Garden Photo of the Day

Color Themes in Barbara’s Garden

Choosing the right colors makes the garden

Today we’re exploring color in Barbara Owen’s garden in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

I enjoy starting my morning with the beautiful photography, plants, and garden design in GPOD. I’ve shared before, but this time I was thinking about color. I’ve always loved working with color, whether it was choosing yarn for a sweater, fabric for a quilt, or flowers for the garden. My favorite colors for a long time have been reds, oranges, and yellows, but I’ve been learning to include magenta, pink, white, and a bit of blue.

red and orange dayliliesMuch of my garden is built around ordinary, sturdy, and reliable perennials and annuals in my favorite colors. I was especially happy to see these red and orange daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrids, Zones 4–10) reappear this summer after being eaten by rabbits for several seasons.

alyssumI enjoy planning for the color schemes in different areas of my garden to evolve through the seasons. In spring, I like to focus on sunshiny yellow, pink, white, and blue. Here, the alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis, Zones 4–9) and slowly appearing daffodils (Narcissus hybrids, Zones 3–8) will fill this area with bright yellow, to be followed by yellow/purple iris and blue woodland phlox.

red salviaThis past summer, four groups of daylilies were joined by red salvia (Salvia splendens, Zones 9–11 or as an annual)—some purchased seedlings as well as some that reseeded from the previous summer)exuberant zinnias (Zinnia elegans, annual) from last year’s seeds, and red dahlias (Dahlia variabilis, Zones 8–9 or as a tender bulb) that were a gift from a friend over twenty years ago. The dahlias need to be dug every fall, but when they reach 6 feet tall and are covered with blossoms, they are worth it! This area is often accented by bumblebees; monarch, painted lady, and tiger swallowtail butterflies; goldfinches nibbling on the zinnias; robins splashing in the bird bath; and hummingbirds enjoying the feeder as well as the flowers.

Lady in Red hydrangeaIn spring, summer, and fall, this area takes its color scheme from an anonymous hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla, Zones 6–9) that was a gift many years ago. It blooms white with pink and blue, then the colors become more intense. That’s a ‘Lady in Red’ hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lady in Red’, Zones 6–9) in the background, which I bought after reading about it in Fine Gardening.

hydrangea blossomsIn fall, the hydrangea blossoms turn a rich rusty rose, complementing a nearby Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, Zones 5–9) as well as its companions here.

deutzia bushesFarther along the border is an area that gets midday to late afternoon sunshine. Next to the fence on the left are deutzia bushes (probably Deutzia × magnifica, Zones 5–8), which are covered with small white blossoms when in bloom. These were all grown from cuttings from a neighbor.

yellow daylilyThe main color here throughout the seasons is yellow. It comes from ‘Butter and Sugar’ Siberian iris (Iris ‘Butter and Sugar’, Zones 3–8); daylilies ‘Irish Elf’, ‘Stella de Oro’, ‘Miss Amelia’, and another yellow daylily whose name I’ve forgotten; yellow primroses (Oenothera species) transplanted many years ago from my parents’ garden; and yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata, Zones 4–8) from a neighbor.

moon gardenThe area around the shed began as a “moon garden”, mostly white to show up in the shade of a large sugar maple and to be visible from our nearby screen porch, where we spend every evening during the summer. I used a green-and-white hosta, a blue-and-green hosta, and ‘Twilight’ and ‘August Moon’ hostas, as well as white astilbe, begonias, and impatiens. The maple is now gone, and in the bright sunshine I’ve adapted the white color scheme to include yellow marigolds from saved seeds, blue browallia (Browallia speciosa, Zones 9–10 or as annual)—I buy a four pack and make lots of cuttings—and a very light pink ‘New Dawn’ climbing rose. I fill the hanging baskets and window box on the shed with white and yellow annuals.

Goldsturm rudebeckiaCompleting the circle of our backyard, we’re back to red, orange, and yellow again with more marigolds, ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, Zones 3–9), orange dahlias, rusty maroon coleus, a red-orange New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri, Zones 10–11 or as an annual) and pots of geraniums (Pelargonium hybrids, Zones 9–11 or as annuals), all reliable plants and not munched on by our prolific rabbit population. I have to laugh at myself when I think of planning the color combinations at the beginning of the season and look at all the yellow marigolds I randomly popped into open spaces. But the yellow looks cheerful in the sunlight or rain and ties everything together.

colorful gardenHere’s a last look before we leave the garden.


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View Comments


  1. Rebeccazone7 10/26/2020

    I have a New Dawn that was planted yrs ago from bare root. It has never performed like I wanted, but I haven't had the heart to take it out. I visited a favorite garden center this week end that had a left over potted New Dawn that I will now go back and rescue. Yours was the impetus I needed...thank you.

    1. bdowen 10/26/2020

      I hope your new one grows well for you. Ours gets a lot of sunshine. I think that helps.

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 10/26/2020

    Love all your colors. They really play off each other so well.

    1. bdowen 10/26/2020

      Thank you. Thats been a source of joy this summer, both the areas I planned and the ones that just happened.

  3. dceddowning 10/26/2020

    A beautiful garden and a very well done set of photos that walks us around and gives us views of the garden from all around. This is inspiring! At least it has inspired me to think a bit less about "what will grow here" and more about "what will grow here and make a wonderful combination of colors". This garden is always a joy to see!

    1. bdowen 10/26/2020

      Thank you Doug. When will we see more photos from your garden?

  4. User avater
    simplesue 10/26/2020

    How nice to wake up to a pumpkin spice latte and look at your beautiful garden and read your story about choosing the colors.
    Every plant is healthy and inspiring!
    Love that little river rock wall around the one bird bath!
    Thanks for sharing, it really was a great way to start my day touring your garden!

    1. bdowen 10/26/2020

      Thank you. Our gardens are lined with walls or just lines of rocks like that. New England soil!

  5. cynthia2020 10/26/2020

    Barbara - I enjoyed looking at your garden and reading about how you planned for color, but have issues like rabbits, and then some bare spots - so added the yellow marigolds to fill in.

    The yellow IS very cheery!

    The overall look is a vibrant and full garden with loads of healthy green leaves. Plus, I love that rose! Thank you for sharing your hard work!

    1. bdowen 10/26/2020

      Thank you. The yellow marigolds have been especially beautiful this summer and even better now in fall’s shorter days and slanting light. Hope I saved enough seeds!

  6. carolineyoungwilliams 10/26/2020

    Your Garden is beautiful, Barbara. I really enjoyed all of your bright colors, the combinations and your choice of plants. Thank you for sharing your beautiful handiwork. Be Blessed.

    1. bdowen 10/26/2020

      Thank you. It’s so important to choose the colors you love. Then your garden just gets better as it grows.

  7. btucker9675 10/26/2020

    Such a lovely garden, especially love the New Dawn rose juxtaposed with the astilbe. Beautiful!

    1. bdowen 10/26/2020

      Thank you. They are both beautiful when they bloom together, then the rose surprises us with bonus blossoms during the rest of the summer.

  8. cheryl_c 10/26/2020

    Barbara, it is such a joy to see your gardens again after seeing your positive comments on other bloggers' gardens! I love your intro - your speaking of thinking of putting colors together being like choosing yarn for a project made me think of the background plants as being a long 'gradient' yarn, with each change of color calling for changes in the contrasting colors. Thank you for a cheery note on a morning of very chilly but much needed rain here in Missouri.

    1. bdowen 10/26/2020

      Thank you. I like your image of the yarn!

  9. bdowen 10/26/2020

    Thank you. They are both beautiful when they bloom together, then the rose surprises us with bonus blossoms during the rest of the summer.

  10. Musette1 10/26/2020

    Barbara - everything about your garden makes me smile! It's a great combination of well thought out color compositions interspersed with touches of laissez-faire, to keep everything relaxed and cheerful!

    And I love the yellow kayaks in the background of the Stella d'Oro daylilies! ;-)

    1. bdowen 10/27/2020

      Yes! I often laugh at how all our colors work together, kayaks included. Thank you for your comments.

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