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Color champions of the mountain west: 22 choice plants for your most spectacular summer garden ever.

Color draws the eye and lifts the spirit - it's no wonder most gardeners can't get enough. They dream of vibrant flowers and foliage that last a season or longer but are still easy to grow and, if possible, easy on the West's precious water supply.

We found 22 real-life examples of those dreamy plants after asking horticultural experts in each region of the West to list the most outstanding color-makers - annuals, perennials, shrubs, and vines. The top vote-getters are the plants the panelists recommend to nursery shoppers, install in clients' landscapes, or grow in their own gardens. Many are familiar, but others are so new to the nursery trade that they aren't yet in the Sunset Western Garden Book.

Shop for these plants at well-stocked nurseries. Depending on your garden's climate and soil conditions, you can set out the plants from this month through May. Remember, even unthirsty or drought-tolerant perennials and shrubs need extra water during their first summer.

Use these richly hued beauties to brighten your garden's bare spots. And consider this: If you find space for just some of the plants listed here, you'll enjoy the most colorful summer ever.


California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Tender perennial. Scatter its seed in a sunny area and this unthirsty native of California will give you a great show of 2-inch blooms on foot-tall plants in late spring and early summer. Orange is the classic color, but red, yellow, pastel, and bicolor varieties are now available. Plants often self-sow. Full sun. Summer water extends bloom.

Dahlberg daisy (Dyssodia tenuiloba). Tender perennial. This Southwest native is covered with golden daisies for most of summer. A compact plant (3 to 6 inches tall, 6 to 12 inches wide), "it can fit as easily into a formal design as a naturalistic one," says Panayoti Kelaidis. Full sun. Little water.

Dwarf cup flower (Nierembergia hippomanica violacea). Tender perennial. Bell-like floral cups 1 to 1 1/2 inches across cover this mounding 6- to 12-inch-tall plant throughout summer. The species bears blue to violet flowers; the best variety, 'Mont Blanc', has white blossoms. Full sun. Regular water.

Jupiter's beard (Centranthus ruber). Tender perennial. For showy bloom in areas with poor soil or dry shade, this unthirsty plant is hard to beat. It bears clusters of red, pink, or white ('Albus') flowers from early spring to midsummer. Sun or shade. Little water.

Scaevola. Tender perennial. This Australian native is a champ in Salt Lake City, where it is grown as an annual. Blue or purple flowers form in fan-shaped clusters through most of summer. The varieties 'Blue Wonder' and 'Purple Fanfare' do well in containers; 'Mauve Clusters' works best as a bedding plant. Full sun. Moderate water.

Verbena bonariensis. Tender perennial in coldest areas; comes back in milder mountain regions. Spikes of purple flowers - magnets for butterflies - are borne on branching 3- to 6-foot stems all summer. Full sun. Little water.

Zinnia angustifolia. Annual. Small, tough, and mildew-resistant, this zinnia can hold its own in any mixed bed or container. It bears orange flowers summer to fall. Full sun. Light to moderate water.


Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia species). Abundant daisies with dark centers bloom over a long season. Among the best is R. fulgida 'Goldsturm', which bears 3-inch flowers from June to frost on 2-foot plants. R. hirta 'Indian Summer' (6- to 9-inch flowers) goes from seed to bloom its first summer. Full sun. Moderate water.

Common sneezeweed (Helenium hoopesii). Masses of golden yellow daisies on 3- to 4-foot plants appear for several weeks between July and September. Native to the Rockies, it does fine on hot, dry sites. Full sun. Little water.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'. A hybrid form of montbretia, it grows from a corm and produces masses of bright red blooms that open on branched spikes for as long as a month in late summer. The plants reach 3 to 4 feet tall and have sword-shaped leaves. The corms need a heavy blanket of mulch to protect them in winter. Partial shade in hot-summer climates. Light water.

Gaura lindheimeri. Throughout the summer, this Southwest native bears dainty white or pink blossoms on wispy stems. Plants reach 2 to 4 feet. 'Siskiyou Pink' is widely available. Full sun. Little water.

Ice plant (Delosperma cooperi). Spring through fall, it bursts with hot rose-purple flowers. This ground cover is so hardy it can easily tolerate 0 [degrees] if it's insulated by mulch or snow. Lauren Springer favors D. floribundum, a newly introduced species. Both need good drainage. Full sun. Little water.

Penstemons. There are many species and varieties, all with tubular flowers that appear throughout summer. Springer grows the dainty P. pinifolius 'Mersea Yellow'; it forms a low mat of heatherlike leaves and large, daffodilyellow flowers. Kelly Grummons prefers 'Prairie Jewel' hybrids, which come in shades of blue, lavender, burgundy, plum, wine, pink, or white; they make quite a show on 3- to 4-foot plants. James Klett suggests 'Mexicali' hybrids (many colors) for gardens with alkaline soils. Give them all well-drained soil. Sun or partial shade. Little water.

Phlox nana (also sold as Santa Fe phlox). A Southwest native, it produces hot pink, 1-inch flowers from May through frost. The plant grows 8 inches tall and 12 inches wide. "The greatest phlox ever," as Springer calls it, is quite hard to find. One mail-order source is Plants of the Southwest (800/788-7333; catalog $3.50). Full sun. No extra water once established.

Pincushion flower (Scabiosa). One of the best perennial forms is 'Butterfly Blue', which bears pale blue, 2-inch flowers resembling pincushions from June to frost. Its cousins 'Butterfly Pink' and 'Pink Mist' are nearly as good. Full sun. Moderate water.

Scarlet hedge nettle (Stachys coccinea). This is a big hit with hummingbirds, who draw nectar from the tubular flowers that open on 2-foot spikes over a long season. But don't put this plant in the hottest spot in your garden or its red flowers will fade to light pink, warns Grummons. Although not hardy in the coldest areas (Denver may be its limit), it's easily grown from seed and blooms its first year. Full sun. Light water.

Silver sage (Salvia argentea). This biennial has first-year rosettes of white leaves that are as big and bold as rabbit ears. The second year, a 4-foot candelabra of white-hooded flowers rises up for a grand finale. Grow it in a dry spot. Sun. Little water.

Sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris). A Southwestern member of the mint family, it sends up spikes of fragrant, orange-and-lavender flowers over 2-foot plants. Hummingbirds are drawn to the nectar-filled blooms that start in late July and continue through summer's end. Full sun to partial shade. Regular water.


Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa). It is "absolutely lovely in flower and fruit," says Dick Hildreth. The flowers, resembling single white roses, come in spring, followed by feathery fruits that cloak the plant with a soft pink haze in summer. It grows to 3 to 8 feet tall. Give it well-drained soil. Full sun. No water once established.


Common trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans). Lush, tubular orange-and-scarlet flowers pop from a vine that can grow to 40 feet. Springer prefers the species, which blooms heavily in late July, then sporadically until frost. It's hardy in most places; even when it freezes to the ground, it usually bounces back. Full sun or partial shade. Moderate water.

Sweet autumn clematis (C. dioscoreifolia; sold as C. paniculata, C. maximowiczina, or C. terniflora). In late summer and fall, it produces a cascade of fragrant white flowers on a 20-foot vine covered with glossy leaves. It's hardy enough for Denver and Salt Lake City but won't take it much colder. Keep the roots shaded; let the top grow in sun. Regular water.

Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Scarlet, trumpet-shaped flowers bloom all summer long on a vine that can reach 12 feet. It's semi-evergreen in cold-winter climates and needs protection to survive in the coldest areas. Full sun or light shade. Moderate summer water.


* Kelly Grummons, part-owner, Timberline Gardens, Arvada, Colorado

* Dick Hildreth, horticulturist. Red Butte Garden & Arboretum, Salt Lake City

* Panayoti Kelaidis, plant evaluation coordinator, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver

* James Klett, professor of ornamental horticulture, Colorado State University, Fort Collins

* Lauren Springer, garden designer and writer, Masonville, Colorado
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McCausland, Jim
Date:Mar 1, 1999
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