Companion planting of Aquilegia vulgaris double pink and Geranium pyrenaicum 'Summer Skies'; photographed 5/14/2012 in my garden

Most gardeners have a library full of books. These days, it is rare to find one that really educates and inspires but I recently read Natural Companions, a wonderful book that is the result of an amazing collaboration between Ken Druse, a horticulturist par excellence, and Ellen Hoverkamp, a non-traditional plant photographer. .

The two of them have created incredible arrangements of flowers and foliage that complement or contrast with each other while capturing a moment in time. Frequently, these combinations picture a plant community, thus all of the plants in one of these combinations have the same requirements for light, soil, and moisture. Each of the combinations is accompanied by fascinating text.

The two combinations I use here to illustrate the idea are pale imitations of the the ones in this book. Those are more like still-lifes.

Many people are bored by botany and taxonomy but this is no textbook. Readers will be captivated by Druse’s description of how certain physical characteristics evolved as survival techniques and, even more, by how designers and gardeners can recognize those characteristics to make appropriate plant choices.

Color echo of yellow flowers of Saruma henryi with chartreuse foliage of Heuchera 'Pistache'; photographed in my garden 5/14/12

The majority of combinations feature temperate plants but there are also some from very warm climates. Even those are useful in containers for gardeners living in temperate climates. Additionally, the design elements remain the same so the gardener could substitute similar but hardy plants in the ground. I loved the fact that Druse and Hoverkamp used all part of the plant palette: trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, annuals, temperennials, and bulbs.

The combinations feature five themes: Seasons, Families, Form Follows Function, Color, and Spirit of Place. In Seasons, emphasis is placed on the fact that they are defined by where you live, not by the calendar. These color combinations feature foliage, flowers, fruit, and seeds.

I was intrigued by the combinations of similar flowers shown in Families because landscape designers usually strive to mix flower forms and textures. Spirit of Place showed examples of several types of habitat and theme gardens but emphasized that they should merely be an indication of the types of gardens that can be created.

My only criticism is basically a nitpicking one – that some of the botanical names, found in the helpful map inserts, were spelled incorrectly. Those in the text were uniformly correct. There was one insert in which the names were misplaced and therefore misleading to someone unfamiliar with those plants.

Having been a plantaholic for forty-three years and a landscape designer for thirty-five, I was happy to find myself making notes of plants and combinations to try. The book itself is beautiful, printed on heavy gloss paper but it is much more than a coffee table book; it is an inspiration and I highly recommend it to you.

Ken Druse and Ellen Hoverkamp, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York, New York,  2012, 256 pages, $40. (Available for considerably less at