In the dark of winter, we often dream of long swathes of colour. When the days dim, tone-on-tone shades of pale yellow please the spirit behind the mind’s eye as we imagine a sunny garden filled with glowing plots of this transluscent colour, set off by greens in shades from forest to lime. Maybe the yellows fade to pineapple to cream and eventually to an almost white and then flourish to lemons and golds and mustards or even mutate to peach or some more contrasting complementary colour, something deep and daring.
Colour is like that. It radiates emotion in our inner vision, contributing to feelings of joy or well-being or suiting more sombre moods with less vibrant shades.
But imagine, if you will, a pale yellow garden. I will try to construct it for your mind’s eye and if I stray into some warmer and stronger colours here and there, then that is just the nature of gardens because sometimes plants seem to have a stronger will than ours.
In my yellow garden, a pale yarrow, Achilleax ‘Anthea’ leaps to mind. It is two to three feet tall and blooms from June to September. Beside it, a stronger yellow, Achillea‘Moonshine’, takes centre stage, both for its longlasting blossoms and its calming grey-green foliage. To give the yarrow strength, I’d have some lovely yellow peonies – pale yellow ones and the deeper, darker golds, both being a bit expensive but worth it. There’s ‘Prairie Moon’, ‘Prairie Charm’, ‘Goldilocks’, and ‘Garden Treasure’ to name just a few.
One of the loveliest of the pale yellow flowers is perennial foxglove, whose throat is speckled with maroon freckles. Pale yellow roses such as J.P. Connell have a place, acting as bones in my garden. It would get a nod from the more florid Morden rose, ‘Yellow Sunrise’, which floats from yellow to peach in a dreamy way, much like its namesake.
I think I would want a groundcover with some cream edges, perhaps combined with lime, in the leaves. I’m thinking of Ajuga ‘Toffee Chip’, a lovely, soft leafed carpet bugle with a lemon and lime foliage. Yellowgold Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ would also set up a glow in the understorey as long as it got enough sunlight. Polemonium ‘Stairway to Heaven’ has light pea green and cream variegated leaves, which could provide some variety in our gilded garden.
For a rocky space by the roadside or where nothing much else wanted to grow, you could use some mounds of creeping St. John’s wort with its bright yellow flowers. This type can be invasive so choose your site carefully, or choose regular St. John’s wort, which flowers for months and has small sulfur-yellow flowers on a compact bush. There is a wonderful plant called Aurinia saxatilis (basket of gold) that lays downcarpets of gold in springtime in zones 3 to 9, often in rock gardens. This fabulous little plant – formerly called Alyssum – forms agrey-green mound that is smothered in little yellow blossoms.
Other mounded perennials I would want are the pretty Inula ensifolia, a guaranteed bloomer and, of course, the airy Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, with its paler yellow blossoms.
Daylilies excel in shades of cream to pale to pure yellow. There are literally hundreds of varieties. Some have ruffled edges of contrasting peach or orange, others glow with a pure sulphur yellow. Lilies also come in yellow shades by the dozen. Some are variegated with speckled throats. There is even a stunning, pure yellow calla lily.
My yellow garden would have a clump or two of yellow coneflowers. Echinacea ‘Big Sky Sunrise’ is citron-yellow with a golden cone. And I’d also want a clump of fluorescent-yellow cushion spurge, Euphorbia polychoroma to bloom alongside my yellow tulips and daffodils in springtime. A little later, Genista, a shrubby broom, that forms a ball of glowing gold in early summer would take its place.
The thing about yellow is that no matter what the weather it always projects a sunny glow, its brightness not diminished by the absence of sunlight. And to avoid monotony, I might add touches of bright blue as with grape hyacinth in the daffodil garden, or red as in planting gaillardia among the lilies, where the yellow of the gaillardia would echo the yellow in the lilies. My current favourite is Gaillardia ‘Fanfare’ which features tiny trumpet-shaped petals. Gentle peaches and even pinks would enhance the paler hues of roses and daylilies. The sky blue of flax (Linum), with its delicate texture, might enhancethe stolidness of yellow daylilies such as Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’. Tall spikes of blue veronica can relieve the monotony of too much of a good thing in mid summer. I would have some deep, dark green in the foliage, perhaps using the blue green needle-like foliage of yew as a backdrop to some of the sunnier yellows. And I wouldn’t be afraid to introduce touches of orange as the season progresses. Purple foliaged shrubs such as Viburnum ‘Summer Wine’ (elderberry), Sambucus ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘Black Lace’, or even one of the glowing wine and red barberries would set off the paler hues.
But if you were determined to stick with yellow, well there’s the beautiful golden elder and there’s a little lime barberry Berberis thunbegii ‘Aurea nana’ or the larger ‘Gold Nugget’. ‘Dart’s Gold’ ninebark is another and we cannot forget the golden flowered Forsythia for springtime bloom. Perhaps the most common shrub in the yellow category is the long-blooming Potentilla. And there are several golden evergreens of various shapes and sizes to add structure to your golden paradise.
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