Changing colors in the garden

Garden Muse
by: Courtesy of Barbara Blossom Ashmun, Designer Sue Moss in Seattle found another way to combine red and yellow, placing a yellow glass ornament beside a red-flowering perennial Lobelia.

Much to my surprise, coral flowers have taken the spotlight in my garden this fall. Glancing out my office window, I see dahlias in shades of peach, coral, and melon, along with several 'Coral Floral Carpet' roses, lighting up the garden. These warm tones seem perfect to brighten the early overcast mornings when I sit at my desk with a warm cup of - naturally - peach black tea, to go with the coral theme.

How did this happen? I used to be a big fan of pastel pink, silvery blue, and creamy yellow, then veered off to a passion for deeper fuchsia pink, lipstick red, lemon yellow and rich burgundy. Lately it's coral, gold, bittersweet chocolate, black, and blue-violet. My cravings are always changing in the garden, especially when it comes to color.

What I've come to love about coral is its cozy warmth. Less brazen than orange, more vibrant than pink, coral brightens a border without overwhelming it. It seems to combine with all foliage tints too - green, bronze, burgundy, silver and black. Even leaves with variegations, whether yellow, cream or white, are good companions for coral flowers.

Black and gold

I love black mondo grass, but their dark blades blend right into the soil and disappear, unless I plant a contrasting perennial beside them, to make them pop. I first tried Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana) with dainty green leaves and light blue flowers, but the bellflower soon overwhelmed the mondo grass. I moved the black mondo to an already existing area where golden 'Angelina' sedum grew happily, but again, the sedum was too strong for it.

So imagine my delight to find a box on my doorstep from my dear friend Connie, holding overflow from her garden - several pots of black mondo grass and a mass of golden heucheras! They looked so beautiful together in the box, I'm hoping this time the black mondos have found their match.

Not only that, but one bed was just screaming out for them. I'd recently renewed a raised bed, recycling six perfectly good 'Paprika' roses to a friend's smaller garden where they would shine. I needed taller plants in that area, to help screen a two-story home. I began with golden Japanese incense cedar (Cryptomeria 'Sekkan-sugi'), burgundy-leaved 'Red Fox' katsura tree, and 'Mardi Gras' abelia with gold, coral and green tints in the leaves. A dramatic contrast of dark and bright foliage was already the theme of this bed, so the black mondo and golden heucheras would fit right in. I planted them at the feet of the trees and shrubs.

Red and yellow

I still love red, especially with gold, blue-violet and purple companions. This summer I was smitten by luscious red 'Ruth Oliver' daylily at Midnight Gardens ( daylily nursery, as well as creamy yellow 'Caribbean Whipped Cream.' Undecided about where to plant them, I grew them in large pots.

This fall, an opportunity opened up after I cleared out half an island bed overtaken by variegated meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria 'Variegata'). I hadn't really noticed how many of its seedlings were not only plain green, but also how they'd snuck into every little gap in the bed - under shrubs, between other perennials, around bulbs.

It was satisfying work, reaming out this thug, and then looking at the blank space to see what it could become. This is one of my favorite parts of gardening: staring and daydreaming. What remained in that place was a young 'Summer Chocolate' silk tree, a green osmanthus, and some culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum), green-leaved with white flowers. Good bones, begging for more color. It seemed the perfect place for red and yellow, so in went 'Ruth Oliver' and 'Caribbean Whipped Cream.'

I needed a finishing edge to frame that part of the island bed. I hunted through my stash of plants that I'd propagated this summer for just this kind of need, looking for extra sedums. They're great companions for daylilies - their succulent foliage is more interesting at the front of a bed, especially when the daylilies are spent.

A recent favorite is one I picked up at Wells Medina Nursery in Seattle, called Sedum telephium 'Aquarell.' It's described as a good border plant, with cream and pink fall flowers. What caught my eye at the nursery was the foliage, a soothing shade of blue-green. From everything I can see, it will be compact. Next spring, that island bed should be better than ever. At least until the next new wave of color craving overtakes me.