Designer Plant Combinations – book review

Designer Plant Combinations

105 Stunning Gardens Using Six Plants or Fewer

By Scott Calhoun, 2008, Storey Publishing

Finally, a garden designer with a sense of humor!  Remember people, this whole garden making thing is supposed to be fun – you know, a relaxing, leisure time activity.  Scott Calhoun, author of Designer Plant Combinations, gets that.  The proof is in this vibrant, colorful, and utterly delightful read. 

Sara Begg, Executive Editor, Horticulture magazine says:

“With a voice that is part surfer, part plant geek, Calhoun takes a complex topic – garden design – and breaks it down into simple, elegant pieces.  A great book for beginning and expert gardeners alike.” 

Cool plants, edgy combinations and sophisticated color runs  are served up in beautiful color photographs throughout the book’s 240 pages accompanied by graphic, well organized blocks of text, complete with thumbnail portraits of the limited but choice plant selections and sound horticultural advice.  Calhoun resides in Tucson, AZ and he pays special attention to resilient yet interesting plants that withstand the unforgiving hot, arid environment of southwest gardens.

I like alliterative language (can you tell?) and so I was bound to appreciate the catchy – sometimes kitschy – titles that introduce each plant grouping: “Grinding out a coffee-colored combo” – bronze sedges punctuated with spires of columnar purple barberry and ‘Midnight Wine’ weigela; or “Phi Beta Butterfly Pink” – an all pink  composition of lantana, Gomphrena, purple fountain grass and Joe-pye weed, “bound to attract butterflies like fraternity brothers to a tapped keg.”  At first the ornate, curly-cued subtitles and almost Victorian floral motif symbols that punctuate the pages were a distraction.  But then it struck me, in a sea of books about walls, paths, patios, and “outdoor living,” here was a design book that was completely plant-driven.  The fluid, organic type treatment grew on me as I read page after delicious page of garden profiles that rely on a restricted palette of 6 or fewer plants – stunning indeed!

Calhoun gives credit where credit is due attributing each garden to their designers and creators across the country; boxed “designer  tips” add additional insight and seasonal maintenance advice to each garden profile.  The book concludes with appendices listing “Designer Resources” complete with contact information for those whose work is mentioned as well as a list of “Public Gardens for Design Inspiration.”

As I  mentioned last week, I’ve recently dipped my toe back into garden design – a small but exciting project involving the tiny front yard of a beautiful craftsman home with lovely lines and fabulous proportions.  My task is to create a gracious, slightly more formal entry and a jewel box of a garden that will capture the interest of the homeowner and passersby alike offering color, texture, fragrance and seasonal changes throughout the year.  It feels good to get outside and wrestle with measuring tape, camera, and notes – even in the blowing wind and rain.  Tissue paper, drafting tools, and piles of gardening books help to prime my creaky designer brain.  Designer Plant Combinations offers a refreshing approach and is definitely my new favorite find.

4 Responses to “Designer Plant Combinations – book review”

  1. rochelle December 3, 2008 at 2:14 pm #


    I just wanted to let you know that I was here and really enjoyed your blog…and also mentioned you on a recent poting at my own blog (


  2. Blogging tips and insight December 3, 2008 at 3:11 pm #

    Thanks for these planting tips. I love it for sure.

  3. debra December 5, 2008 at 10:00 am #

    hey Lorene, I’m so excited that you reviewed Scott’s new book. He and I just swapped copies of each other’s new projects and Designer Plant Combinations just arrived in my mailbox 2 days ago. So….I’m tickled to get a preview from you. The size is nice, too, isn’t it? It’s the kind of book that will get used. And that bodes well for its success.
    PS, I go away from Planted at Home for 2 weeks and – wow – coming back, I see you’ve been very busy with the work-making. Gotta read on, with pleasure. Deb


  1. planted at home » Blog Archive » My flower show report - Thursday - February 24, 2009

    […] Calhoun entitled “Perfect Plant Combinations”.  I reviewed Scott’s latest book, Designer Plant Combinations last fall and it was a hoot to spend some time with this gifted designer and talented educator.  […]