By Mel Bellar
Many gardeners who are total snobs about yellow in the garden believe that it has no place. I am not sure why this is—but I think it might have to do with the fact that so many weedy plants are yellow. Case in point: dandelions, goldenrod, and the evil wild parsnips, for starters. Or maybe it is because yellow seems too “common” and topped by the undeniable fact that there are some profoundly garish shades of yellow out there.
Personally, I don’t eschew yellow in the garden but there are yellows that make me cringe and some that just make me want to squint. Generally, I like the softer more pastel yellows. However, I am fine with a school bus color (which I think is more orange than yellow) or your run-of-the-mill black-eyed-Susan color. And while I love the buttery “Moonbeam” coreopsis, I can’t stand the yield-sign “Zagreb” variety (cringey.) The same goes for potentillas; I avoid the more common, bright yellow varieties like “Yellow Gem” (which I consider to be a gas station plant) but the softer yellows like “Primrose Beauty” are quite welcome.
Yellow feels like a harbinger of Spring. We have thousands of the yellow “King Alfred” daffodils in our garden which certainly brighten things up and make me happy (but in truth I admit to preferring the white ones, “Mount Hood”). Last year I planted 1000 winter aconites bulbs in the wooded area along our driveway, which are the very earliest yellow you can get in the garden. They may not be the usual shade of yellow that I like, but, they are readily forgiven because they bloom in March! It was a joy to see them this Spring. For most of my life, I have had a mild disdain for forsythia, but recently I have started to warm up to its cheery Spring presence. When it is cared for and not an overwhelming gangly mess, I actually like it. Forced branches of forsythia in a big vase in the house are a very nice touch in those early Spring months.
Moving on through the season, I have started accumulating primroses in my garden and I prefer the paler yellows, but I have a couple that could blend in with an egg yolk that are OK too! This collection started with Price Chopper primroses that I brought home for a spring dinner party, then put them in the garden after they faded. Much to my surprise they came up again the next Spring and put on a worthy show, so I have been adding to them every year since.
There are a couple of other early yellow bloomers that aren’t very common that I love and have in our garden. Corydalis lutea, (fumewort, yellow fumitory – very funny common names) has a nice buttery shade of yellow and is the sweetest little woodland plant. It is the same family as bleeding hearts and looks like a smaller version of our native bleeding heart, but yellow! It reseeds and has a very long bloom time starting in May. Also, Packera aurea (Golden Ragwort) is a cool native woodland plant that has daisy-like blooms in early May, and is a great addition to the shade garden, as there is little that blooms yellow in the shade. The color is kind of innocuous, but this plant has attractive shiny serrated rounded leaves and makes a nice groundcover.
Daylilies are part of the vernacular of farmhouse plantings in the Catskills. The rampant orange roadside daylilies are, well, orange, but there are many yellow daylilies. I like some of the fancy ones for an accent now and then. The two popular, forever-blooming varieties, Stella D’Oro and Happy Returns don’t interest me that much, but of the two, Happy Returns is by far the most attractive IMHO. And I must mention the Lemon Lily which is a very different daylily. It has darker leaves, taller stalks, blooms much earlier and is quite fragrant. The yellow is bright, but calm. I forgot how it got into our garden, but my wife reminded me that our gardening enthusiast friend, Lynell, gave them to me.
Evening primroses often work their way into gardens because everyone wants to give them away… uh um, I have some. I find them cringe-worthy in large swaths as the color can be overbearing, but in smaller clumps, or mixed in a meadow, they are merely squintable.
There are dozens of varieties of black-eyed-Susans and sunflowers that come in different shades of yellow and have varying positive and negative attributes. There is a whole article to be written on this, but suffice it to say that they are an important staple in the late Summer and Fall garden and you should have a few varieties in your garden unless you are a total yellow snob.
It is a known fact that plant geeks and gardening aficionados love something unusual and rare. You can be sure that if there were a new bee balm (Monarda) that was yellow, everyone would want it. I have these tendencies too. The “Butterflies” magnolia is beautiful with its nice buttery yellow flowers (if you can get it to bloom!). There is one true yellow allium available Allium moly “Jeanine” that I, of course, had to have for my hot garden. I love the yellow azaleas although I am generally not a fan of azaleas. There are yellow peonies that I would like to try, and the list goes on.
Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener.~