When I first moved to Washington, I chose plants with blossoms or foliage of pinks, purples and whites for our garden. I wanted nothing too bright - like oranges, reds and yellows - to overpower the strait, the color of slate, that we could see outside our windows.
I have changed my mind over the years and now I am introducing more yellow into the garden. I'm finding it a mood boon in the last several cold springs and then again in fall and winter when the gray skies deaden colors. Yellow-tinged shrubs and plants are reminiscent of the sunlight and become a bright spot, a hope that gray skies will turn to blue again.
Probably the first shrub I planted to change my mind about yellow was the a Golden Box-Leaf Euonymus (Euonymus japonicus 'Microphylla Variegata'). It's a compact shrub, slow growing, about 2 feet high and 18 inches wide. The green glossy leaves are tinged yellow at the tips. Euonymuses do well in coastal conditions. They need sun and good air circulation and, without these conditions, they are susceptible to powdery mildew.
In another part of our garden, where there is a lot of dry shade and protection from winter winds, our Mahonia x media 'Arthur Menzies' is a knockout evergreen specimen for the winter garden. From frond-like leaves, great sprays of golden flowers appear in winter, which develop into clusters of waxy black berries in late summer and fall. Even though it is more compact than many mahonias, it will grow to about 7 feet and half that width.
Remember the entrance forsythia makes in late winter? It's an eye-popping tangle of yellow the clear color of spring daffodils and tulips, almost too bright. An alternate to forsythias is corylopsis, a winter hazel. Many of the winter hazels have little fall color, but the Corylopsis pauciflora has buttery yellow, almost 2-inch, pendulous bell-shaped blossoms year round, with amber color in fall. In spring the new foliage is tinged pink and later turns a bright green. Leaves are deeply veined, just like those of its cousin, the witch hazels.
A lovely ornamental grass of brilliant gold with green margins is Carex elata 'Aurea' (Bowles' Golden Sedge) and it brightens any shaded space. The more sun it gets, the brighter gold it is. It's lovely as a border, especially around water features such as ponds, and also makes a lovely container plant. Where hostas and ferns grow, Bowles' Golden Sedge will grow. It's a clumping grass so it's well-behaved and throws light in every direction. It does need some summer moisture. It does better with too much water than a lack of it. In winter, carex can be cut back.
On an artists' color wheel, violet is the opposite of yellow, its perfect complement. Companion plants that work well with yellows are lavender, sea hollies, alliums, Russian sage, salvia, asters and some of the purple-leaved hebes. While yellow brightens the garden, violets and blues soften the garden, the two colors working together add both depth and a sense of gaiety.
As our summer's daylight shortens and gray skies hover, a touch of yellow is like a ray of sunlight in the garden. It lightens our mood and sometimes energizes us with its electric shine. Yes, I've changed. I'm liking yellow.
Bev Hoffman's Sequim Gazette column appears the first Wednesday of each month. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
(Golden Box-Leaf Euonymus)
Mahonia x media 'Arthur Menzies' (Mahonia)
Carex elata 'Aurea'
(Bowles' Golden Sedge)
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