Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
In The Softer Side of Yellow, I trotted out some images of what I thought were relatively tasteful combinations of yellow with green, yellow with yellow, and yellow with blue. As I was choosing those pictures, I also found some combinations that showed a bit more zip, so I figured I’d put those in a separate group. This combination, featuring ‘Screaming Yellow’ false indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) could have gone either way: Paired with the ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta), the effect is rather soft, but the intense purple-blue of the ‘Caradonna’ salvia in the back saves it from being too sweet. Can you imagine this grouping without the catmint? That would definitely be zippy.
Intense blues, purples, and magenta make such striking contrasts with chartreuse foliage that you don’t need a lot of them. In fact, I think little vignettes of these are more comfortable than mass plantings. (Well, I won’t say I wouldn’t like to see them in masses, but I’m not sure I’d want to live with them.)
Above is a self-sown larkspur (Consolida) against golden-leaved Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas ‘Aureus’); below is ‘Rainbow Purple’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) paired with ‘Australian Yellow’ lettuce. Nothing very soft or subtle here!
The combination below of ‘Homestead Purple’ verbena with golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’) ended up being much more extensive than the other two, simply because of the expansive nature of both plants. If you can imagine, this pairing served as the edging for a border of hot pink Knock Out roses; unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I didn’t get a picture showing the full effect. Nothing subtle here, either!
Now, if you’re of the group that hates pink and yellow together, then you’ll probably think this pairing is pretty tasteless too. I quite like it, though.
The lily is a compact Oriental called ‘Tom Pouce’, and it’s combined with yellow-leaved ‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) and the pale pink buttons of ‘Sunningdale Variegated’ masterwort (Astrantia major).
But really, if you’re going to be tasteless, then I suppose you may as well do it to excess.Below is a border that ended up with too much chartreuse, in the form of more golden oregano with ‘Angelina’ sedum and some ‘Oehme’ palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis). I’d forgotten the winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) were there too, so it was a surprise to see their magenta blooms wandering among the expanse of yellow. They didn’t flower as long or as abundantly as I hoped, but at least they lasted until some of the other flower and foliage colors developed a few weeks later.
I’ve already rambled on at length about the joys of yellow with purple foliage (here, and here, and here), so I’ll spare you that this time, except to suggest that adding some bright orange to the party adds even more vibrancy.
And well, if you can handle bright pink and bright orange with bright yellow, then it’s a short step to trying red. To my eye, these combinations are very striking, but I don’t find them particularly pleasing, and I doubt I’d create them intentionally.
Above is one that appeared in one of my holding beds, with brilliant red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) against bright yellow ‘Golden Shadow’ paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) and the muted red of a seedling Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). And below, another study in unsubtlety: the spring foliage of ‘Golden Jubilee’ anise hyssop (Agastache) with ‘Princess Scarlet’ dianthus. (I’d call the red here more of a crimson than a scarlet.)
Actually, this pairing isn’t so bad, I think, perhaps because the anise hyssop also has a tinge of red in its new shoots. With this one, I’d be tempted to toss in some brilliant blue anagallis or edging lobelia (Lobelia erinus), while the one above could benefit from…um, maybe orange? Or maybe just a well-placed shovel.