Extending our Gardens’ Blooms All Season Long
Dec. 27, 2022
There’s nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9) A wise adage, but for those of us who love gardens, it sometimes feels like everything in the garden is new and amazing, season after season. With the world fading to winter’s grays and white around us, perhaps it would be fun to consider new plans for the garden. Color changes? Expanding three-seasons of blooms? If you’ve had a monochromatic color scheme, now might be the time for colors more varied. And, looking back at your garden journal, this may be the time to think about adding flowers to keep your garden gloriously blooming from early spring until the first frost.
To ease your research and help advance your plans, let me offer some of the oft’ referenced but rarely applied lists of blooms you can plant to create a colorful garden that will bloom from May through October. (With a nod to my dependable, 1954 Better Homes and Gardens and 1995 edition of Gardening Made Easy.) I’ll focus on perennials (plants that survive the winter and bloom year after year.) For extra pizzazz and color, you can easily add annuals (plants that will last only one season.)
Flowers blooming spring into summer from bulbs are always welcome and familiar after winter’s cold months, grouped here by most-common color for easy planning. (Many plants may be available in a variety of bloom colors.)
Grape-hyacinth— purple (tiny)
Scilla— blue (mid-height)
Hyacinth— blue, lavender (mid-height)
Allium— blue (tall), white, yellow, pink, purple
Tulip— red or myriad colors (mid-height)
Red bell— red, orange (mid-height)
Crocus— yellow, lavender, purple, white (short)
Daffodil— yellow (mid-height)
Snowdrop— white (tiny)
Mariposa lily— white, yellow (mid-height)
gladiolus— multicolor, white, yellow, pink, rose, lavender (tall)
We all have old favorites, plants that have kept our gardens blooming spring into summer and year after year. So, I’ll try to point out some less-familiar beauties you may want to try. I’ll organize these perennials by most-familiar or popular color.
Pansy— yellow or purple are most prevalent. While they’re sold as an annual, pansies are hardy, little guys, and will survive all but the harshest winters, turning up their pretty faces with the crocuses and hyacinth.
Mustard— yellow blooms until mid-summer. They add a light, airiness with their tiny blossoms on taller stems.
Welsh poppy— yellow or orange blossoms with lacy fern-shaped foliage. (mid-height)
King’s Spear— yellow blooms on 3’ tall stalks—thus, the “spear.”
Dwarf Flowering Almond— pink, tiny blossoms amid small, glossy leaves. Plants are about 2’ tall.
Camelia— deep pink, showy flowers amongst gorgeous, glossy, green leaves. The blooms appear for 6–8 weeks, and when they’re gone, those glossy leaves on graceful branches remain a remarkable addition to the garden—and pretty as filler in picked bouquets. (Usually kept as 3–4’ tall shrub, but can grow taller)
Mourning Widow— (geranium family,) deep pink to purple dramatic blooms on slender stalks, about 1’ tall. Also called Dusky Cranesbill.
Mountain Heather— lavender blossoms amidst evergreen foliage for a pretty groundcover.
Snow-In-Summer— a white groundcover with evergreen foliage. Provides a lush, river of white along walks or in flowerbeds.
Now, moving into summer, we have lots of faithful and familiar plants in every color imaginable. You don’t need to read my column to call to mind 2–3 red to orange summer bloomers: Geranium, Bee Balm, and Gaillardia. Of course, Cone Flowers come in every color, as do petunias. So, let me again offer a few suggestions for summer plants that may have slipped your mind.
Sweet Pea— pink or red blossoms on wonderfully curly vines. This is an old-fashioned favorite that will reappear each summer and add a bit of fairy magic to your flowerbeds. (low to mid-height)
Obedience Plant— deep pink to lavender is a personal favorite. This too is an old-fashioned plant that asks little of the gardener and behaves beautifully. You’ll get pretty greenery with blooms from August through October. Butterflies and hummingbirds will stop by to sip from the blossoms before these pollinators head south. (mid-height)
Plumbago— purple flowers that bloom all summer. Its leaves turn a deep mahogany in the autumn. The plants are usually about 12” tall.
Balloon Flower— usually purple, bell-shaped blossoms on dramatic 2’ tall stalks. Definitely show-stoppers.
Blue Star— has clusters of small, blue and white star-shaped blossoms atop midsize stems with greenish-yellow leaves. Native to North America, Blue Star was first noted in the late 18th century. Cut back the stems in the fall for full, healthy bunches next spring.
Cardoon or Artichoke Thistle— lavender flower atop an eye-catching, thistle-like stalk. You’ll get lots of questions and reactions to this 4–6’ tall beauty.
Crocosmia— also called Copper Tips, has arching stems of small, dramatic flame-red trumpets, usually in clusters of stems about 3’ tall. Trim back stems as the blooms fade, and you’ll get lots of new growth. Clumps of stems can be divided in the fall providing you with new plants to share with admiring gardeners.
Butterfly Weed— with cheerful, orange blossoms, is a real boon to pollinators, as the name implies, it’s part of the Milkweed family and will bloom from May through September! (mid-height)
Potentilla or Cinquefoils— predominately orange, but available in many colors, is perfect for hanging baskets and flowerpots. Profuse, tiny blossoms set in small, green leaves will spill over edges in lovely fashion and remain low and thick. Prune to shape the plant in autumn after a summer’s worth of blooms. Avoid getting woody branches. The branches in winter are lovely, maroon features in the garden. (low to mid-height)
Pincushion Flower— orange or purple blooms resembling old-fashioned pincushions. This sweetie will bloom from late spring until mid-October. Its foliage stays green all winter, a lovely bonus. Deadheading is a good practice if you want to keep those pretty blossoms coming. (mid-height)
There you have it: another fun list of less-familiar perennials to add to your garden. They’ll help you plan for blossoms from April through October and in color palettes from shades of pink and lavender, to oranges, reds, and the ever-useful white. Your artist’s eye will surely guide your choices.
Wow, most of those flowers I’ve never even heard of!! I can guarantee you I won’t be planting the Snow In Summer though. A great article and it’s got me thinking spring.
You’ve given me so much to think about. Your insights and suggestions have always been most helpful. Thank you.