I'm a reluctant convert, but a convert none the less. For many years I've shunned the typical 'color garden' that is so ubiquitous in the garden magazines and ads everywhere. And with good reason, more color usually means more maintenance, more risk and often more disappointment if we have hard freeze here in Central Florida. But slowly, I've come to the realization, after having designed and installed many gardens without an emphasis on color, and not having had entire gardens die after a cold spell, that it is worth the trouble.
Part of my change in perspective has come from the reality that despite the variety of textures and forms, a garden lacking color is a kin to always playing it safe in life. At the end of our time on Earth, are we going to be sighing with relief, "I am so glad we didn't over do the color in our garden!", of course not!! In fact, I'm convinced that life is SO short, we should really go for it while we can. There are lots of great choices for those of us with a little higher tolerance for taking garden risks!
The reality however is that it can be touch to find good hardy perennials that will bloom consistently and are tough enough to hang in there season after season with minimal maintenance. As with all garden plants, there is no magic bullet or reliable standby that suits all conditions. However, I have a few great shrubs, groundcovers and perennials which I consistently go back to for a splash of color.
Shrubs are probably the easier choice to make, but when I want a special splash of color and texture, here are a few that I like to incorporate:
1. Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara' or Mexican Bush Sage, full sun, dry conditions, butterfly attractor, violet blue coloration, silvery leaf.
2. Gamolepis chrysanthemoides or African Bush Daisy, full medium sun, dry to slightly moist soils, bright yellow cheerful flowers.
3. Jatropha integerrima or Cuban Laurel, big shrub, lots of bright red flowers, big butterfly attractor, can be a shrub or small tree, tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions.
4. Vinca minor or Periwinkle, colorful perennial ground cover, tolerates a wide range of soils, prefers medium sunlight but can take some shade, once established takes minimal water however can spread.
5. Hamelia patens or Dwarf Firebush, Native shrub that can take some shade and tolerant of a wide variety of soils, a beautiful texture of small leaves and a striking orange flower. Grows rapidly and without regular pruning can get up to 20'.
6. Aechmea blanchettiana or Bromeliad, a very tropical looking accent with bright yellow and orange leaves, loves sun but can take some shade, prefers to be slightly moist but can take drought for short periods.
7. Tibouchina urvilleana and Tibouchina granulosa (Tree), the most amazing purple flowers I've ever seen are on this plant, slightly cold sensitive but in a protected area can survive cold, can take some shade but blooms best in full sun, great accent shrub or tree.
8. Dianthus 'First Love', beautiful perennial flower that creates a vivid explosion of color as a groundcover in small beds.
9. Mandevilla 'Alice Dupont', a lovely dark pink flower on a hardy woody vine that does very well in the heat of Central Florida's summers. A fantastic burst of color on a small vine trellis or a garden arbor and a great alternative to the ever present and thorny bougainvillea.
10. Rosa 'Meimirrote' or Apricot Drift Rose, anyone familiar with the Knockout Rose, and their beautiful year round rose blooms, but not happy with how big they will get will love this smaller version called the drift rose. The Apricot color is one of my favorites and I have one in my own garden. They love full sun and take a variety of soil conditions.
I could make another list of 10 and probably will soon, but I wanted to encourage gardeners out there to use as much color as possible. Maybe I'll tackle shade gardens, a real challenge one of these days!