Not-So-Mellow Yellow

Baptisia sphaerocarpa 'Screaming Yellow' with Nepeta 'Walker's Low', Cornus sericea 'Silver and Gold', and Salvia 'Caradonna'

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.)

Consolida ajacis with Cornus mas 'Aureus'

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!

Gomphrena globosa 'Rainbow Purple' against Lettuce 'Australian Yellow'

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!

Verbena 'Homestead Purple' with Origanum vulgare 'Aureum'

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.

Lilium 'Tom Pouce' with Astrantia major 'Sunningdale Variegated', Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey', and Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing'

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.

Callirhoe involucrata with Sedum 'Angelina', Carex muskingumensis 'Oehme' and Origanum vulgare 'Aureum'

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.

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' with Caryopteris incana 'Jason' (Sunshine Blue)

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.

Broussonetia papyrifera 'Golden Shadow' with Lobelia cardinalis and Acer palmatum seedling

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.)

Agastache 'Golden Jubilee' with Dianthus 'Princess 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.

12 responses to this post.

  1. *Great* wake-up combinations here, Nan! The baptisia with the catmint and salvia is a stunner, and the bolder brights are exciting (well, except for the pink and yellow, which is a bit too Easter-bright for me, but then, you know what I think of true lilies, anyway…). And of course I think the rooster should be cunningly displayed in every photo from now on, much like in Cook’s Country magazine where they hide a tiny rooster in each issue and challenge the readers to find it!

    Now, don’t you think this rooster would be a little too easy to spot? Though, with most of my combinations, maybe not…
    -Nan

  2. You have me drooling on my keyboard, I’m going to have to wear a bib when I read your posts.

    Isn’t that yellow Baptisia so wonderful? I have it paired with Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ which is a pretty hot combination.

    You now have me on the hunt for the Lily ‘Tom Pouce’ and the Little Honey Hydrangea. I’m in love with that combination! Call me tacky…

    Hey, I resemble that remark! I got ‘Tom Pouce’ from Brent and Becky’s. ‘Little Honey’ hydrangea is becoming more widely available; Digging Dog is one good source.

    And yes, I can definitely see ‘Screaming Yellow’ with Diabolo. Wow!
    -Nan

  3. Nan, you are the color combo master! I love the bright yellow and purple combo in the first picture. It was a stunning, heart-stopping eye-catcher for sure. I loved the verbena and oregano picture too.

    I’m going to feel so inferior when I start placing all of my plants in the garden, but that’s O.K.

    You have definitely shown me how placing certain color combinations together make a striking display. I can’t wait to play with colors.

    I’ll give you my sure-fire secrets to creating great combinations: If it doesn’t look good from one angle, try photographing it from another. And if that doesn’t work, pretend it never happened.
    -Nan

  4. Each post is like an extension of your Design Primer book Nan. I think your Tom Pouce lily is gorgeous with that combination, and not tasteless in the least. If you could see all the pink and yellow my gardens sport during the summer you might cringe :) Thanks for all these ideas :)
    Are you getting more snow this weekend? We are!

    Kerri, I’m sure I’d enjoy seeing your pinks and yellows. I remember working under a head gardener who hated the combination and wouldn’t let us use it; after that, I made a point of using the two everywhere in my own gardens. I eventually cut back to make room for other combinations, but I still like using them and admire them elsewhere.

    We had sun today, and we had snow too. I think Sunday’s supposed to be more consistently sunny, less windy, and milder too. I sure hope so!
    -Nan

  5. Pink and yellow works for me too. In fact every one of these photos works for me. I love unsubtle combinations with pizazz. These are great, Nan.

    Thanks, Pam! What I really need to go with my yellows is a blue bottle tree like yours.
    -Nan

  6. I have Nepeta and Salvia “May Night” together and somehow they never looked finished. Now I know what I want to plant with them. Love the Baptisia.

    Hi Cathy! Yes, that baptisia is such a beauty, even when not in bloom: so full and compact and not floppy. ‘Screaming Yellow’ is kind of an unfortunate name; it’s certainly bright but hardly obnoxious.
    -Nan

  7. What beautiful plant pairing! – I’m afraid all too often I cop out and just plant a mass of one color. My favorites are your blue and yellow combos – so striking!

    Thanks, Mary Beth! I agree with you: I think it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong with blue and yellow together. (Except maybe a strong orangey yellow wth a pale blue….)
    -Nan

  8. What a jubilant, colour drenched post…just the thing I needed to wrap up the day before I limp off to bed and read more from Fallscaping. Your sense of colour is so much fun, and the plants…well, need I say I’ve seen more new plants via your blog(s), many of which I can actually grow here if I can find them.

    And you know what–you’re one of the few bloggers/writers I know of who knows about Anagallis, or at least posts about it. It’s one of my favourites, whether in blue or that ‘Wildcat orange’.

    Hey, thanks for reminding me about the orange form, Jodi! I remember you posting a picture of that one last year, and I fell in love with it. I’ll have to track it down to try here.
    -Nan

  9. Lovely photos and color combinations! I especially like the roosters — I collect them for my kitchen. :)

    Thanks, Nancy! It was a dilemma choosing between the rooster and a rather charming flamingo, but the rooster won out for color impact, and I’ve very much enjoyed having him around.
    -Nan

  10. They are all stunning combos! What is on the agenda for this year’s combo? Give us a preview!

    You know how it is, Layanee: The plants do what they want, so there’s no way to know what’s going to happen this year until it happens. I do have plans for a primary-color border out front, and a red-purple-blue border back in the “orchard,” but who knows if either will really work. If they do, you’ll see them!
    -Nan

  11. Lovely photos, Nancy. I look forward to seeing more. :)

    Thanks for visiting!
    -Nan

  12. Nancy,

    Your photos and designs are wonderful. Thank you for sharing your great perennial combinations.

    Jennifer

    Welcome, Jennifer, and thanks for the kind comment. Happy Bloom Day!
    -Nan

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