Signs of spring are finally starting to appear here in southeastern Pennsylvania. Just yesterday morning, I heard the pre-dawn twitterings of the first woodcocks as they migrate through here in March, and new shoots are popping up even through the soggy soil. Still, it’s going to be a while yet before there’s a lot of color to enjoy outside, so I decided to delve into my photo archives to get some ideas for combinations that I may want to revisit, and I’ve selected a bunch of my favorites in the hopes that they may help to brighten your day too. They cover a range of color themes, but they all have one thing in common: one or more annuals or tender perennials as the stars of the scene. There are a lot of them, so I’ll show just the summer combos here and save the fall and foliage pairings for follow-up posts.
Starting in June…
I’ve had mixed luck with blue honeywort (Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’): sometimes it develops the stunning blue bracts around the flowers and sometimes it doesn’t. I haven’t planted it on purpose for a number of years, but a few still come up on their own each spring. The group above put themselves around the base of a silvery Russian sage (Perovskia), making for a subtle but still pretty pairing.
‘Buddy’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) is the exact opposite of subtle. It reaches just 6 to 8 inches tall, but it packs a big punch color-wise. Below it’s with ‘Australian Yellow’ lettuce.
Above, another bright grouping, featuring ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ fuchsia (Fuchsia triphylla) with ‘Purple Knight’ alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata) and ‘Sweet Georgia Light Green’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas).
And at the end of the month, back to a calming combo of greens and gray, with bells-of-Ireland (Molucella laevis), ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), a hybrid bluestar (Amsonia) at the back, and the lacy green foliage of khella (Ammi visnaga).
Moving on to the July garden…
Most sources describe ‘Frosted Flames’ snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) as reaching to 18 inches tall, but for me, it rarely gets more than 6 inches or so. You can see the scale of the tiny, heavily variegated leaves and dainty blooms above against the 2-inch-wide, cream-splashed leaves of ‘Jewel of Africa’ nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus).
I can’t really claim to have created the vision in yellow below, but it’s one of my all-time favorites. I grew the ‘Prairie Sun’ gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta) from seed and set it out the year before, then the dill (Anethum graveolens; in back) and thorough-wax (Bupleurum rotundifolium; in front) seeded themselves nearby for the second-summer display.
While I’m not a huge fan of pink, it has its moments. Tricolor sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’) ought to be hardy here in Zone 6b, apparently, but it has never survived the winter outdoors for me, so I think of it as an annual. Its partner above, ‘Wine’ African daisy (Arctotis or Venidium), is another tender perennial I have to treat as an annual.
The collection below includes two more tenders that I grow as annuals: heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens), which I can never resist when I do my spring plant shopping, and ‘Silver Falls’ silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea), which is easy to start from seed and also self-sows. Paired with them are a few hardy perennials, including chives (Allium schoenoprasum; not in bloom), ‘Prairie Frost’ purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and ‘Becky Towe’ summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), with a bit of southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) and ‘Dali Marble’ burnet (Sanguisorba menziesii) behind them.
For something zippier, there’s the collection above, with golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’), ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum), ‘Ace of Spades’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnia, and ‘Angelina’ sedum (Sedum rupestre).
Below, a mix of edible and ornamental annuals including, among other things, ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets, a red-stemmed ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, scarlet tassel flower (Emilia javanica), and rosy pink ‘Limerock Ruby’ coreopsis.
Above, another of the functionally-annual ‘Limerock’ coreopsis selections (this one is ‘Limerock Dream’) with ‘Xenox’ sedum and a bit of ‘Red Majestic’ contorted hazel (Corylus avellana).
Some years I have great luck with love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus); in other years, the flea beetles and/or cucumber beetles chew it to lace and it hardly blooms. Below is love-lies-bleeding in a good year, paired with ‘Ondra’s Green Mix’ flowering tobacco (Nicotiana).
And one more for July, below: a detail shot of ‘Purple Knight’ alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata) mingling with the tiny, dark-centered blooms of ‘Mandarin Orange’ creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens).
Above, starting at the bottom left and working clockwise, then to the middle: ‘Black Velvet Scarlet’ zonal geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum), red orach (Atriplex hortensis ‘Rubra’), orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida), ‘Starfire Mix’ signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia), ‘Rhubarb’ Swiss chard, and ‘Zowie Yellow Flame’ zinnia (Zinnia elegans).
Below, from the bottom up, ‘Sweet Caroline Light Green’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth (Amaranthus), ‘Profusion Cherry’ zinnia, and golden elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’).
Here’s another nearly-all-annuals grouping that I think turned out really well and looked good for months. Starting at the bottom and working upward: ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), narrow-leaved zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia), ‘Sunny Smile’ sunflower (Helianthus annuus), ‘Princess’ fountain grass (Pennisetum purpureum), and ‘Aztec Orange’ zinnia (Z. elegans).
Below, another long-lasting mixed combo: from the bottom up, ‘Angelina’ sedum, ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet, ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnia, ‘Lady in Red’ Texas or hummingbird sage (Salvia coccinea), the summer foliage of ‘Gerald Darby’ iris, ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum), and golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’).
A couple of close-ups…above, ‘Sedona’ coleus with ‘Angelface Blue’ angelonia; below, snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) with Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) and summer phlox (Phlox paniculata)…
…and below, Tropicanna canna (Canna ‘Phaison’) with ‘Limerock Dream’ coreopsis.
Above, a cool and quiet combination featuring white South African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba ‘Alba’), variegated ‘Snow Fairy’ bluebeard (Caryopteris divaricata), and airy blue amethyst flower (Browallia americana).
And back to bright colors for a final summer combo below, with ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth (Amaranthus), ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum), and ‘Chim Chiminee’ gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta).
Aaah, that has helped to take the edge off of my spring fever for a bit. Time to get busy with seed-sowing to get some interesting ingredients for this year’s combos.