A variety of petunias.

Worthwhile Annuals to Buy Each Year

Plants typically grown in containers often do even better in your garden.

  • Wave petunia (Petunia x hybrida): A prolific grower, it can fill quite a large area.

  • Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas): Its color can be lime green, blackish-red or tricolor (pink, white and green). This plant looks great as both a complement and a contrast to other colors in the garden.

  • Geranium (Pelargonium): Try some with variegated foliage, which have beautiful patterns on their leaves in shades of yellow, pink or red. They also sprout vibrantly-colored flowers.

  • Tropicana (Canna x generalis ‘Tropicana’): It has orange-, green- and scarlet-striped leaves and grows up to two metres tall. Hummingbirds love its intensely orange blooms. This plant grows and multiplies so well, you will want to keep it over winter in a frost-free place.

  • Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’): Showy burgundy leaves complement the pinkish-purple foxtail blooms that cover this elegant, but expensive, grass.

New Avalanche and Wave varieties of petunias (white and fuchsia flowers, right) will cover a large area with a blanket of flowers.

A variety of blooms shown in late May.

Eye-Popping Shrubs

The variety in the color of these shrubs’ leaves helps make the garden an exciting and constantly evolving landscape as the seasons move from spring to fall.

  • Goldflame spirea (Spiraea x bumalda 'Goldflame'): Its spring growth is kissed with ruby red. By the summer, the red leaves change to a pale yellowish-green color to strikingly offset its bright-pink flowers. Give this hard-working shrub a haircut and it will start all over again. October’s frosts turn the leaves gold and scarlet for a last blast of autumn color.

  • Coppertina ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Coppertina’): This ninebark cultivar practically took my breath away. In the spring, the new growth is an orangey-amber color. In summer, the leaves change from amber to scarlet, deepen to wine-red and then evolve to a mottling of green and burgundy. Bright white pompom-like flowers mature to long-lasting scarlet clusters of seeds. In fall, the leaves turn back to wine-red and scarlet. You have to see it to truly appreciate it! This shrub looks great placed anywhere in the garden, but for an effect that is truly outstanding, place it in an area where the early-evening sun will shine through the leaves – they will glow like stained glass windows.

The garden in late May: sunburst honey locust (gold shrub, background top); purpleleaf sand cherry (red shrub, foreground right); goldflame spiraea (low-lying gold shrub, foreground center).

A variety of blooms shown in early June.

Show-Stopping Trees

Select trees that will complement your favorite colors

  • Tricolor beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolor’): People are amazed when they look closely at this tree’s leaves, which look almost like flowers. They are a burgundy-red color, edged with white and pink. If I were forced to grow only one tree, it would be this one.

  • Sunburst honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos 'Sunburst'): The early burst of yellow-green leaves lights up the garden. In many climates, by late June, a quieter shade of bright green develops. But by mid-July, a new flush of growth appears and the tree glows again! The small leaves are somewhat feathery in appearance, and the dappled shade they provide is often ideal for other plants. Fall frosts give a touch of burgundy to some of the leaves.

The garden in early June: tricolor beech (pink-leaved tree, right background) with Dame's rocket (violet ground cover, left foreground); alliums (tall purple flower, left foreground); tulips (red flower, right foreground); forget-me-nots (blue ground cover, right foreground).

A variety of blooms shown in early September.

Hard-Working Perennials

The following plants are born to bloom again.

  • Newer types of irises and daylilies come in many colors and perform again later in the season.

  • Shasta and other daisies (such as the white, cream and bright-yellow varieties) and the clustered bellflower (Campanula glomerata ‘Superba’), which has intensely blue blooms, are just some of the plants that will give you another show if you cut them back.

Easy Fillers and Food for Pollinators

Not only do these plants provide blooms from June until it freezes, but their flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds, helpful insects and butterflies. Additionally, the blooms turn into seeds that feed winter goldfinches and other birds.

  • Blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora): This grows quickly and is easy to divide. Its scarlet flowers are edged with bright yellow. Seed heads of this plant form perfect orange-red balls that look like lollipops.

  • Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): Its yellow-, burgundy-, red-, rust- and brown-flowered varieties make this a great plant for adding color to your garden.

The garden in early September: castor bean (large, palm-leaved tree-like annual flower, right background); sedum (rose-colored flower, right mid-ground); gaillardia (red and yellow flower, foreground); fall-flowering iris (silver, spear-leaved flower, center foreground); salvia (short, blue flower, center midground).

A November garden winding down for the season.

Grasses as Moving Sculptures

Grasses provide movement in the garden and can be a lovely focal point on their own. The color in their leaves, their long-lasting ‘blooms’ and the fact that they provide winter interest make them an important element in any garden.

  • Dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’): This is one of my favorites. (I have 20-plus in my garden.) It’s the green perennial version of purple fountain grass and has lovely pink foxtail blooms that generally start in July.

  • Graziella maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Graziella’): Its green leaves curl into corkscrew shapes as they change to copper-red and orange shades. It also features long-lasting explosions of fluffy plumes.

  • Porcupine grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’): This grass is upright and bristly, and colored with horizontal yellow stripes. Its fall flowers are first pink and then fade to white. Its fall foliage is a tan-pumpkin color. A bonus in harsher climates is that it usually still looks good even in February.

  • Variegated miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’): These grasses feature vertical light-green, dark-green and cream stripes. It has rich pink-toned flowers. The fall foliage turns shades of pumpkin orange.

The garden in November: hansa rose (fuchsia flowers, left foreground); diablo ninebark (purple-leaved shrub, middle background); Miss Kim lilac (pale green- and yellow-leaved shrub, center mid-ground); variegated miscanthus (green and white grass with pink plumes, middle foreground).

A field of orange tulips.

Spreading the Cheer

One of the great joys of gardening is sharing it with others. Color is arguably one of the strongest emotional influences known. Hence, your creativity in the garden can affect your neighbors, friends and complete strangers as they pass by.

Jennifer Grant

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