It’s yellow season in my garden. Again. Every season but winter seems to be a yellow season but the effect in the height of summer is completely different from the peak of spring bloom or the last hurrah of autumn. Two plants could scarcely be more dissimilar than the Narcissus (daffodil) and the tall yellow yarrow, Achillea filipendulina. The daffodils have it easy: They predominate in the clear, cool light of spring when the herbaceous perennials are just getting their growth in gear and are still discreet green entities. Furthermore, Lady Daffadowndilly epitomizes spring, when the heart, like Wordsworth’s, “dances with the daffodils.” Nobody dances with Achillea filipendulina nor has anyone written romantic poetry about it to my knowledge. Though it seems to be out of favor at the moment for reasons I can’t fathom, it is the summer mainstay of my hot, sunny garden. Attended by other strong yellow flowers, bracketed by cherry and box elder trees, and accented by magenta phlox and wine cups, the yarrow arcs across the south-facing slope below the house, around small pools of mowed grass, large rocks and a stone wall.The ethereal sub-shrub Perovskia atriplicifolia, known as Russian sage, though it is neither Russian nor a sage, and the uncomplicated white Alaska Shasta daisies, are the ideal companions for the substantial, dense yarrow. I wonder if the Perovskia is called “Russian” in Central Asia, in places like Iran and Afghanistan, where it originates? The tiny yellow flowers of the yarrow are packed into bold disks while the tiny, lavender blue flowers of the Russian sage form loose airy spires. Both are tall and straight stemmed, but whereas the pale, willowy stems of the Perovskia are lightly clad with small silvery leaves, the stiff stems of A. filipendulina have bright green, coarsely dissected leaves thick along their length. The yellow-eyed white Shasta daisies break up the monochrome yellow and keep it interesting. One of the attendants is Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Summer Sun,’ more unassuming in texture but with medium-sized daisies that, by chance, match the yellow of the seed grown yarrow exactly. I am taking advantage of this by letting the plants knit together as if I had planned it all along. Surprises like this are one of the pleasures of gardening. Another flower that is always a surprise is the Gloriosa daisy strain of the black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta. Its stiff ray flowers and prominent dark, raised central cone can be as big as the yarrow, up to 6-inches across, on a coarse, hairy plant. It roves around among the other perennials, seeding itself thickly in unpredictable ways and unpredictable earthy colors. The ray flowers may be solid yellow, orange, russet, or mahogany, and are often zoned or banded in any combination of these colors, but always living up to its name, always glorious. I don’t believe I’ve ever pulled one up because it was in “the wrong place.” If the weather conditions are right, the seedlings germinate in the shelter of established plants and then put on quick growth, filling any available gaps before the perennials can overtake them and close in around them. Rudbeckia is annual, biennial, or perennial depending on conditions and can bloom the first year from seed. It is sometimes claimed to be xeric, but it hasn’t proved to be in my garden. Seedlings appear reliably with spring moisture but curl up their toes thirstily before plants long before the, heliopis or Shasta daisies show signs of stress. The last two years the rains must have come at precisely the right time because the black-eyed Susans are outdoing themselves.The yarrow and daisies self-sow too, not aggressively, and the Russian sage can eventually send roots underground to come up feet from the original clump. One plant, along the stone wall, has over many years crept both down- and uphill and now is coming up thickly in a crack between our asphalt paved driveway and the concrete curb. It is one of those charming effects that only time can create; no amount of cash even in our era of instant “mature” gardens can buy it.Yellow, blue and white is a classic combination. Tall yellow yarrow contrasted with blue Russian sage and tempered with white Shasta daisies will give you a long-lasting sumptuous display. If you don’t tell anyone how easy they are to grow, how tolerant of dryness, poor soil and neglect their rugged constitutions are, no one will ever guess by looking at them.Anna has the good fortune to live and garden in Basalt. She’d love to hear about your garden at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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