Does this pink look too garish? Should I match it with orange—or cream? Or would the gray be better? One of my favorite aspects of gardening is coordinating flowers. Sure, each plant is a beauty all on its own but, just as a decorator pulls together matching and contrasting colors to produce a total look, so the creative gardener selects flower and leaf colors that complement one another, creating a composite whole that outshines any single plant.
The first summer in our new home, we simply added basic landscaping—retaining walls, trees, large shrubs, planters, and the lawn. Our yard was mostly mulch with little green dots scattered throughout. Think of a living room with the couch, a couple of chairs, and an end table or two, but no rug on the floor, pictures on the wall, pillows on the couch, or books on the coffee table. It looked pretty bare.
However, the following spring, with the basic structure installed and the soil prepared, it was time to add the perennials. I had a plan in mind. Each part of the yard was assigned a time of bloom—early spring, late spring, early summer, and so forth. Then I concentrated plants in that area that would all bloom together. Sure, the rest of the yard might be a bit boring, but the section in bloom would catch all the attention. Besides, I could choose combinations that would complement one another.
I found that the garden centers tended to feature plants in bloom, so I simply timed my shopping to the area I was planting. The only tricky part was early spring, as the nursery stock came either from lower elevations or a greenhouse. Plants were in bloom that wouldn’t flower in my yard for several more weeks.
There was just one little problem. For some reason, last spring seemed to feature magenta flowers. I didn’t make up the example in the first paragraph—the west side of our lawn was ringed with a narrow bed filled with magenta salvia, magenta hardy geraniums, magenta bee balm, and magenta violas. Oops. To add to the theme, I had wine-red dianthus and dark rose valerian (aka Jupiter’s beard). As my designer daughter would say, it was far too “matchy-matchy.” Painfully so.
This spring I added snow-in-summer and lamb’s ears, both with silvery-gray foliage, hoping to tone down the brilliance. Delicate pink baby’s breath will separate some of the brighter colors—the same color but significantly lighter. Hopefully, by next spring they’ll have filled in enough to soften the total effect!
Other parts of the yard have different color schemes. The sidewalk in front features purple gayfeather surrounded by orangey-red California fuchsia and bright yellow Missouri evening primrose. Silver artemesia acts as a neutral background. While the primrose has started blooming now, the main show will happen later in the summer.
Summers at 7,100 feet end far too quickly, but one of the benefits is that the bloom season is compacted into fewer months. While some plants never even get a chance to flower—I rarely start annuals outdoors from seed—others that elsewhere have different bloom times end up overlapping here in Colorado. That gives the gardener more options to work with.
To get started, pay attention to when flowers are in bloom. Some books on perennials have tables that list bloom times, but each yard is different. Add your observations to a gardening calendar to keep track.
Then consider which plants would benefit from pairing. Is one the star, while others play a supporting role? Are the colors adjacent or opposite on the color wheel? Remember that colors can be lighter or darker, too. Consider shape and texture. And don’t forget the foliage—leaves can be green, gray, blue, purple, or red—and each of those colors comes in many shades. Irises are spiky, coneflowers have arrow-shaped leaves, and many succulents’ leaves are round. Remember height—does that tall plant need something shorter in front? How about groundcovers? There are no rules, only what delights you.
The possibilities are endless, which is part of the fun. To get you started, I’ve included photos of some possible combinations I liked. What will you create in your own yard?