Rob D. Brodman
Cool perennials

Choose the best one for your yard and plant now for summer blooms

Lauren Bonar Swezey,  – January 8, 2003

Every garden deserves a colorful border brimming with flowers, foliage, and blooming shrubs. You can plant one anywhere – along a front walk, beside a lawn in the backyard, at the edge of a patio – as long as it’s the center of attention from inside or outside the home.

Each of these three borders will thrive in full sun (only the abutilon and hydrangea in the “Cool Perennials” border requires afternoon shade). And each has a different theme: a cool medley of pink-flowered perennials, planted among burgundy grasses and silvery shrubs; an ornamental and edible border packed with basil and eggplant; and a tropical border that combines big leaves and bright flowers. For each, we provide the plans and plant sizes.In mild climates, plant in February for bloom in late spring and summer. Where winters are cold, wait until weather warms to plant.

Cool perennials: Plant flowering types with pink blooms among silvery and plum foliage; accent with grasses.

A new twist on the pink theme, a border that pairs pink-flowered plants with subtle splashes of gray, green, and maroon foliage is more sophisticated than sweet. This triangular planting (12 feet long at the front) is a lively focal point of a backyard garden in San Francisco; it was designed for viewing from picture windows at the back of the house as well as from a raised deck at the rear of the garden. Heuchera, ornamental grass, and silvery artemisia mingle with abutilon, airy clusters of pink gaura, coneflower, and hydrangea to soften and hide the base of the deck. The border curves between the garden’s back fence and the deck (just left of the gaura in the photo above). Bark mulch covers the soil between plants; Trex benderboard finishes the front edge.

Plant cuphea, salvia, and verbena for color among mixed basils, eggplant, and pepper. 

Flowers and edibles:

Who says vegetable gardens have to be boring? Many herbs and vegetables have especially colorful foliage that can create striking effects when planted among flowers and ornamental grasses. In this 8-foot-wide planting, lime green and purple basils determine the color scheme. For vibrant hues in the sunny border, we added red-flowered cuphea, blue-flowered salvias, a lime green ornamental grass, a bright red edible pepper, a purple eggplant, and an ornamental pepper with purplish black foliage and berries that change from deep purple to red. For convenient harvesting, locate the border near the kitchen. In-line drip emitters irrigate the border to keep moisture off the foliage. Plants get regular feedings with fish emulsion.

Use flowers of yellow, orange, and red to play off bold foliage in shades of green. 

Tropical jewels:

You don’t have to visit the tropics to enjoy jungly foliage and flowers. Just choose the right plants to create a tropical border anywhere in the West. For this 9- by 5½-foot planting, landscape designer Karen Donnelly combined coral, fiery orange, red, and yellow flowers with lime green and deep green tropical foliage. A pot filled with elephant’s ear and potato vine adds height and structure to the planting. In cold-winter areas, build the border for just a season, then start over next year. Or move the most valuable plants indoors for winter. You can also substitute hardy look-alikes, such as Japanese banana and honey bush, for true tropicals.
Design: Karen Donnelly, Redwood City, CA (650/224-3476)