8 High-Contrast Perennial Pairings

Updated: Sep 16

The hot, glaring sun washes out colour, so you have to brighten things up in the plant department in order to get a little more "pop" out of your garden. One of the best ways to do this is to utilize richly-hued perennials in tandem to provoke that colour burst, which will focus attention on a particular part of your landscape. The trick here is to use them sparingly and well-spaced, as too many bright tones will simply throw your landscape into polychromatic chaos. So, here are eight perennial combinations for the sun that should put up with the heat and still catch the eye.


Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’ & Salvia nemerosa ‘Blue Marvel’

Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’ & Salvia nemerosa ‘Blue Marvel’
Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’ & Salvia nemerosa ‘Blue Marvel’

Our first combination includes Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’ (Z4), a natural hybrid of Coreopsis auriculata ‘Zamphir’ and C. grandiflora ‘Early Sunrise’. While I am not normally a fan of the latter, ‘Jethro Tull’ brings consistently fluted (tubular) golden-yellow petals and a floriferous nature to the table, but it is still important to occasionally deadhead the spent blooms. I have paired it up with an opposite hue on the colour wheel, the richly cerulean flowers of Salvia nemerosa ‘Blue Marvel’ (Z4), a compact cultivar (10-12” tall) which literally glows in front of the ‘Jethro Tull’.


Digitalis x valinii ‘Firebird’ & Echinacea ‘MOOODZ Meditation’

Digitalis x valinii ‘Firebird’ & Echinacea ‘MOOODZ Meditation’
Digitalis x valinii ‘Firebird’ & Echinacea ‘MOOODZ Meditation’

I am really excited about the new Foxglove (first introduced in the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show) featured in this next duo, as Digitalis x valinii ‘Firebird’ (Z7) features stately coppery-peach spires with pointed petals, and it blooms from May through summer with deadheading. I knew as soon as I saw them together, that the metallic yellow to salmon-pink rays of Echinacea ‘MOOODZ Meditation’ (Z4) were a perfect compliment to this new foxglove. This fast-growing coneflower will grow to 2’ tall, with ‘Firebird’ peaking behind it at 3’.


Gaillardia ‘Dwarf Goblin’ & Monarda ‘Balmy Purple’

Gaillardia ‘Dwarf Goblin’ & Monarda ‘Balmy Purple’
Gaillardia ‘Dwarf Goblin’ & Monarda ‘Balmy Purple’

This is about the sharpest of contrasts in garden design, but for the brave, a scarlet-yellow-purple combination screams for attention. We start with an old reliable Gaillardia ‘Dwarf Goblin’ (Z3) that bears radiant pinwheels of scarlet centers sharply edged in fringed yellow tips — these will bloom from early summer to fall with faithful deadheading. It can be paired side-by-side with the compact beebalm Monarda ‘Balmy Purple’ (Z4) which has intense purple blooms and good mildew resistance. Those of you having trouble overwintering Gaillardia should choose a site with sharp winter drainage, otherwise they rot out.


Flower Carpet Rose Scarlet & Lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander’

Flower Carpet Rose Scarlet & Lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander’