Beyond Spring

Malus 'Branzam' Brandywine_Crabapple_DBG_LAH_5147Most landscapes look terrific in May and June. The leaves are fresh and new. From pink crabapples to purple lilacs, it seems as if everything is in bloom. The contrast with the lifeless browns and grays of winter is enough to send you cavorting across the  glowing, emerald green lawn.

It’s tempting—irresistible, really—to rush to the local garden center and buy everything with flowers on it. I’ve been subjected to Facebook photos of flowers since March (I have a lot of friends in California), and finally it’s our turn!

Unfortunately, the result of a spring plant spree plays out over the rest of the year. If a plant is in bloom now, it’s highly likely that it won’t be in bloom later. By mid-summer, the show has ended and we’re left with green trees, green shrubs, green groundcovers. Green is nice, but I want color! How can I have a yard that blooms all season?

Annuals are easy to grow and will flower until killed by frost, but the repeated hassle and expense of replacing them every year makes me shy away and look instead for longer lasting options.

The easiest way to have flowers from spring to fall is to choose a variety of plants that perform at different times. Crabapples and lilacs are lovely, but their show is over so quickly. Why not consider adding shrubs and trees that bloom in mid-to-late summer? Then, look for those with attractive seedheads, pods, or fruit to continue the show once the flowers are finished.

Perennials tend to bloom for several weeks, with some—such as hardy geraniums and Shasta daisies—keep their flowers longer than others. Others rebloom if deadheaded or trimmed back a bit.

Echinacea purpura_Purple Coneflower_FederalWay-WA_LAH_4031.nefMany gardeners like to scatter blooming flowers throughout the yard so that something is in bloom no matter where you look. I prefer to feature a specific section of my landscape each month, grouping plants so they can complement one another with the same bloom time. For example, in my pollinator garden, brilliant pink and orange coneflowers, lavender-purple Russian sage, and deep yellow goldenrod bloom together in late summer. The brilliant colors command attention; no one notices that the rest of the yard is past its prime.

An easy way to assure your companion plants bloom simultaneously to buy them at the same time. Return to the nursery throughout the season, focusing on one part of the yard at a time. Right now, I’m planting flowers in front of a low retaining wall at one end of our backyard. Because they’re currently in bloom, I know that the varied colors, shapes, and sizes work well together. In another month or two, I’ll focus on another part of the backyard, populating that spot with summer bloomers. There’s just one catch. In early spring, beware of plants that were forced into bloom for early sale—the label should state their normal bloom time.

This spring, I’m having a lot of fun choosing plants for our new yard. I’m think of myself as an artist as I consider color, texture, size, shape, and growth habit. For example, my retaining wall garden features pink-and-white Creeping Phlox ‘Candy Stripe’ in the foreground, with Salvia ‘Sensation Deep Rose’ and  pale lilac-pink Geranium ‘Karmina’ behind. Lest the pink become overpowering, I’ve also included violas and dianthus, both in a maroon burgundy. Deep purple bearded irises rise in back. They should all bloom in late May, along with the pink-flowered chokecherry tree overhead.

Later in the season, the geranium will continue with sporadic bloom, complemented by rose-red Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber) and old fashioned hollyhocks in an assortment of happy hues.

For mid-summer, I’m planning another favorite combination across the yard, where a swath of yellow-centered Shasta daisies will mingle with yellow coreopsis in front of several deep green dwarf conifers. The yellow flowers and green to chartreuse-yellow leaves of groundcover creeping Jenny (aka moneywort) will continue the warm-toned color scheme.

Of course, flowers aren’t a plant’s only attribute. Colored foliage lasts all season, and sometimes even into the winter. You can choose leaves in shades of wine red, buttery yellow, silvery gray. Then add companions to bring out the best of those colors.

Along the sidewalk in the front yard, I’ve grouped spiky purple gayfeather (Liatris), sprawling flaming red-orange hummingbird trumpet (Epilobium canum), and brilliant yellow evening primroses (with their lance-shaped grayish-green foliage), next to foamy silver Artemisia. The flowers won’t show up until late summer, but the contrasting colors and textures of the green and silver leaves will look good all summer.

Closer to the house, maroon ninebark ‘Diablo’ provides the backdrop for cherry red Monarda, yellow wallflower ‘Golden Glow,’ and orange geum ‘Mrs. J. Bradshaw.’ An adjacent trellis supporting coral-red ‘Major Wheeler’ honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) screens our under-deck storage area from view.

So go ahead, run to the nursery. Pick out those cheerful flowers that proclaim the arrival of spring. But leave some room in the yard—and in the budget—for late bloomers and enjoy a colorful garden throughout the growing season.

Wallflower image from Heritage Perennials.

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