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Growing A Garden of Blue Blooms

This article was written by Maresa Giovannini and was featured in our April issue of Home By Design magazine. To visit the original Home By Design article, click here.


Roses are red and violets are blue—but are they, really? Roses, of course, can be found in a kaleidoscope of colors. And violets? Well, they might read a purplish blue to the eye, but they don’t actually have blue pigment. Blue, as it turns out, is one of the rarest colors to find naturally in plants and animals. Here, we take a look at the elusive shade and how you can help it find its place in the sun.

Photography provided by Ukususha/iStock/Getty Images Plus, firina/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Science Specific.

Why is one of the most loved colors so hard to find in the plant world? Because true-blue pigment in plants doesn’t actually exist. Optical tricks have led us to see beautiful blooms as blue; and because of this missing pigment, science reveals that less than 10 percent of the 280,000 species of flowering plants produce “blue” flowers. If you’re looking for any sort of color inspiration from nature (including blue), check out Nature’s Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World. (It is the expanded, 2021 edition of the resource Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, first published in 1814.) In it, for example, you’ll find references to “Berlin blue” via sapphire, the Hepatica flower, or the feathers of a jay.

Color Wheel.

Blue, which color philosophy relates to calm and tranquility, is the perfect fit for a soothing home garden. When designing and planning, consider pairing blue with its color wheel opposite: orange. And always consult your local nursery or extension for hardiness zone and regional information before planting something new.

Plant Planning.

Annuals, perennials, big, and small—there are plenty of ways to infuse your garden with blue. Take up space with eye-catching blue hydrangea shrubs; they thrive in morning light, and you can maintain petal color with acidic soil. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is a long-blooming, violet-blue flower. Delphiniums offer nearly true-blue flower spikes that are short lived and thrive in rich soil. Clematis is a beautiful climbing vine that adds softness to a sharp-edged trellis (look for ‘Crystal Fountain’). Because irises come in many colors, you can plant blue and other hues for a collected look. Select from Bearded, Reticulated, Siberian, or Japanese iris for the best blues.

Blue Daze has it right in the name. The sun-worshipping flower works well in a container or as ground cover. Cornflower is a pollinator-friendly bloom that thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. For a delicate, romantic flower, consider the forget-me-not. Because of its nostalgic name and symbolism, it makes a sweet addition to a memory garden. Late-blooming asters help ensure a blue landscape into autumn. And the crowning glory of blue blooms is the Himalayan blue poppy. Although its Tibetan origins make it difficult and fairly impractical to grow in North America, it’s not impossible. The enchanting flower reveals a shade unlike any other, and makes the true-blue destination worth the green-thumb journey.

“There is an austere elegance about a green garden; pink or yellow or red are frivolous except as accents, but the garden that appeals to the romantic, universal soul is the blue garden. That is why the Blue Garden of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Curtiss James was the ultimate goal of so many Newport Pilgrims.” (Smithsonian Gardens, Archives of American Gardens. Beacon Hill general note).

The Newport, Rhode Island private Blue Garden was first introduced to society in 1913. The homeowners worked with landscape architects to create a grand outdoor space that celebrated the monochromatic palette through plants and finishes. Originally, according to the property website, the garden started the season with blue onion, larkspur, and cornflower. It moved on to hydrangea, iris, lavender, and trumpet-shaped Gentiana in midsummer. Asters and ageratum bloomed in late summer. Finally, leadwort brought year-round color.

After falling into disrepair over the years, the garden was recently reinvented “into a palette of lower maintenance blue and white flowering shrubs, perennials, annuals, and vines.” The garden is open for tours by appointment during the summer months.