Cool Green Gardens

Too Bad My Dog’s Color Blind – Sizzling Hot Colors of Summer

I’m finding it hard to believe that the longest day of the year has already come and gone. Here in Santa Barbara the weather forecasts are dominated by what’s lovingly called June Gloom – fog and low clouds that skulk in from the Pacific in the evening and linger well into the afternoon.

I love it. Quite frankly, I’d be fine living in Portland or Seattle, just as long as someone would occasionally take a wire brush to me and scrape off the lichen.

I was walking my dog the other afternoon and as is frequently the case, I had my trusty camera with me. Biff the Wonder Spaniel is a patient soul, waiting as I compose my shots. We were just taking a short neighborhood walk as the sun was shooing away the last of the gloom when I noticed that we were surrounded by all the hot colors of summer.

I love designing with sizzling colors— they bring a dynamic energy to gardens this time of year and welcome us to linger outdoors. Sensuous red, brilliant orange and sunny yellow radiate warmth and call to us from across the yard.
These shots, all taken within a few blocks of my house, caught my eye. Enjoy…

Canna lily is a signature plant in many of my designs. I like the strength of their thick, vertical stems, the bold texture of their broad leaves and the frilliness of the blooms. This cheerful shot of Canna ‘Cleopatra’ reminds me of a flamenco dancer’s billowing skirt. Some call it the Harlequin canna—I think I like that.

If Cleo is a bit gaudy for your taste, a simple flash of solid orange might be more to your liking. Canna ‘Tropicana’ (hey, that rhymes!) not only has this stunning flower, but also features variegated leaves alternating with green and pinkish stripes.

Biff was so blasé about this shockingly red bougainvillea. Probably something about dogs being color blind. What most people think of as the flowers are actually brightly colored, papery bracts that surround the small white blossom in the center. All they really need is bright sun and to be kept on the dry side. Then stand back—bougies have a reputation for vigorous growth and vicious thorns that project from the twigs. Beauty and the Beast, you might say.

I get all goofy when I see a display like this. These coreopsis were just so darn cheery, thriving on neglect in an out-of-the-way street tree location. Easy to grow,  unthirsty and crisp green foliage year round—just my kinda perennial.

Though it sounds more like something from a slasher movie, blood red trumpet vine (Distictis buccinatoria) is actually something you might desire around your house. It can be a bit aggressive, so give it strong support and space to ramble. This tender vine hails from Mexico and can’t really handle temps much below 25-deg. F, but will take all the heat you can throw at it.

Still with me? Like a bolt of golden lightning, this shocking stalk of chard made my jaw drop. As if the color alone didn’t look like something from a kid’s box of crayons, the sensual curve of the stem just called out to be photographed.

Santa Barbara’s climate allows us to grow plants from all five Mediterranean climate zones. These exciting Aussie plants are named for the iconic marsupial we all associate with the land of the Great Barrier Reef and giant cans of Foster’s lager. Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos species) gets its name from the fuzzy paw-like flowers that emerge atop slender stalks. The foliage is grassy, so even when out of bloom the plant brings year ‘round, spiky vertical interest. I especially like this mixed planting that pairs the heat of yellow and orange in a chaotic dance.

So what’s hot in your garden this summer? I’d love to know.


View Comments


  1. Kate_Frank 06/26/2009

    Wow! Nice post... great photos.

  2. flowergardengirl 07/01/2009

    I use to live on Vandenberg AFB just above Lompoc and we had fog every day. The Indians called it the land of the plague. It was nice to drive down to Santa Barbara and get some sunshine and see the color. What a truly beautiful city! Fun to know that you were responsible for a lot of what I was seeing. Wish I had known you at the time.

  3. kells 07/05/2009

    The world needs gardeners who practise the religion of color ecstasy!

    I'd like to share with your orange/yellow/red contrasting hot color selection a fab addition to the mix...

    Terry Dowdeswell's New Millennium 'Pagan's Purple' Delphiniums.

    These delphs are full-on show stoppers, espectially in mass plantings (borders) with your aforementioned color palette, Billy!

    Saluti to a world filled with passion and vivid color!

  4. GardenWiseGuy 07/06/2009

    Kells - thanks for the comment - those Delphiniums are real show stoppers! I wish we could grow them as successfully in Santa Barbara - they work here, but not as robustly.

    The other man's grass, delphiniums etc. are always greener (or bluer, as the case may be). Keep in touch.

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