By: Elisabeth Ginsburg
Sometimes gardening life is just a little too pastel and predictable. A day dawns when all those pale pinks, powdery blues, and dreamy pale yellows look washed out, and you yearn for exuberant flowers that pop out of beds and containers with bursts of bright color. By adding a few “technicolor” flowers with deep, saturated colors, you can create explosions in the garden without scaring the neighbors. (Those same neighbors will probably also enjoy the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators drawn to your vibrant blooms.)
Adding technicolor flowers is easy. In each season, chose a few of your favorite flower types—coneflowers, pansies, dahlias, chrysanthemums, or zinnias. Search garden centers and mail order vendors for the brightest varieties of those favorite plants. Insert new flashy specimens into existing planting schemes or create new borders or container arrangements devoted to bright colors.
Colorful Spring Flowers
Start the technicolor spring parade by using the brightest tulips in expected—and unexpected—places. Red and orange flowers or mixes of red-orange and yellow, make for garden excitement, especially against the fresh greens of plants that are just leafing out. Think about the brilliant orange tulip, ‘Orange Emperor’ or the red-orange/yellow sparkler ‘Banja Luka’, a giant Darwin hybrid. ‘Flaming Parrot’, with bright yellow petals striped in red, is stunning.
For containers, border fronts and other smaller spaces, search out orange pansies and violas and pair them with darkest purple varieties. ‘Jolly Joker’ features the orange/purple combination in a single blossom, making flower selection that much easier. Single pots of extremely showy varieties, like the yellow and black-striped Viola ‘Tiger Eye’ also provide a colorful thrill. And, any of the violas in the Sorbet Series are sure to add big color to spring containers.
Another low-growing, cool-season container annual that’s big on color are nemesias. Those in the Sunsatia® series are more heat tolerant than most and will continue looking good into summer. For vibrant color, try Nemesia Sunsatia® Blood Orange, with its masses of deep orange-red blooms, or the deepest red Sunsatia® Cranberry.
Colorful Summer Flowers
Strong summer sunlight favors vivid colors and the possibilities are endless. Instead of plain yellow or orange marigolds, try something a little different, like Marigold “Harlequin’, with striking red and yellow petals. Marigolds offered in new color combinations of rose, apricot and yellow, like the new French marigold ‘Strawberry Blonde‘, are also unusually colorful.
The arresting Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) grows up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, throwing out scores of intense orange blooms. Pair it with ‘Black and Blue’ salvia for an eye-catching color experience.
If you normally grow zinnias, dial up the brightness with Benary’s Giant tall zinnia (Zinnia elegans) varieties that feature a host of saturated colors and large blooms that banish boredom in the garden or the vase. The bold plants reach up to 4 feet, so be sure to give them plenty of space. If you want something a little shorter, the equally colorful zinnias in Benary’s Dreamland Series only reach 1 foot. These are complemented with an edge of vibrant blue edging lobelia (Lobelia erinus Laguna® Dark Blue).
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are another old summer favorite that can ignite horticultural flames. The Candy Showers mixed snapdragons cascade, making them perfect for hanging baskets, and they bloom in bright yellow, orange and red. The butterfly snapdragon mix Chantilly Summer Flame are also uncommonly vibrant with their open flowers of dark apricot, deep orange and vermilion red. Use them singly or mix the varieties for a technicolor blast. But, any old tall snapdragon variety will add big color and height to the summer garden.
Coneflower (Echinacea spp.) lovers can now choose from a wide range of colors, including vivid purples, acid greens, incandescent oranges, and saturated reds. The most colorful include ‘Colorburst Orange’, with fluffy double flowers that are green at the center; torrid ‘Hot Lava’, boasting big, red-orange blooms; and ‘Dixie Belle’, with bright pink petals. Perennial coneflowers have many virtues, including the ability to bloom more than once in a growing season, and they attract bees and butterflies.
What about shade? Don’t miss out on dramatic color just because your garden or container array sits in partial shade. Big New Guinea impatiens can rescue a boring landscape with repeated flower production in magenta, red and orange. Team these large impatiens with chartreuse-leafed coleus varieties for color impact.
Colorful Fall Flowers
There is a lot of color available from early September through first frost. Dahlias come into their own as the season winds down and the number of technicolor varieties is large. Try the classic red-flowered ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, which also features contrasting dark stems and leaves. Varieties bred from ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and sometimes labeled “Bishop’s Children”, combine the trademark dark foliage with vibrant petal colors. For something a bit larger, the huge, red-orange dahlia ‘Caliente’ is as hot as its name, and it makes a dramatic duo with the likes of the orange/yellow ‘Flamethrower’.
Garden mums, which are reliably hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9, are another foolproof source of saturated color. The red and yellow ‘Matchsticks’ with spoon-type petals, works well planted at the feet of dwarf goldenrod, like ‘Little Lemon’ (Solidago ‘Little Lemon’). ‘Cheerleader’, a large-flowered “football” mum, features bright orange-amber petals. Pair it with dark purple ‘Grape Queen’ and round out the fall season on a high, clear, bright note.
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