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Plan a Colorful Perennial Garden

Plan now for stunning perennial color combos with plantings and flowering shrubs

By Jane E. Carlson and Anne DiFrancesco

Yes, spring really is just around the corner and there is no time like the present to begin planning the colors that will stand out in your perennial garden this season. Featured here are color combinations to inspire you, as well as guidelines for using textures and shapes to transform an ordinary garden into an exceptional one.

We spoke with Rick King, a licensed horticulturist with Hoffman Landscapes of Wilton, CT, who said, “There are so many advantages to using perennials. Most return for many years of enjoyment, and their colors, heights, textures, and blooming times present countless planting options for gardeners. With blooming times that can be somewhat short, I like to choose plants that have interesting leaf shapes or growth patterns so that interest in the garden can be sustained when blooming times have passed.” Some examples of plants with interesting foliage include hosta, ajuga, coral bells, iris, yarrow, Lady’s Mantle, and sedum.

Here, backed by a climbing hydrangea, Lady’s Mantle, with its rounded leaves and delicate yellow blooms, softens the front of a perennial garden next to sedum. Even though the sedum will not be blooming for some time, note how its textured leaves and overall shape complement the surrounding plants. ​

While color combinations are infinite when using perennials, there are some considerations gardeners should take into account before planting. First, choose plants that will stand out and provide contrast with their background rather than blend into it. If your home is made of red brick for example, avoid similarly colored blooms and go light instead. Conversely, a white picket fence is the perfect backdrop to plant bold colors like purple, red, or orange.

Extending this guideline into shade gardens, plant light, bright blooms that will stand out against dark foliage and select plants with light or lime-colored leaves to serve as backdrop for darker blooms. Brian Cossari, a licensed landscape architect with Hoffman Landscapes, suggests ajuga for shade. “Ajuga is an excellent plant for the spring shade garden. It spreads rapidly, and its purple spikes provide bright pops of color where you least expect them.”

Here in the spring shade garden, ajuga’s purple blooms poke their heads through creeping jenny and are framed by lacy ferns. When not in bloom, ajuga’s attractive leaves serve as a pleasing groundcover.​

Following, several ideas for planting perennials or flowering shrubs that will bloom in spring and summer. Plan now for continuous color throughout the season!

A stunning color combination of purple and yellow is displayed against the white clapboards of this home by intertwining clematis and climbing yellow roses.

Yellow rudbeckia, Knock Out roses, white hydrangea, and sedum provide bright color in this sunny perennial garden. A wrought-iron fence provides the background for the interplay of colors. Note that the color theme is maintained in the container plants placed opposite the garden.

On a shady walk, the delicate white blooms of astilbe stand out among hosta and pachysandra. Note the contrast between the spikey astilbe blooms and the rounded leaves of hosta.

Pale pink Knock Out roses stand big and bright against a dark background featuring spikes of purple delphinium and salvia accents. The gray leaves of lamb’s ear in the foreground soften the texture of this garden.

Texture, color, and shape all play a role in this soothing shade garden. The dark leaves of the purple leaf plum tree frame the space. Below, blue hosta and the pointed key-lime-yellow spikes of the hakonechloa plant are offset by the rounded shapes of boxwood and hydrangea.

Hot-pink Knock Out roses and purple catmint are an eye-catching color combination in a sunny garden. Hydrangea, along with the rounded shapes of sedum—neither yet in bloom—soften the spikey blooms of the catmint. 

Even though the white allium, a late spring bloomer, is about to fade in this garden, the pink astilbe yellow Stella de Oro daylily capture the eye. Tall tiger lilies are budding, and pink Knock Out roses provide a constant color backdrop.

It’s always a good idea to consider the background framing your garden when choosing your color scheme. Petals of pink and blue hydrangea create a striking focal point when used in front of a crisp white fence. 

In spring, the willowy spikes of Nepeta grace the top of a stone wall and are an ideal companion plant, both in color and shape, for these deep pink peonies. 

The following chart summarizes key information about plants featured in this article.

Photography: All images courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Wilton, Connecticut