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Fabulous Foliage & Flower Power

How to punch up your Cape Cod garden with color this summer.

How to punch up your Cape Cod garden with color this summer

Photo by C.L. Fornari

When Cape Cod residents first plant their landscapes, many choose evergreen trees and shrubs believing that having foliage all year round is of prime importance. At some point, however, the realization sets in that their yard is a sea of green. Evergreens may have beautiful all-seasons foliage, but these monochromatic trees and shrubs don’t satisfy most humans’ innate desire for color.

Imagine a tapestry of bright, diverse foliage and a continual display of flowers throughout the growing season from March through December. Fortunately, there are many plants that can be mixed in with existing evergreens that provide an eye-catching range of hues and textures. New varieties of plants with colorful leaves and long periods of bloom are being introduced by growers and nurseries yearly, giving homeowners more reliable, interesting choices than ever before.

When planting for color, always consider foliage first. Plants that have purple, yellow, or variegated leaves are vibrant in the landscape before and after blooming. By combining a range of foliage colors and texture, you create a landscape that is exciting even without flowers.

Plants with colorful leaves are crucial for a beautiful, all-seasons landscape. Additionally, foliage color often evolves over the seasons so that garden compositions can change from spring to fall. “Magic Carpet” Spirea, for example, is a low to the ground, easy-maintenance, sun-loving shrub that changes leaf color from April through October.

In the spring, “Magic Carpet’s” new growth is coral and gold, but the leaves turn lime-yellow in the summer and golden peach in the fall. All of this color comes from the foliage, so it’s an added bonus that this shrub is also covered with pretty pink flowers in June.

There are several new selections of the native ninebark (Physocarpus) that have beautiful, colorful leaves. “Summer Wine” is covered with dark, purple foliage that provides the perfect background to pinkish-white flowers in June. “Dart’s Gold” is a brilliant yellow in spring, flowers white in June, and has lime-colored foliage the rest of the season. Another variety called “Coppertina” is rusty red as its name suggests. These three ninebarks grow to about five feet tall and wide, while other varieties such as “Diablo” and “Center Glow” mature even taller and wider.

How to punch up your Cape Cod garden with color this summer

Photo by C.L. Fornari

Weigelas are another family of shrubs that come with colorful foliage. “Rubidor” has bright yellow leaves and “Summer Wine” has dark red foliage. Both of these selections have bright pink late spring flowers. There are also several variegated Weigelas on the market with cream and green leaves and these are especially attractive when the pale pink flowers are in bloom.

Other shrubs with distinctive foliage include the lovely dappled willow, Salix “Hakuro Nishiki,” and the variegated red twig dogwoods, such as “Bailhalo” and “Elegantissima.” Although the willow comes in both shrub and tree form, even the bush type can get quite large.

Cape Cod’s favorite shrub, the Hydrangea, is practically a must for those wanting big flower color in the summer. To insure that Hydrangea flowers don’t wilt too early, place these shrubs in a spot with several hours of morning sun, then allow them to rest in afternoon shade. Flowers on Hydrangeas planted in hot afternoon sun will fade and shrivel quickly and will need constant watering just to look presentable.

There are many varieties of Hydrangea available that bloom on new and old growth, and these extend the flowering season as well as making the plant more reliable. “Penny Mac,” “Twist and Shout,” and all Hydrangeas in the “Forever and Ever” series are just a few of the high-performing, repeat-blooming varieties.

How to punch up your Cape Cod garden with color this summer

Photo by C.L. Fornari

In addition to using shrubs with leaves of different hues and some long-flowering Hydrangea for near continuous visual punch, the addition of perennials, grasses, and annuals to your design enhances the textural diversity of any landscape. The wider the selection, the more color you’ll enjoy.

Perennial Heuchera, commonly called “Coral Bells,” are available in an array of flower and leaf colors. From dark purple to caramel or bright green and yellow, there are dozens of interesting Heuchera that can add brilliance to the landscape. Heuchera foliage often changes from month to month as temperatures rise and fall, so with this plant alone it’s possible to have a kaleidoscope of color as the seasons change.

How to punch up your Cape Cod garden with color this summer

Photo by C.L. Fornari

Other perennials with brilliant yellow foliage include Sedum “Angelina,” a ground cover for full sun, and Hakon grass (Hakonachloa macra) varieties such as “Aureola” and “All Gold.” Hakon grass also makes a good ground cover in part- sun or part-shade. It’s a perfect low-growing, colorful grass to place in front of foundation plantings or perennial borders.

Eupatorium “Chocolate” and Actaea “Brunette” are two taller perennials that have dark purple foliage. Eupatorium grows to about three feet high and does best in full sun, and the spires of the fragrant Actaea flowers reach five feet tall and thrive in the shade. Both of these perennials bloom in late August and September.

One of the longest flowering perennials for sunny spots is Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), which produces a wild cloud of lavender blossoms from July until hard frost. Russian Sage isn’t for those who like their plants trimmed and tidy, but many find that it is the perfect plant to group near ornamental grasses. The fountain of pale purple flowers has a wind-swept, beachy quality that is perfect for Cape Cod.

Shrubs and perennials are a necessary part of any garden, but for sheer flower power nothing beats annuals (annuals are plants that only live for one season). Those desiring a more colorful landscape should be sure to save spaces to tuck in annuals every summer. Impatiens and “New Guinea” Impatiens in a rainbow of colors are the ever-blooming gold standard for part-shade or part-sun.

In full sun, relatively new varieties of annuals such as white- and purple-flowered Scaevola, “Snow Princess’ Alyssum, “Purple Heart” Setcreasea, “Profusion” Zinnias, and “Wave” or “Super” Petunias offer non-stop flowers with little care. And the tried and true marigolds and annual Salvia remain popular with good reason.

Although there are many more varieties with interesting foliage and flowers, adding color to your Cape or Islands landscape should always start with knowledge of your property’s particular growing conditions. Matching the right plant to the right environmental situation determines whether the plant flowers or the foliage develops and keeps its unique coloring.

The yellow coloring of a “Gold Thread” or “Gold Mop” cypress shrub, for example, will stay green in deep shade. Similarly, many red grasses or shrubs will only turn rosy in full sun. Before you go shopping for fabulous foliage and more flower power for your garden this spring, be sure to have an accurate idea of how much sun or shade can be found on your property in various areas. Also, try to gain an understanding of your special soil conditions (wet, dry, sandy, and so forth). Once you have learned what will thrive and prosper in your unique coastal environment, you can start to add year-round beauty to your garden.

C.L. Fornari is a gardening expert on the Cape and Islands. She is an author, lecturer, and a local radio host on numerous gardening subjects.



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