Must-have plants for carefree colour

Take a bold and adventurous approach to ‘difficult’ colours for borders that dazzle all year round. Val Bourne has some good advice.


Whenever I think about colour I'm reminded of the late, great Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter: a man who wasn't afraid of colour. He embraced the rainbow and he wasn’t a plant snob. He grew dahlias when they were wildly unfashionable, purely for the punch they gave to his late-summer and autumn borders, because he wanted to be excited by colour. His colourful collection of shirts reflected his personality and, following his death in 2006, his then head gardener Fergus Garrett, showed a picture of them piled up like a colourful leaning tower of Pisa.


We should all adopt his carefree approach to colour and that includes orange, the bête noire of many a gardener. It’s the best enhancer of blues and purples and, when teamed with shocking pink, it radiates colour. Golden yellow, often considered a no-no too, creeps into the colour palette in late summer and autumn when warm-yellow daisies abound. Those brash yellows make a golden setting for a sultry cactus dahlia like ‘Chat Noir’, or a late royal blue aconitum such as ‘Arendsii, or the sultry eupatorium ‘Riesenschirm’.

Take full advantage of seasonal changes too, because the colour palette changes season by season. Spring can be a jumble of colour because there are plenty of subtle yellows and creams that you can weave through. High overhead summer sunlight bleaches colour out and the plethora of soft blues and pinks needs a stab of deep colour. As summer blends into autumn, pigment-packed southern hemisphere flowers such as salvias, dahlias, agapanthus and fuchsias add a jewel box quality. When winter descends, low sunlight picks up texture and deepens colour.

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