Sunny border for three seasons

Plant catmint, lavender, and lion's tail for easy color from spring through fall
Sharon Cohoon

Flowers that bloom over a long season and require only modest amounts of water or time ― isn't that what we all want?

We can have it, too, as long as we choose the right plants, says Sharon Finkle, a landscape architecture student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Finkle spent a summer at Sunset as an intern, working on special projects in our test garden. During her stay, she proposed installing a flower border made up entirely of Mediterranean perennials.

It would bloom nearly continuously, she claimed, and would keep doing so, with little effort on our part, long after she'd gone back to school. Prove it, we said.

The result: the beautiful, mostly blue border,  tucked into a once forgotten corner roughly 11 feet long by 5 feet deep. (Just as Finkle promised, it looks as good in fall as it did when it was photographed in spring.) And it changes with the seasons.

Early spring: Finkle's border is a bevy of blues. Catmint and penstemon start off the show.

Midspring: Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia 'Provence') and bog sage join the picture a few weeks later.

Mid- to late summer: The dark orange whorls of lion's tail emerge, changing the color scheme from monochromatic to complementary for the remainder of the year.

Three seasons: The frothy white of Santa Barbara daisy, planted in front to accent both schemes, continues virtually nonstop throughout.

Although only lion's tail and Santa Barbara daisy are likely to be in bloom at nurseries in October, fall is an ideal time to plant all Mediterranean plants. Get them in the ground in autumn to take advantage of winter rains, and you'll have a wonderful, trouble-free show starting in spring.

Border plan (click thumbnail under top photo for larger image)

A. Bog sage (Salvia uliginosa). Upright perennial with sky blue flowers. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall and blooms late spring through fall. Sunset climate zones 6-9, 14-24.

B. Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii). Mound of soft gray-green leaves with lavender-blue flowers spring into summer, 12 inches tall. Zones 1-24.

C. Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia). Group of sterile hybrids that cross English and spike lavenders. Grows to 2 feet tall. Zones 4-24.

D. Lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus). Perennial 4 to 6 feet tall and wide with orange flowers. Zones 8-24, H1, H2.

E. Olive (Olea europaea 'Little Ollie'). Dense shrub, green leaves. Grows to 12 feet tall; bears almost no fruit. Zones 8, 9, 11-24, H1, H2.

F. Penstemon (P. x gloxinioides). Upright perennial with narrow green leaves. 'Mid-night' has purple flowers, grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 6-9, 14-24.

G. Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus). Trailing plant 10 to 20 inches tall with dainty white flowers. Zones 8, 9, 12-24, H1, H2.

More: 20 favorite flowering perennials

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