Top Red, White and Blue Flowers For The Summer Garden

For many Americans, Fourth of July is synonymous with fireworks. But for gardeners, the pyrotechnics start early. That’s because by mid June, spring pastels are already giving way to dazzling color as red, white and blue flowers begin lighting up the summer garden.

RED FLOWERS EXCITE

On the color spectrum, red is the most attention-grabbing of colors. In China, it symbolizes prosperity and good luck, while on Wall Street ‘in the red’ means you’re losing money. And on the American flag, the red stripes represent ‘hardiness and valor.’

Hybrid tea rose

In the summer garden, red flowers make a dazzling display, especially when framed by red’s complementary color, green. Looking for drama? Try grouping red flowers in front of an evergreen hedge and watch the fireworks begin!

red roses and green hedge

Red roses and green hedge

 Or, combine them with other hot colors for an eye-catching composition. 

Too many red flowers? You can cool things down by pairing them with silver. 

red salvia and silver ragwort

Red salvia and silver ragwort

And just like the stripes on the flag, white flowers offer a crisp contrast to all shades of red.

Here are some of the best red flowers for your summer garden. 

Red-Flowering Shrubs

Quince ‘Double Take ‘Scarlet’

Crimson bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus

Stewartstonian azalea

‘Mister Lincoln’ Hybrid Tea Rose

Red-Flowering Perennials

Begonia ‘Dragon’s Blood’

Geranium ‘Americana Red’

Dahlia ‘Bishop of llandaff’

Daylily ‘Always Afternoon’

Asiatic lily (red)

Gaillardia ‘Spin Top Orange Halo’

WHITE FLOWERS BRIGHTEN

The purest of all colors in terms of composition, white is considered by most cultures to represent goodness and light. It can also indicate cleanliness and perfection. On the American flag, the white stripes signify purity and innocence.

White hydrangea

In the summer garden, white flowers add an unblemished quality to the mix. Since white reflects light, white flowers instantly brighten key areas of the garden. They also help highlight other colors. 

Below, Echinacea ‘White Swan’ enlivens a mixed border.

Drift of white echinacea

Some gardeners even go all out and create an all-white garden. (The great thing about white flowers, by the way, is that they look especially good at night.)

Garden composed of all white flowers and silver foliage.

Here are some of the best and brightest white flowers for the summer garden:

White-Flowering Shrubs

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Mock Orange ‘Snow White Sensation’

Azalea ‘Delaware Valley White’

Rose ‘Boule de Neige’

White-Flowering Perennials

Phlox paniculata ‘David’

Iris germanica ‘Immortality’

Allium ‘Mount Everest’

Echinacea ‘Pow Wow White’

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

Physostegia virginiana ‘Crystal Peak White’

BLUE FLOWERS CALM

Located at the other end of the color spectrum from red, blue is considered the hardest color to see. For this reason, it is known as a cool color. On the American flag, blue is the color of the Chief. It signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.

Himalayan blue poppy

The thing about blue is that it appears to recede (notice how the blue section of the flag seems less intense than the red.) Because of this quality, blue flowers can add depth and volume to a garden composition. The only problem with blue flowers is that there aren’t many that are truly blue. Most are tinged with lavender or purple. However, color can be subjective, so people have different opinions on what’s blue.

Here are the truest blue flowers I’ve found to date for the summer garden:

Blue-Flowering Shrubs

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’

‘Bluebird’ lacecap hydrangea

Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’

Blue-Flowering Perennials

Blue coleus, also know as bush coleus

Gentian Sage, Salvia patens 

Lewis flax, Linum lewisii

Blue Daisy

Muscari aucheri ‘Blue Magic’

Mostly blue with lavender tinge

Hidcote Blue English Lavender

Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles’

Russian sage, Perovskia

Catmint, Nepeta

Wishing you all a very Happy Fourth of July! 

 

 

How To Build The Perfect Monarch Butterfly Garden

monarch on pink flowers

Daniel Potter freely admits he’s not an expert on monarchs. But as Professor of Entomology at the University of Kentucky, he and his grad students sure love to run experiments. Recently, they completed a two-year study on the likes and dislikes of the popular orange and black butterfly. Now for the first time ever, there’s a roadmap for building the perfect monarch garden.

WHY WE CARE

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably already a monarch fan. The butterflies’ annual migration from Mexico to Canada is one of the most spectacular events worldwide. All told, the tiny insects fly upwards of 2000 miles roundtrip each spring, stopping four times to breed and lay their eggs. They are the only butterfly species to make such a long, two-way migration.

monarch migration

Over the past 25 years, however, there’s been a sharp decline in monarch populations. Part of this is due to a loss of habitat at the butterflies’ overwintering site in Mexico. Activities such as logging, agriculture and urbanization have all taken their toll on the central highland forests that play host to the insects six months out of every year.

But by far the most significant factor driving the decline is the dwindling supply of a plant called milkweed. The native wildflower is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat. And without it, the butterflies cannot complete their life cycle, sustain their migration and ultimately, perpetuate their species.

monarch feeding on milkweed

MONARCH BUTTERFLY GARDENS NEED MILKWEED 

According to the North American Monarch Conservation Plan, we need 1.8 billion milkweed stems to replace those that have been lost to agriculture and urbanization. And these contributions need to come from all land sectors in order to sustain the annual migration. This includes farms, roadsides, schools, zoos, rights of way and yes, suburban and urban gardens located along the butterflies’ migratory corridor.

Luckily, an initiative called the Monarch Waystation Program is starting to make a crucial difference. Established in 2005, it engages citizens in conservation by providing instruction and materials on how to create habitats for monarchs. The guidelines are simple – Plant two or more milkweed species for the caterpillars, some nectar sources for the adults and you become part of a national registry. To date, over 6000 Monarch Waystations in 46 states have become part of the effort. 

WHAT MONARCHS LIKE

And as it happened, the Waystation Program Registry provided the perfect jumping off point for Potter’s research into monarch butterfly gardens. A quick Google Earth search by his team revealed hundreds of habitats scattered along the butterflies’ northward route. What’s more, they represented every kind of landscape.

As Potter put it, ‘Some were non-structured, others ‘wild’, and still others were surrounded by hardscape or located in open rural areas.’ Below are some aerial shots of a few of them. (Photo courtesy Dr. Daniel Potter.)

What Potter and his team wondered was this – with all of this diversity, could there be certain habitats that were more appealing than others? To discover the answer, the group decided to survey 22 citizen-planted Waystations. Below are some key outcomes from their findings. 

1. MONARCHS LIKE STRUCTURE

Like most species, monarchs use visual cues to zero in on what they’re looking for. And in the butterflies’ case, these ‘search images’ are made up exclusively of milkweed. But as the Registry revealed, not all waystations were the same. Did monarchs favor certain monarch butterfly gardens over others?

Monarchs from ‘search images’ for milkweed

To find out, the researchers counted larvae and caterpillars for a year in their target Waystations to see if the type of habitat made any measurable difference.

monarch caterpillar on milkweed leaf

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed leaf

And they discovered that yes, the butterflies had a strong preference. A structured garden, with milkweed set off by mulch, attracted three to five times more monarchs.

The takeaway? If you want more monarchs, make it easy for them to find the milkweed to lay their eggs on. Plant it apart from other plants. Even better, surround it with a mulch circle. But make sure to provide other nectar producing plants nearby for the returning adult butterflies to feed on.

2. MONARCHS PREFER A NORTH-SOUTH ACCESS

Interestingly, the researchers found that gardens with unimpeded north-south access recruited more monarchs. This makes sense since it coincides with the butterflies’ migratory route.

monarch migration map

Monarchs prefer gardens with a north-south access

3. THE TALLER THE BETTER

While all milkweed species are suitable for food, not all are equally favored by monarchs. To find the answer why, the group compared 8 species of milkweed all grown in Kentucky and native to the area. They evaluated them as to their suitability for egg-laying as well as their usability as food for monarch caterpillars. And there was a clear preference.

Where they had a choice, monarchs preferred the taller varieties, Swamp, Common and Showy over the smaller varieties like Butterfly weed

The takeaway? If you want to attract more egg-laying monarchs to your monarch butterfly garden, plant the tall, broadleaf milkweed species.

4. MILKWEED CULTIVARS ARE EQUALLY TASTY

But what about all of the new milkweed cultivars, you ask? As it has grown in popularity (mainly due to monarchs), milkweed now comes in many cultivars boasting unusual colors and sizes.

Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mix/White Flower Farm

Not to worry. Potter and his students discovered that monarchs find these cultivars just as attractive as the straight species. But again, go with the bigger varieties if you want more monarchs.

5. DON’T LET YOUR MONARCH BUTTERFLY GARDEN BECOME AN ECOLOGICAL TRAP

Finally, there’s the case of tropical milkweed, a non-native plant that has exploded in popularity over the past decade. Both gardeners and monarchs love it. But buyer beware. Tropical milkweed is not ‘bad’, per se, but when planted in warm areas of the U.S. it encourages monarchs to stick around longer and even enables them to winter-breed.

tropical milkweed

Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica

Research shows, however, that monarchs breeding on tropical milkweed throughout the winter (rather than returning to Mexico) have higher levels of protozoan infection compared to monarchs in the normal migratory cycles. It turns out that migration is key to outrunning these pathogens.

The takeaway? Stick to the tried and true native milkweed species in your monarch butterfly garden and help the insects keep to their schedule.

To learn more about Daniel Potter and his research into monarchs and other insects, click here for the Dr. Daniel A. Potter Laboratory.

This article was update January 2021.

Six Secrets From Bunny Mellon’s Garden

Bunny Mellon never formally studied landscaping; yet she grew to be one of the most celebrated gardeners in America. Her list of accomplishments is staggering, ranging from installations on family properties in Virginia, Nantucket and Antigua, to private residences in Paris, to the White House Rose Garden. There is much to be learned from her trial-and-error approach to horticulture. And now, a new book entitled Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon offers a glimpse into how she developed her aesthetic while providing readers with practicable tips on design. Continue reading

Why Star Magnolia Deserves A Spot In Your Garden

When it comes to stunning, early-blooming trees, it’s hard to beat the star magnolia. Every March, it showers the landscape in a flush of bright white. For what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in stature. I love how the blossoms hang like fallen stars from its smooth, bare branches.

THE SMALL GARDEN’S MAGNOLIA

Now, even small gardens can have a magnolia! What’s more, star magnolia is slow-growing, so it won’t overwhelm your landscape. Topping out at a manageable 10 to 15 feet, it makes an excellent specimen tree while also providing a great backdrop to any mixed shrub border. 

Yet for all that, the tree’s most valuable asset, in most people’s view, is its early spring blossoms. Typically flowering in early March, the star magnolia is lush with blooms when most other ornamentals are scarcely starting to bud. Moreover, the flowers are fragrant. Each is composed of more than a dozen ribbon-like petals. And some varieties boast as many as 30.

And while star magnolias are typically associated with white flowers, there are also a number of pink varieties. All are magnets for pollinators, which gives your other plants an early start on the season.

FOR STAR MAGNOLIAS, THE SHOW NEVER STOPS

But, for those who think star magnolias are all about spring, think again. The little trees offer fall and winter interest as well. In autumn, the foliage turns yellow, then bronze, providing an interesting complement to other fall colors.

And star magnolia’s twiggy, many-branched shape provides great winter interest. Colored a shiny, chestnut brown, the branches contrast handsomely with the tree’s smooth gray trunk, which slowly turns silver with age. As an added plus, the buds, appearing in late winter, are fat and fuzzy, just like pussy willows. 

TOP STAR MAGNOLIA VARIETIES TO TRY

Ready to give star magnolia a try? Below are some the most popular cultivars that offer reliable, low-maintenance early spring color. Deciduous magnolias are best planted when dormant, typically in late fall.

‘Centennial’ produces fragrant, waterlily-shaped blossoms in early to mid spring. The large white flowers often have a pink tinge at the base of the petals. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial’

‘Jane Platt’ produces double, scented, pale pink flowers with long, narrow petals in early to mid spring.

Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’

‘Royal Star’ has pale pink buds that open in early spring to pure white flowers. In particular, this cultivar is known for its almost 5-inch (12 cm) wide flowers with up to 30 petals. ‘Royal Star’ blooms later than the species. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

‘Rosea’ is a pink-flowered variety. It has a rounded shape and dense bushy habit. This cultivar flowers a month later than the species, or in late April. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’

HOW AND WHERE TO PLANT

Star magnolia flowers are vulnerable to damage by late spring frosts, so it’s best to plant the trees in a sheltered spot. While they’ll do fine in full sun, they’ll perform best in morning sun with filtered shade in the afternoon. Generally, the more exposed the location, the earlier the flowers open. Like most plants, star magnolias prefer moist, well-drained soil. 

Magnolia stellata really shines when viewed against a dark background. Site it in front of a stand of deep green arborvitae, a yew hedge or even a dark brick house and watch its flowers ‘pop.’  Daffodils with cream or white petals and yellow cups make excellent early-spring companions. Check out Narcissus ‘Sovereign’, Golden Echo’ or the orange-cupped ‘Barrett Browning’ for a dramatic effect.

To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.

Finding Your Center on the Labyrinth Path

Sometimes life can seem like a maze, full of twists and turns and lots of dead ends. It’s not always clear how to approach the center. But for those willing to walk its cousin, the labyrinth, there can be true transformation. Some say the process ultimately leads to insights into the circuitous path of life itself. Continue reading

The Secret To Creating Fabulous Fall Containers

Cool-season flowering plants

In my view, autumn doesn’t have to spell the end of the show in the garden. Fall containers offer countless ways to still enjoy seasonal splashes of color. Moreover, these mini gardens no longer have to be all about flowering kale or mums. With a little ingenuity, you can create autumn planters every bit as beautiful as their lush summer cousins. Continue reading

Flowering Kale: The Coolest Cool-Season Ornamental

Long before it became a trending food, flowering kale was a garden star, delivering a pop of color to fall’s graying landscape. The plant is not only prized for its striking foliage but it’s also one of only a few species that thrives in cold weather. Indeed, flowering kale likes cold temperatures so much that it often stays attractive well into winter. I can’t think of a better choice for fall gardens and containers. Continue reading

Topiary Gardens: 6 Great Ideas From The Gardens Of Eyrignac

You would almost believe you’d dropped into a fairy tale. France’s valley of the Dordogne boasts a bucolic green countryside that has long inspired painters, authors and poets. Home to the deep green Dordogne river, tiny rural villages and medieval castles perched high on hilltops, it is also the site of one of the most famous topiary gardens in France, the spectacular Gardens of Eyrignac. Continue reading

Historic Garden Tour: The Dolley Madison Garden Club Turns 100

It was a perfect, sunny day and the homes were spectacular. This was my first time attending Virginia’s Historic Garden Week, and the Dolley Madison Garden Club’s ‘Centennial Tour’ didn’t disappoint. It was an extra-special event, as it also marked the club’s 100th anniversary. And to commemorate the occasion, two historic residences were open to the public for the very first time. Continue reading

How To Design With Naturalistic Plantings: An Expert Speaks Out

Naturalistic plantings at the Denver Botanic Gardens

If you’re used to order in the garden, naturalistic plantings can seem a bit out of control. But installations such as New York City’s High Line are bringing this new, plant-driven approach more and more into the mainstream. That’s according to award-winning designer Carrie Preston of the Netherland’s Studio TOOP. She spoke recently in Maryland on how to incorporate naturalistic plantings into all types of landscapes. Continue reading