Yellow flowers and foliage can wake up quiet corners of your garden

Steven R. Lorton  – November 8, 2004

Have you ever looked skyward to see a break in the clouds with sunlight streaming through, then followed that stream with your eyes to find its golden light bathing a spot in your garden? Sunlight makes plants shimmer and shine, and seeing a sunlit garden all dewy, fresh, and golden brightens your day.

A patch of yellow flowers or foliage is like a spot of sunshine: It draws your attention while warming and illuminating a quiet corner. After the sun goes down, pale yellow flowers don’t disappear into dark shadows. Instead, they linger in twilight and glow by moonlight.

Almost any color, including green, red, and orange, combines well with yellow. Blue and yellow are a classic pairing. If you’ve been schooled in the haughty old aphorism “yellow with pink will always stink,” just thumb your nose at stuffiness and give it a try. The combination, especially in spring, is as cheerful as a picket fence skirted with primroses. Throw in some foliage of soft blue, white, and green for color that sparkles with the freshness of a new season. (Remove yellow from that mix and the palette of pastels would go flat.)

This month, nurseries throughout the West are flaunting plants whose yellow flowers or foliage can brighten your garden in spring, summer, fall, or winter. The photographs on these pages show some ways to use them. There’s still enough time to plant before the summer heat sets in. As the plants grow, you can bask in your own spot of sunshine.


21 Sunshine Plants

Thousands of great plants have yellow flowers or foliage. Here we list 21 of our favorites. But don’t limit yourself to our choices―half the fun is making your own discoveries!


Asteriscus maritimus, sometimes called gold coin. Perennial. A tough, reliable plant, loaded with yellow flowers; great in Mediterranean gardens. Blooms over a long summer season. Grows 1 foot tall, spreads to 4 feet. Full sun. Sunset climate zones 9, 15–24.

Coreopsis grandiflora. Perennial. Produces bright yellow blooms over a long summer season. Very tough and drought resistant. For large semidouble blooms, look for ‘Sunburst’ and ‘Early Sunrise’. Grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Full sun. Zones 2–24, H1–H2.

Coreopsis verticillata. Perennial. A prolific summer bloomer–stops traffic in late spring and summer gardens. ‘Moonbeam’ has pale yellow flowers; ‘Zagreb’ has golden yellow blooms. Grows 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall. Full sun. Zones 1–24.

Crocosmia ‘Solfatare’. Corm. Bladelike leaves are bronze, with pale orange-yellow flowers appearing on spikes. Grows to 2 feet tall. Full sun to partial shade. Zones 4–24.

Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis). Bulb. Produces a startling spire of bell-shaped flowers in mid- to late spring. Grows 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall. Full sun or light shade. Zones 1–7, 14–17.

Daylily (Hemerocallis). Perennial. Blooms over a long summer season. Many varieties have yellow flowers―‘Buttered Popcorn’ and ‘Jen Melon’, for instance. Tiny ‘Stella d’Oro’ is a star for the corners of beds or the front of a border. Named hybrids grow 1 to 6 feet tall. Full sun to light shade. All zones.

Fernleaf yarrow (Achillea filipendulina). Perennial. Blooms mid- to late summer. For richest yellow flowers, look for ‘Gold Plate’ and ‘Coronation Gold’. Both are beautiful in borders with blue delphiniums, red-hot pokers (Kniphofia uvaria), and Shasta daisies. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Sun. Zones 1–24, A1–A3.

Goldenrod (Solidago). Perennial. Flowers are large plumes of gold in midsummer. Happiest in not-too-rich soil. Good meadow planting with Michaelmas daisies and black-eyed Susans. Grows 1 to 3 feet tall, sometimes more. Full sun to light shade. Zones 1–11, 14–23.

Helianthus multiflorus. Perennial. From midsummer to frost, plant is filled with rich yellow 3-inch flowers, good for cutting. Grows in a clump to 5 feet. Full sun. Zones 1–24.

Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa). Shrubby perennial. Holds its yellow flowers for a long spell in mid- to late summer. Grows to 4 feet. Full sun, but will tolerate light shade. Zones 3b–24.

Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos flavidus). Evergreen perennial. Blooms from late spring to fall if spent flower spikes are cut down. A strong plant for vertical structure in the garden. Grassy leaves reach 3 feet, flower spikes go to 5 feet. Full sun. Zones 15–24.

Lantana (L. montevidensis). Evergreen shrub grown as an annual in cold climates. Blooms throughout summer. ‘Sunburst’, ‘Spreading Sunshine’, and ‘Gold Rush’ are strong yellows. Creeping branches spread 3 to 6 feet over ground. Full sun. Zones 8–10, 12–24, H1–H2.

Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’. Perennial. Robust flower spike shoots up 5 feet or more in early summer. Flowers last longest when plants get afternoon shade. Zones 1–9, 14–17, A2–A3.

Moneywort, creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’). Perennial groundcover. Forms ground-hugging mat with runners up to 2 feet long; makes a handsome golden carpet under perennials and shrubs. Leaves stay yellowish gold unless knocked back by frost. At its best in strong indirect light (direct sun scorches leaves). Zones 1–9, 14–24.

Strawflower (Helichrysum bracteatum). Summer annual. Yellow varieties are ‘Cockatoo’, ‘Dargan Hill Monarch’, and ‘Diamond Head’. All have grayish green foliage. Flowers dry beautifully and keep well. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Full sun. All zones.

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus). Annual. Flowers come in a range of sunny colors, from pale yellow to deep golden yellow to mahogany. Plants range from 2 to 10 feet tall. Full sun. All zones.



Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’. Grassy perennial. Foliage is bright yellow until cut down by frost. Grows well in boggy soil. Clumps reach 10 inches tall. Full sun. Zones 3b–10, 14–24.

Carex elata ‘Aurea’ (‘Bowles Golden’). Sedge. Bright yellow foliage all year. Grassy clumps are 2 feet tall. A bright, glowing yellow grass for sun or partial shade. Zones 2–9, 14–24.

Golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’). Bright golden foliage in spring turns to green by late summer and fall. Grows about 1 foot tall, sometimes more. Full sun to part shade. Zones 1–24.

Golden sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’). Perennial herb. To 2 1/2 feet. Full sun. Zones 2–24, H1–H2.

New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax ‘Yellow Wave’). Big, bold perennial. Swordlike leaves can reach 5 feet tall. Full sun or light shade. Zones 7–9, 14–24, H1–H2 (regrows after freezes in zones 5–6).