It’s spring! Really, it is. Some days even seem like it. In springtime many of us think of gardening, so, come snow or sleet or whatever, it’s time to get into those gardening books and see what improvements can be made to our yards (or decks or patios if that’s all you’ve got).

One challenge many of us face is trying to come up with pleasing combinations of plants. Mixing colors, sizes and textures can be daunting for some, me included. With that in mind, let me offer “The Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations: Over 4,000 color and planting schemes” by Tony Lord and Andrew Lawson. It was originally published in Britain, but the hardiness zones are the same wherever you go, and they have revised the American publication to list feet and inches before the metric measurements.

The first section gives a very detailed explanation of the legends for each listing, which include excellent photos of each plant, including most in combinations with suggested companions. Other information given (and explained) are notations of Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit recipients, the height and spread of the plant, soil conditions needed, hardiness zones, bloom time, pH requirements, water preferences and a very nice graphic representation showing what light ranges are acceptable, as well as what light levels work best for each plant.

The next section provides information on the whys and wherefores of combinations, and the next covers different planting styles (bedding, border, herbaceous border, mixed border, woodland, exotic, meadow, naturalistic, country, cottage, grasses, Mediterranean and minimalist) as the authors think of them.

After that, we come to the heart of the matter—plants. The first section deals with shrubs and small trees. So, if you have a forsythia and would like to know what to plant alongside it, you might choose an Oregon grape holly for the contrasting foliage or an early flowering clematis like clematis armandii that can be draped over the forsythia for a lovely white and yellow flowering display.

Climbers appear next, and if you’ve ever tried to figure out what to plant with a clematis or ivy, you’ve come to the right place. For something quick, grown as annuals here, a planting of Crimson Rambler (or other red morning glory) with yellow canary creeper creates a very bright and cheerful display. Various companions for different kinds of honeysuckle make for some very attractive displays as well.

Got roses? The next section gives many combinations for ramblers and climbers as well as old shrub roses and modern shrub roses and even hybrid teas and floribundas. A really lovely combination here is a Rosa Pink Bells groundcover rose planted with a white musk mallow and a lavender-blue peach-leaved bellflower for a very attractive pastel mix.

Perennials come next, so if you’d like to know what to combine with your hostas, look no further. Something to go with your iris? It’s here. Got bulbs? That’s the next chapter, so if you like the look of alliums but can’t figure out what on earth would go with them, here are some suggestions.

Finally, for those who don’t have a lot of space or money or just want something simple, there are the annual combinations. Purple Swan River daisies and white sweet alyssum make a very nice display, and there’s a fabulous mix of white cleome (spider flower), verbena bonariensis and pink cosmos that I believe I might try!

This book is an excellent addition to our already terrific (if I do say so myself) collection of books and magazines on gardening, even a smattering of DVDs, as well as some books to help get children started on a lifetime of gardening. So, whether you’re a beginning gardener or more advanced, interested in flowers, shrubs, trees, perennials or vegetables, we have gardening information for you, even if you’re just an armchair gardener. Come have a look!

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