The lone voice of horticultural reason
The color blue in the summer garden plays a key role in flower garden design. Blue is a wonderfully helpful hue, regal and arresting, yet eager to please wherever it is placed in the herbaceous flower bed. For gardeners in the early years of learning the craft, planting perennials and annuals that bloom blue is close to foolproof.
Blue contrasts pleasantly with every color found in the garden, including all other hues from the blue spectrum. That can’t always be said of a color. Flowers from the red spectrum can clash and look silly together, though it’s hard to tell why. True red looks great mixed in with true pink, but move the red a notch toward orange, then bump the pink toward salmon, and you’ll need a brisk walk in fresh air to keep a cold shrimp dinner down. Yellows are the same. Plant a rich yellow with a plain yellow, and it screams mistake; one of them has to go.
But any blue looks great with any other blue—a rich, royal blue Campanula in bloom amidst the palest blue Siberian iris is as pretty as it gets. Plus blue looks great rubbing shoulders with red, orange, yellow, gold, green, white, and all other colors across nature’s color wheel.
In 19th century, garden-crazed England, the color blue was prized in the garden by the upper class, and stood only below white as a sign of wealth and class. Exotics such as Delphinium, Perovskia (Russian sage), and Nepeta (catmint, from Prussia) came into the hands of the British aristocracy only at great expense, and thus were proudly showcased in the grand gardens surrounding their estates. Blue blooms for the bluebloods. Peasants grew only native perennials in their small cottage gardens, and not many U.K. natives bloomed in blue, creating the peasant-pallet of yellow, orange, and magenta (the bloom colors of many common weeds).
If a peasant servant did grow blue delphiniums on his humble, leased property, it was a sure bet he’d nicked the seed from his master’s garden, and had better hope he and the boss were in good stead, should the boss ride by.
Today, blue still commands attention, without the blatant, hussy come-on of the most noticeable flower color, red. Blue is a color of cool confidence, and because of this, blue flowers look perfectly in place at the front, middle, or rear of the garden, regardless of garden length or width. Not every color can pull that off.
The blues currently in bloom in my garden include plenty of annual Salvia, plus Platycodon, Echinops, and Veronica. Salvia is a terrific annual and comes in a very pretty, rich blue, tall spires of small flowers that last all summer long. Platycodon (balloon flower) runs a little closer toward violet, with exotic, star shaped blooms held high atop narrow, finely leaved stems. Echinops (globe thistle) features large, perfect spheres of a cold, gray-blue, which fade to gray. A most peculiar-looking, gruff plant, that people either love or hate. Finally, Veronica (speedwell) looks great anywhere, in any garden, thrusting forth tall, pyramidal spikes of true blue flowers, much beloved by bumblebees.
It’s very difficult to make a mistake with blue, so use plenty of it in your northern landscape.
MID-SEASON NOTES: First off, yes, it’s only mid-season. This is my annual reminder that the Renegade Gardener considers September a summer month, as should you. It’s a simple mind trick; in September, we swim, we sail, we picnic, we bike and Rollerblade, so think of it as summer. That way, August 1st becomes only the halfway point of summer, and of the growing season.
I note my lilies are finished blooming. I’m referring, of course, to true lilies, genus Lilium, from bulbs, which require well-drained soil and a bit of care, not daylilies, genus Hemerocallis, which are not lilies at all, and would grow in a parking lot if you dumped out an ashtray. When lilies are finished blooming, it’s important to cut and fertilize, as follows:
Remove (“deadhead”) the entire flower stem area from the top of the plant with a single snip of the bypass pruner, just above the highest full set of leaves. Now you’ve stopped seed production. Then fertilize around the base of the stem(s) with a little 10-10-10 fertilizer, water it in, and let the plant remain tall and upright for the rest of the season. As is the case with tulips, lilies need to regenerate after blooming, by soaking up as much sunlight as possible through their leaves. By deadheading, you’ve stopped the plant’s urge to use energy to create seed; instead, it will devote all its energy to creating a bigger bulb (and growing new bulblets,) for an even better show next season.
The Renegade Gardener