Let’s chat about creating swathes of color. Yes, I’m spelling it in the English style as swathes because, as Anne of Green Gables says, an “e” adds just a little something.
First things first, creating swathes of color isn’t easy.
Buy your plants in threes and fives
So many gardeners have collections of one. One shrub here, one larkspur there, one peony here, and one rose there.
The first way to create swathes of color is to buy and grow more than one plant.
If we’re talking about a very special plant like ‘Black Lace’ elderberry, I can see buying just one as a focal point, but even smokebushes look better in threes. Many things look even better when you plant them in fives.
You cannot create any kind of flow in your garden if you only grow one plant genus, species, or variety. Instead, plant three or five echinaceas and be prepared that one will die, and you’ll have to replace it, maybe twice. I write this from personal experience.
Grow plants from seed
I realize transplants are expensive so consider growing many of your summer flowers from seed. It’s not hard to grow your own transplants. It just takes time and attention. Be consistent and don’t forget to water. You also must have the courage to thin plants. I write courage because, in the beginning, it seems cruel to thin, but you must. Plants, especially young ones, need space to grow.
Once your plants are outside, remember annual flowers are trying to make seeds. Deadhead annuals regularly for a longer flowering time.
Some of my favorite flowers to grow from seed.
Zinnia elegans. There is nothing common about common zinnias. They are adult butterfly magnets, beautiful, and really easy to grow. I love the ‘Oklahoma’ series, the Benary Giants, the ‘Queen Lime Mix,’ and ‘Zinderella Peach.’ In the ‘Oklahoma’ series, my favorites are ‘Oklahoma Carmine,’ ‘Oklahoma Salmon,’ and ‘Oklahoma Pink.’ Basically, any color except that icky schoolbus yellow.
Nicotiana sp., flowering tobacco. Such a great plant genus. You can get them in so many flower colors. Last year, I grew N. alata ‘Lavender Cloud,’ which hovered above other flowers in the cutting garden. This year, I’m growing the standard white one this year along with another variety.
Celosia plumosa. I know I’ve said I can’t grow celosia worth a darn, but this year is different. I started it indoors from seed, and I just transplanted it outside. I’m growing Celosia Flamma Orange which is a 2022 All-America Selections Winner.
Cosmos bipinnatus. You can either start cosmos indoors or direct sow the seeds outside. You may need to move them about a bit if you sow them directly. I always do. I’m growing ‘Apricot Lemonade‘ this year. We’ll see how it does. In the past, I’ve grown so many different varieties. I like the ‘Sonata’ series. ‘Double Click’ is fine too. I love ‘Velouette‘ and ‘Rubenza.’
Sunflowers. They are always such towering beauties. Even the shorter ones have stature. In the potager, I’ve got two different short collections growing. I’m also growing some taller ones in the cut flower beds. If you’re a grandmother or have young children, think about creating a sunflower house from the classic book, Sunflower Houses: Inspiration From the Garden–A Book for Children and Their Grown-Ups, by Sharon Lovejoy.
Delphinium, larkspur. I love growing this classic cottage flower. I direct sow seed in October or early February. If you have a snowfall, that’s the best time to throw down the seeds as they need a chilling period and a little moisture. My favorite group is the QIS™ Dark Blue seed. Be still my heart.
Verbena bonariensis, Brazilian verbena. This is a great flower that although tall can be planted at the front of the border because of its see-through quality. It looks delicate waving in the prairie wind, but it’s one tough plant. I started seeds indoors from Nan Ondra so I could have waves of it.
Nasturtiums. Honestly, these flowers bloom for a long time. I started mine indoors this year to get more flowers. It worked because I was able to grow the plants larger before setting them out in the garden.
Tithonia rotundifolia, Mexican sunflower. I usually start these indoors and transplant them outside after the last freeze when the soil is warm.
Other flowers grown easily from seed are Nigella damascena, love-in-a-mist, Gomphrena globosa, globe amaranth, and Alcea rosea, hollyhocks.
Use plants that spread
I have certain plants I consider spreaders. They knit my garden together like a beautiful tapestry.
Old-fashioned garden mums like ‘Will’s Wonderful and ‘Sheffield Pink.’
Asters like ‘Bluebird,’ ‘Alma Potske,’ shorter ‘October Skies,’ ‘Jin Dai,’ and ‘Hella Lacy.’
Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is a spreader and flowers for a long time, but I’ve really come to hate it. I hate it because it tries to take over here, but if you have a dry garden, it’s a winner.
Phlox paniculata. Old-fashioned garden phlox. It blooms for two months. I love ‘Bright Eyes’ phlox, and it spreads, but not too much.
Grow perennials that flower for a long time
Some perennials flower for a long time. Grow those for swathes of color.
Helenium autumnale, autumnal or common sneezeweed. It may not look like much in photos, but it’s a good perennial for pollinators. I have the soft yellow, and I’m trying very hard to get the rusty-hued ones started.
Muhlenbergia capillaris, pink muhly grass. I wrote a whole post on it.
Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage. Although it flowers late in the season, it continues until frost and flowers at the same time as pink muhly grass.
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune.’ This was the best pollinator plant and the longest-flowering plant in my garden last year. It is still going strong in a border that has sharp drainage.
- Salvia sp. I know it’s a huge genus, but there are some fabulous varieties and cultivars. I don’t know what my garden would be without salvia. ‘Wendy’s Wish,’ ‘Ember’s Wish’ and ‘Love and Wishes’ all bloom later in the garden, but who cares? You need fresh flowers after a long, hot summer.
Grow early, mid and late-flowering varieties in a plant genus
The first genus that comes to mind in my garden is hemerocallis. If you choose your plants based upon early, mid, and late-flowering, you can have a month full of blooms. You can achieve the same thing with phlox, salvia, agastache, and other plants.
Choose flowering shrubs with good leaf color
If you want swathes of color in your garden, choose flowering shrubs with interesting leaves like these.
Spirea. There are so many varieties of spirea now. Some are very well behaved and show color for a long time. If you’re going to grow a variety, choose one that has beautiful leaves in addition to flowers. ‘Ogon’ spirea has yellow bamboo-like foliage in spring that changes to a lighter yellow and then bright gold in fall. It blooms early with white flowers. Poprocks Rainbow Fizz spirea, Spiraea japonica ‘Matgold,’ has gorgeous spring foliage and then flowers in pink. It turns a lovely gold in fall too. Also, consider the Double Play spireas that bloom twice. I have Double Play Doozie®, but there are plenty of other varieties in this series.
Diervilla rivularis doesn’t bloom for a long time, but it has gorgeous leaves. It is also a native shrub. I have Kodak Black®, but there is also Kodiak® Orange, Kodiak® Fresh, and Kodiak® Red now. All are quite beautiful in the landscape. Try planting more than one.
Sambucus racemosa ‘SMNSRD4’ Lemony Lace® or S. nigra Black Lace® elderberry. Each of these plants has gorgeous foliage. I can see Lemony Lace in a long border planted in threes. I bought Lemony Lace this year, and I haven’t decided where I want to plant it yet. I’ve had Black Lace for probably ten or more years. I bought it the first year it came out. Elderberries don’t like enriched soil.
Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Center Glow‘ ninebark. I like all of the dark ninebarks, but ‘Center Glow’ is my favorite. Really, there are so many varieties now you could just get whatever tickles your fancy. Proven Winners has seven for example. Just plant three of one variety to create a wave of color. If they are dark, plant something bright in front of them.
I hope this post finds all of you well. Carol and I have a new episode out this week about lilies. See below.