marginal like taro (Alocasia or Colocasia spp.)—especially one of the varieties with variegated or dark-purple leaves. Marginal plants are those that are usually placed along the edges of a water garden; in the wild they grow in shallow water.
For a special touch, I might add a bright splash of color with a cut water lily flower or two. Water lily flowers, which I collect from a larger water garden, will last three days if cut the morning they first open. I don't grow water lilies or lotus in my container compositions, though; they take up too much room. As an especially dramatic accent, I might add one of the real gems of the aquatic world—a variegated spider lily (Hymenocallis caribaea 'Variegata') or a clump of brightly colored chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'). I especially like using plants that have a story of their own: pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.), for example, eat insects, digesting small bugs in the recesses of their large, trumpet-shaped leaves.
Exciting compositions spring from unusual combinations. The author used tall, spiky cattail (Typha laxmannii), broad-leaved cranberry taro (Colocasia rubra), and a floating clump of variegated spider lily (Hymenocallis caribaea 'Variegata') to create a dynamic design, which he then decorated with a flower cut from a water lily (Nymphaea spp.).
Floating plants add a finishing touch. The rippled leaves of water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) make a nice complement to spotted calla (Zantedeschia albomaculata) and soft rush (Juncus effusus).