Craving Color

By Jan Cashman

A friend and customer came in our nursery yesterday and announced, “I need some color!”  This last winter was long and snowy.  Spring has been cold and rainy, and slow in arriving.  We’re all sick of the white, brown, and gray tones of winter and ready for color—blue sky, green grass, and colorful flowers!

The colors we use, whether in our landscape design, our home’s interior, clothing, or a painting, create a mood.  Warm, bright colors—red, yellow, orange—advance and are cheerful.  Blues and lavenders recede and are restful.   In our summer landscapes, the green of grass and leaves becomes our background color.  We then add other colors with flowering bulbs, annual and perennial flowers, ornamental grasses, vines, trees and shrubs with flowers and colorful leaves and twigs, and evergreens.

Flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils, available in many colors, provide first color in the spring, but must be planted in the fall.  Don’t forget, next September or October, to plant some colorful bulbs.

It’s easy to create your favorite color scheme with annual flowers that come in a rainbow of colors and bloom all summer.  But, many gardeners are planting perennials instead of annual flowers so they won’t have to replant every year.  This makes sense, but, since most perennial flowers bloom for only a few weeks, plan for perennials that bloom at different times throughout the summer.  Tuck a few colorful annuals like zinnias or petunias into your perennial bed for added color.

May and June are the glory months for colorful, flowering trees and shrubs.  Starting with the pale pink blossoms of the plum family, we move into the stunning flowering crabapples with blossoms from white to pink to almost red in late May.  Then, come the lilacs.  Lilac varieties can give you fragrant blooms for over a month, starting with the early and common lilacs and ending with white Japanese tree lilacs, which bloom here in late June or early July.  Some lilacs have pink (Montaigne) or blue (President Grevy) flowers.  Finally, colorful shrub roses start blooming in June and many continue to bloom all summer.  One favorite is hardy, cherry-pink Winnipeg Parks Rose.

Plants with gold, red, or variegated leaves can add spark to your landscape.  Heuchera (Coral Bells) is a favorite perennial for shade, with leaves ranging from golden yellow to variegated to chocolate brown.  There is a even new bleeding heart with golden leaves.  Succulent, sun-loving sedums, both short and tall varieties, have leaves in colors from gold to gray-green to red.  Some ornamental grasses have golden, variegated, deep red, or bluish leaves.

‘Darts Gold’ ninebark is a popular shrub with yellow leaves; taller ‘Diablo’ ninebark’s leaves are reddish-purple.  One of our best selling trees is Canada red cherry.  Gardeners like this small, hardy tree for its deep burgundy leaves that contrast with green grass; it also has fragrant white flowers in the spring and red chokecherries in the fall.  Many flowering crabs have colorful leaves; radiant crabapple has green leaves tinged with bronze; thunderchild has deep purple leaves.  The bright orange berries of mountain ash are showy in late summer.

Maples and burning bush are only two of the many plants whose leaves become a blaze of color in the fall.  Plants like Autumn brilliance serviceberry, which has white flowers in the spring, followed by showy, purplish-black fruit, and brilliant red-orange fall leaves, provide three seasons of color.   ‘Miss Kim’ is the only lilac whose leaves turn burgundy-red in the fall.  Winter landscapes would be pretty drab without evergreens, so don’t forget them in your landscape planning.  The steel blue of globe blue spruce makes a statement in a shrub bed, summer and winter.

The color of your pottery, or the color of your house, even the color of the mulch you are using, all are part of your landscape’s color scheme.  Terra cotta containers provide a neutral background for flowers.  But be daring and plant a cobalt blue container with contrasting orange flowers!  (Mix in a few blue flowers to echo the color of the container.)  Or paint a shed door or Adirondack chairs bright red, yellow, or blue.   Natural, neutral wood mulches, like shredded cedar and soil pep (ground up bark), blend into the landscape.   Pinkish scoria rock or dark red lava rock mulches can provide colorful accents.

For continuity, repeat colors throughout your landscape and flower beds.  Mix and layer plants with colorful flowers, leaves, and fruit for color in your yard year round!