Color in the Garden -- Front Garden

Some readers might remember that I admit to being a color snob. I really don't mind if Mother Nature comes up with some strange color combinations. And any gardener that cares about plants and has fun with placement and arrangement gets my enthusiastic support. However, for my own garden, I actually like a harmonious picture. It's been an interesting and challenging project to try to have the colors work out, and I feel as if there's a lot of room for improvement.

I'm happiest with the front garden, which I designed myself, and which does not have plants left by Mr. Previous Owner. I decided to focus on shades of blue and purple, combined with shades of yellow. No orange. Maybe a spash of red and some white. The first picture in this post is Penstemon heterophyllus (foothill penstemon), a native penstemon that's either true blue or ranges toward violet. I ended up planting two different cultivars right next to each other, not ideal, but it works.

Same with the two monkey flowers in the second picture. Rather desperate to add some color in time for Garden Tour day, I planted the lemon yellow monkey flower that Country Mouse gave me as a gift right next to a more typical butter yellow hybrid. This year, they bloomed at the same time and I like them together.

I'm especially pleased with the combination of the monkey flowers with the Triteleia laxa (Ithuriel's spear). I planted about 50 bulbs last fall, and more than half are coming up now, a pleasing contrast to the yellow.

Here's Triteleia in front of Lupinus aureus, which I bought from Annie's Annuals this spring. All three L. aureus are blooming happily, though they're smaller than I expected. In contrast, L. Rodeo Rose has yet again succumbed to the snails. -- Here's L. aureus up close. I love the orange tips of the blossoms ready to go to seed.

And here another close-up of L. aureus in the side strip, with little drops collected by the multi-fingered leaves as if a hand was opening for the precious gift of water.

More golden yellow and blue is right next to the dry stream bed, where monkey flower and Trichostema lanatum (woolly blue curl) contrast beautifully, with some Salivia apiana (white sage) in front.

Here's Trichostema up close. Isn't it amazing?

Salvia apiana has the common name "white sage", but actually translates to "bee sage".

We have visitors (including golden native bees) enjoying the small white blossoms dawn to dusk.

Of course, the challenge is to have all those beautifully contrasting plants blooming at the same time. I've found that some plants bloom based on the time of year and length of days, others based on how warm it's been, and others based on how wet it's been. This year some plants bloomed later (cool, cloudy) and others earlier (winter temperatures not as low). That's why I picked the yellow/blue color scheme and stick with it. The beautiful Ceanothus Tilden Park, which bloomed in April, was almost too early for the monkey flowers, but eye-catching in the early spring garden.

Eriogonum umbellatum polyanthunum 'Shasta Sulfur' starts out almost lime green (here's a photograph from April). 

The flowers open and turn more yellow, here a photo Rebecca Sweet took and posted on her blog.

And here we are a few weeks later, the same plant with the first touch of rusty orange in the flower clusters, and the contrasting Salvia clevlandii now blooming behind it.


In the end, I must admit that Mother Nature comes up with the most interesting effects, the most enticing play of hue and intensity. We can only take our paint brush and hope we can make a pleasing picture using the many colors she provides.


Beautiful! I have the darker color of your Monkey Flowers here in full bloom at the moment. The last time you posted about your Foothill Penstemon, that plant shot straight to the top of my 'I must have it!' list. So I now have some! Annie's had some distributed through our local garden center, and it lept into my cart, the way plants do :P I hope it does half as well as yours though. That blue drift is mesmerizing. The sign next to it said it was 'deer proof'. I scoffed...but we'll see. One can always hope!
Kimberly said…
Fantastic! I love purple and yellow together, although I tend to stray (i.e. oranges, peaches and reds are a form or variety of yellow; and burgandy and fuschias are a form of purple...just a lighter shade - it's crazy reasoning, but it works for me). Honestly, your garden is gorgeous, and you SHOULD be very proud!
I love this color combination and your plant choices. I thought your observations about different signals plants use for bloom time was interesting; I'd never thought about day-length for ornamentals, for some reason. Btw, those perennial lupines often take a couple of years to achieve full height and bushiness.
Kate said…
Well, I'm a huge fan of blues and yellows so I think your choices are simply fab.

However -- :) I think you might hate my gardens. Or, at least find them blinding. Lots of oranges and reds fighting for attention.
Olive Branch said…
You have a beautiful garden. Your plants are well chosen and the colors are working very nicely together. I would say you're are doing a great job with nature's palette :)
I love the blues and yellows. For some reason I have a lot of pink, and I'm not sure how that happened. Your garden is lovely. Pam