A Perennial Color WheelPosted by in Garden Flowers
In the garden, nothing surpasses the beauty of witnessing last year’s perennials wake from their sleep and don themselves with tender sprigs of green. If you haven’t yet created a perennial garden of your own, build one this spring to help you design a lasting impression on both your landscape and returning visitors as well.
Evening strolls through the neighborhood are a far cry from what they were decades ago. Though they might continue to offer the breaks you need from reality, you seldom get the luxury today of sauntering past a garden that beckons you to pause a moment longer and gaze at its wondrous beauty. There was a time when the boisterous bells of foxgloves announced spring’s sweet arrival, while beneath them the more melodic Calibrachoa and African mallow softly struggled to be heard. Brigades of fiery salvias mixed with brightly lit coreopsis, asters, and daisies wildly competed for space, as mounds of lantana, verbena, and weidelia lavishly spilled from the beds. Now in landscapes where wildflowers once thrived are spots of annuals that dare to contend with their stalwart predecessors.
Give your neighbors something to talk about this spring by breaking away from the traditional cookie-cutter landscape. While I am not asking you to completely renounce the lipstick pink impatiens or the candy red vinca—they are after all, some of the toughest combatants for our summers—you should at least integrate a few others that prove less promiscuous with their blooming habits. Constant color can prove exhilarating at times, but when displayed at every street corner, front yard, and commercial landscape, even the most ravishing bed of colors can turn dull over time. Relinquish the mob mentality of planting and add a touch of integrity with Echinacea, a feeling of class with the purest Shasta daisies, or spark a fire with the glowing embers of Rudbeckia, blended with the dahlia’s burnt sienna. Build a towering fortress of ‘Mystic Spires’ salvia or weave an intricate carpet of ‘Homestead’ verbena and Phlox subulata—the possibilities are endless.
When incorporating perennials in your garden, one of the easiest ways to start if you are unfamiliar with them is by selecting desired colors. Keep in mind that you will need both warm and cool shades to create the best effect. Likewise, because perennials are not usually licentious when it comes to revealing their flowers, you will need to plant masses of specific colors if you go with a predominantly perennial border. The intense wine red that blazes from Salvia vanhouttei, for instance, fiercely sparks interest in even the dullest of flowerbeds when combined with the brilliant reds of firespike, red-hot poker plants (Kniphofia spp.), monarda, and russelia.
Stoke the fire more by integrating the orange-red blossoms of cigar plants (Cuphea micropetala). These scintillating flowers burst like firecrackers from late spring through fall, covering the entire plant, and leave little to be desired when planted near butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and the exceptionally handsome blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.). Create an iridescent glow around the core of the bed by mixing an assortment of Rudbeckia, coreopsis, and ‘Stella d’ Oro’ daylilies. Any one of these striking yellow beauties looks exquisite when standing behind ‘New Gold’ or ‘Confetti’ lantana.
Bring a sense of serenity to your garden with blue and purple tones. The fine stalks of Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower, make a charming presentation when interspersed amid the heavyweight Liatris spicata. Incorporate also ‘Purple Bouquet’ dianthus, penstemon, and loosestrife for added height. Although penstemon blooms heaviest in early spring, the recurrent blossoms of Echinacea, dianthus, and loosestrife will carry you long into the heart of fall. For lower growing cool colors, consider ‘Homestead purple’ verbena, scabiosa, and ‘Louisiana blue’ phlox.
When designing your beds, you can break up monotonous color tones by interspersing white flowering perennials like Shasta daisies, cat whiskers, and the increasingly popular Physostegia virginiana, or obedient plant. Similarly, you can accentuate fine-textured salvias or Carex with the help of broad silver-leaved plants like dusty miller and lamb’s ear. Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, also praised for its attractive silvery foliage, has a featherlike texture that looks best against a wall of Persian shield or sun coleus.
Perennials, whether planted in a bed of their own, or intermingled with summer bloomers like periwinkle, petunias, and begonias, will no doubt give character to your landscape. This spring, branch from the lackluster planting styles of today, and let the ancestors of gardening—the tried and true perennials of yesterday—grace your beds with their charm.
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