Using Yellow in the Garden

Ligularia ‘Little Lantern’, Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’, and Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’

Yellow is one of the most cheerful colors. It adds sparkle to an otherwise subdued color scheme. Yellow can be used as an  exclamation point, or placed strategically to draw the eye to a particular area of the garden border. In the photo at right, yellows are combined into a grouping of plants that all bloom at approximately the same time, but with a variety of leaves and flower shapes–an effective device to use with any color, but shown here with yellow.

There are clear lemon yellows, golden yellows, green yellows, and orange yellows to choose from. Unless the garden is large, or unusually colorful, yellows are most satisfying visually when the palette is limited to no more than two of the four yellow hues. Also, because yellow is such a striking color, at least two separated groupings of yellow help to provide a sense of balance in the border.

Yellow combines well with a surprising range of colors, and looks wonderful with grasses, but discovering just the right combination(s) is often a case of trial and error.  Clear yellows can look wonderful with soft pinks, but soft lavenders tend to work better with orange yellows. Adding some plants with lime green leaves can also be effective for integrating yellow into the border.

Berberis ‘Bonanza Gold’ image courtesy of

Fortunately, plant breeders have developed some new, smaller shrubs with yellow leaves that can be easily introduced into the mixed border, so that yellow doesn’t need to be limited to flower color. Several varieties of smaller Berberis (Barberry) and Spiraea have neat habits and lovely yellow foliage. Variegated hostas can also add a touch of yellow and are often more sun tolerant than their darker-leaved hosta relatives.

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