A Gardening Journal
Good Together: 'Sticks on Fire' Euphorbia & 'Vancouver Centennial' Geranium
- Published: November 15 2016
Last month I introduced a seasonal combination of tender plants—lion's ears and savitzii parlor maples—that remained colorful, durable, textural, and well-behaved over the long hot summer. But the fuzzy orange flowers of the lion's ears didn't really have much to chat about with the white-variegated foliage of the parlor maples. Yes, the two contrasted spectacularly, but they didn't converse. I extracted the parlor maples to grow on as a pure colony.
Below, a warm-weather combo that deals from the other side of the deck: Vancouver Centennial geraniums and Sticks on Fire euphorbias. Both trumpet lime green and terracotta. Both are low and bushy. Both bask in blazing sun and tending-to-dry soil.
About the only place they do contrast—and how—is in texture. Pelargonium x hortorum 'Vancouver Centennial' is a classic bedding geranium: short, dense, self-branching, and covered with vivid two-toned leaves. This geranium flowers only shyly, with loose clusters of blooms in a congenial red-clay red.
Euphorbia tirucalli is a stemmy, spineless succulent whose tiny, ephemeral leaves are quite beside the point: the stems contain the necessary chlorophyll. Those of this Sticks on Fire cultivar glow with the same colors—lime green, salmon, and terracotta—as the foliage of Vancouver Centennial. (Yes, there can be hints of pink, too, but let's just walk on by them.)
I love that, although this container is populated with only two varieties of plants that agree on just about everything but texture, the effect is anything but muted or murmuring. Thanks to the near-electric combination of hues alone, the combo was already a colorful and even noisy beacon from clear across the garden. It doesn't take a range of contrasts to create a brilliant focal point, just one or two. With Sticks on Fire and Vancouver Centennial, that means color and texture.
Vancouver Centennial is already at its mature size, but if I can carry this container planting over the winter in my none-too-warm greenhouse, Sticks on Fire can increase to shrubby dimensions next summer. Then the pair would enjoy the additional contrasts of scale and habit: the geranium would have become the groundcover to the euphorbia.
Each night in the greenhouse, the temperature can drop to fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Provided they are kept dry until March, geraniums overwinter readily in this relative coolness, dropping almost all of their leaves in favor of a snoozy dormancy. Euphorbia tirucalli welcomes the same dry soil, but months of fifty-degree nights—November through March, remember—may be chilly enough to render the plant susceptible to drying out, rotting, or both. In that case, this container may be populated just by geraniums long before spring's return.
Here's how to grow Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'.
Here's how to grow Pelargonium x hortorum 'Persian Queen', whose hardiness and handling are similar to those of Vancouver Centennial. Vancouver lacks the Queen's potential for height, so isn't a candidate for standardizing.