Summer Color:
annuals brighten things up

Some of my favorite combinations, especially for containers, are what I term “grandma garden” colors: deep true purple, bright yellow, bright red, and pure orange. The trick to making this look good is to keep the colors in the high saturation range. Don’t water it down with pastels or blues and off-purples.

Of course, a huge overflow of one plant variety in a single color is a gorgeous presence, too! Hopefully this jolts your imagination into creating your own garden masterpiece. Annuals are ideal for experimentation, check out the annual plant list page for individual variety choices.

I’ve always liked a tighter color scheme, with a limited palette, for an entry way. It is welcoming without being distracting. Also, it can provide a nice background to showcase the container plants, flower boxes, or hanging plants that often accentuate a front porch.

Flower Garden Color Schemes

My favorite color scheme one year was primarily blues: blue Petunias, Lobelias, Ageratum, with white Alyssum around the edges. A salmon pink, white and blue combination with salmon and white geraniums, and blue Ageratum and Lobelia was extremely good in front of evergreens and flanking a stair. Now, with containers, almost any colors can be used …because if you don’t like the way it looks, just move or re-pot the container!

For the more public view of your garden, usually the front yard, a color scheme that harmonizes with your home’s exterior is the most pleasing. While orange brick and bright fuchsia pinks might be exciting to some people, it is very jarring to the eye. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use bold color combinations, but that those choices should complement the house’s exterior colors. If you have a white or cream colored house you can choose most any color combination. If your house colors are brown or brick, subdued colors, gray foliage, peach and burgundy are striking combinations. If your house is blue or green, the pinks, reds, whites can be a cheerful contrast. If your house is yellow, a blue color scheme could be just the point of contrast that frames your house with complementary color. A good place to start thinking about color is my page on landscaping with color.

An example given for a brick house from Archinspire.Com portray a warm and subtly cheerful color group.

“Azaleas, flowering crab apple tree, gold mound spirea, fothergilla and viburnums were planted for early spring color. Gold mound spirea, “Royal Burgundy” barberry, red Knockout roses and “Happy Return” daylilies for late spring and early summer color. Oakleaf hydrangea, purple coneflower, liriope, “Autumn Joy” sedum for mid and late summer. For fall color, the burning bush, fothergilla, oakleaf hydrangea and Gold Mound spirea. Also, dwarf blue spruce, gold thread false cypress, ‘Blue Princess’ and ‘China Girl’ hollies along with the formality of the boxwood hedges. Decorative containers for annuals, astilbe perennials and ‘Angelina’ sedum for ground cover.”

For annuals this example would include soft faded pinks (as the coneflower and sedum perennials suggest), and golden yellows, reds and whites. This bright scheme could be used with the brick, brown, or yellow houses. Pinks come in a very wide range from soft ones such as in this scheme to very bright purple-toned hues. Those are best saved for blue or white painted homes.

Wondering whether a warm color combination (reds, oranges, yellows) is better or a cool one (pinks, purples, blues, grays)? Observe the light exposures. Bright warm colors sparkle in areas of intense sunlight (such as the south or west side), while pastel, cool colors look fabulous in dappled sun or deep shade areas (north or under trees). I wrote about this in my color theory page.


Color Schemes

Grandma’s Garden
Purple heliotrope, purple pansy, yellow marigold (tagetes), orange calendula (the English “marigolds”), bright red geranium or red salvia, dahlberg daisies. Some bright white marguerites or allyssum thrown in and make it sparkle; this combination is made for Midwestern sunshine! Zinnias in the right colors work in this garden,too.
Fairyland Mists
Pink and white Cosmos, Gypsophilia, Nigella, Candytuft, “Mother of Pearl” Shirley poppies, Ageratum, Lobelias, cream Zinnias, Lavender and pink Petunias (‘Chiffon Morn’ is a dreamy color), pink and white Dianthus, pink and white Nicotiana, and mixed annual asters. Spikes of pink hollyhocks, blue Salvia, and carpets of Alyssum and violas,belong here as well.
Monet’s Kitchen
‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories, ‘Blue Ensign’ Convolvulous, Dahlberg daisies, white marguerites, blue Salvia ‘Victoria’, yellow and blue petunias, primrose yellow hollyhocks, and Lavatera ‘Mont Blanc’.

Ideal for containers

Growing annuals in containers is one of the most adaptable ways to brighten up the garden. One of the plantings I’m repeating this year is a success of the past: two raised beds planted with small bulbs followed by tiny delicate annual flowers. Hanging baskets are favorites for porches, and they can be single profusions of just one type of flower or a combination of several chosen companions. Traditional containers such as window boxes have often decorated apartment windows and cottage windows alike. All planted with easy care annuals.


heliotrope grown as an annualHeliotrope is an example of a plant that is actually a tender perennial. Because we cannot grow these in our Northern climes, we use them as annuals for a single season.
Pelargoniums, or geraniums as they are often known, are another example of this type of plant. Since these don’t finish out their lifespan in one season (as true annuals do) they may be carried over from season to season if brought into a sunny space indoors. Cutting back and repotting, or taking cuttings for new plants are two ways to overwinter your favorites.
Fragrant Annuals:

How To Plant Annuals Successfully

for a garden calender for seasonal tasks see Month by Month Garden Calendar

A few tips and techniques:

One of the first attempts (and I always seemed to have beginners luck with my gardening) was with empty egg cartons. Each little egg holder was filled with soil, the top closed to keep in moisture and then opened as the seeds emerged. Sometimes I topped the half carton with clear film like Saran Wrap. Depended on whether the seeds needed light to germinate. These worked well, but there isn’t a lot of soil held within the little holders.


This year I have collected seed from Shirley poppies, and some other plants. Shirley poppies are hardy annuals, which means they will survive the winters of the cold Zone 5 in which I live , but that doesn’t guarantee I get my favorite colors, so I gathered seeds from the doubles, the lavenders, and pink picotees. I hope next years plantings will produce more of these beautiful pastel colors that make Shirley poppies such a sugarplum vision in the garden.


Some annuals are hard to transplant, so they should be sown where you wish to grow them: California Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica) | Oenothera (evening primroses) | Godetia | annual Gypsophila | Lavatera | Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-mist) | Lupines | Nasturtiums| Poppies | Portulaca | Scarlet Runner Bean | Sunflowers | Sweet Peas


Quicklist: hints and tips

Ideas for Annual Color


  • Draw attention to an entry
  • Brighten your perennial garden with all season color
  • Edgings- along walks, under shrubs, beside driveways
  • Try new plantings and color schemes without the commitment of perennials
  • Cheer up the vegetable garden
  • Fill a cutting garden with flowers for arrangements
  • Deadhead your plants: remove spent flowers to reserve strength for the new ones
  • Fertilize with fertilizer that has a high middle number like 15-30-15
  • Water in the morning and soak the ground or container thoroughly


Garden notes

Thaxter cottage garden flowers

A weakness with annuals is that they must have ground prepared each year, and most do not have a strong stature (sunflowers being one obvious exception).

This is why I suggest filling in among more permanent plantings or trimming garden features. The times for ephemeral annual gardens answer in temporality:

if you rent, or make a child’s garden (sometimes it turns into a sandbox replacement since mud is so much more fun), or if you’ve just moved in and haven’t made up your mind what the landscape plan should be, consider annual-only gardens.

Four O’ Clocks
Summer Fragrance

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Don’t Forget


I have two more pages on annuals: annual flowers and planting information and a list of my favorites with descriptions.

Plants wilted after planting? Getting leggy and spindly? Tips for planting successand More tips and hints for a great garden.