I don’t have to tell you that red, white and blue is an extremely popular color scheme in these parts.
If it hasn’t already occurred to you to carry these patriotic colors from your house, your car and your wardrobe to your garden, don’t worry. There are plenty of choices for gardeners in a Yankee Doodle frame of mind. People have approached me about this idea, trolling for possible plant combinations, and I stand ready to do my part.
For a big 21-gun salute of a splash, you could create a living flag, a red-white-and-blue parterre garden. I hasten to add that this idea is not original to me; I saw it done this fall on the lawn of a municipal building down the Shore.
The trick to this idea lies in choosing flowers of similar size and growth habit that can be counted upon to bloom simultaneously. It occurs to me that you could do a really cool early spring version with red, white and blue moss pinks (Phlox subulata), which create 4-inch-high mats of flowers atop needle-like evergreen foliage.
In high summer, you could do the same with annual salvia (Salvia splendens), which comes in red, white and a deep violet-blue. Park Seed will make you a deal on a “Patriotic Collection” of verbena, for that matter — order seeds of ‘Sandy Scarlet,’ ‘Sandy White’ and ‘Blue Lagoon’ and go crazy.
Want something just a touch more subtle, flag-colored schemes without the flag? Suspend from your eaves hanging baskets of red and white cascading petunias underplanted with deep blue lobelia or blue fan flower (Scaevola aemula).
Or color a trellis with ‘Heavenly Blue’ and ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ morning glories and the creamy, nearly white cathedral bells, Cobea scandens ‘Key Lime.’ You could also do it all with clematis, teaming up ‘Niobe,’ the best red, with a white like ‘Henryi’ or ‘Snow Queen’ and a blue like ‘Blue Light’ or ‘Will Goodwin.’
In the garden proper, the real problem is not nailing down reds and whites, but finding adequate blues, the rarest color in the floral paintbox.
For early summer, I like the notion of pristine white Shasta daisies and red Asiatic lilies with one of the top-of-the-season blues. There’s delphinium for the patient and brave, but also think about the worthy false indigo, Baptisia australis, which forms a small shrublet with spikes of pea-like blossoms, or the intensely blue anchusa, which at 4 feet looks like forget-me-nots on steroids.
The annual Chinese forget-me-not, Cynaglossum amabile, also has thrilling, deep blue flowers, a long blooming period and modest size, perhaps 12 to 14 inches. Try it with white cosmos — ‘Sonata’ is my new favorite — and red trumpet lilies or scarlet mallow.
Another combination, perfect for the vase, might be fat red zinnias with the spiky blue veronica ‘Crater Lake’ and a cloud of white baby’s breath. Or get traditional good looks with red and white roses, underplanted with blue catmint (Nepeta ‘Blue Wonder’), the mat-forming campanula ‘Blue Clips’ or a violet-blue lavender like ‘Hidcote,’ which stays a compact 18 inches or so.
Got nothing but shade? Go for red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and its blue counterpart (Lobelia siphlitica), trimmed with a skirt of white impatiens. You can hum “America, the Beautiful” while the hummingbirds zip from flower to flower.
Toward the end of the season, lay in some bulbs for next spring’s show. Go for a smaller version of the famous ‘Blue River’ featured at the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland. Picture a stream of blue grape hyacinths lapping at clumps of the white daffodil ‘Geranium’ and the early-blooming species tulip Tulipa praestans ‘Fusilier,’ a screaming red if ever there was one. This combo should bloom in mid to late April.
For May, I can see red and white Darwin tulips awash in a sea of blue forget-me-nots, Myosotis alpestris, or starry little woodland anemones, Anemone blanda. Or how about red and white peonies with English bluebells, Scilla nutans, at their feet?
The possibilities for an all-American garden are intriguing, no lie, but I’ve got to stop here. Plot out your own scheme and go for it. Your country is counting on you.