Where do landscaping and patriotism intersect in America? In July 4th plantings, of course! Plantings of red, white and blue flowers are a classic way to express patriotism in the U.S. Below I will present some of the tried and true flower combinations used for July 4th. I will also mention a few plants that you may not have thought of as options.
But achieving the right color scheme is not enough, as plants "have a mind of their own" and come with certain growing requirements. So along the way, I will supply you with tips to ensure that your red, white and blue flowers will be happy in their new home. And since this project is all about creating an effective display, I'll inject a few landscape design ideas, too.
1. Traditional Plant Selections for July 4th Plantings
When you come right down to it, the challenge in finding combinations of red, white and blue flowers is not distributed equally among the three colors. For a July 4th planting in full sun, one typically has a few options from which to choose for the red flowers and the white flowers. It's blue that is not very cooperative. Among the annuals (see below), there just aren't that many blue flowers that would be suitable. Some people substitute bluish lavender flowers or even light purple flowers for blue, but that's really cheating, isn't it?
That is why, of the various flowers traditionally found in July 4th plantings, ageratum may be the most indispensable. People who do not even know this plant by name are familiar with it; they may refer to it as "that plant with the fuzzy blue flowers." That's why I go with ageratum as the representative for blue in two of the three traditional patriotic color combinations that follow:
- Color Combination #2:
- Red salvia
- White petunia
- Blue lobelia
- Color Combination #3:
- Red snapdragons
- White heliotrope
- Blue ageratum
2. Why Limit the Red, White and Blue Flowers to Annuals?
"Surely there are red, white and blue flowers to choose from among perennials and shrubs, too, right?" the novice may be objecting at this point. That's true. However, one of the attributes of annual plants that makes them so well suited to this project is that you can count on them to be in bloom when July 4th rolls around. The same cannot be said for many perennials or shrubs.
But wait: there's more. Annual choices for red, white and blue flowers will be preferred for the following reasons, as well:
- Annuals are cheaper
- Annuals boast a long blooming period (you can install them early, if you wish, without fear that they will go by)
- Annuals will stay short (or can be made to stay short), which is typically what you want in July 4th plantings
Of course, there's no rule saying that shrubs can't mingle with your red, white and blue flowers. A tidy shrub with attractive foliage can supply a planting with much-needed structure. In the picture at left, observe how the boxwoods enhances this July 4th planting.
3. Mix and Match in Your July 4th Plantings
The foregoing doesn't imply that you can't mix and match, though, or experiment. For example, while not technically an annual, Victoria Blue salvia (picture at left) is often treated as if it were one in the North. This flower provides a nice blue alternative for those sick of ageratum. In fact, a flower previously mentioned, heliotrope, falls into this category as well (i.e., technically perennial but often treated as an annual).
The perennial, Shasta daisy can fill the role of the white flower in the patriotic triad.
Depending on the zone in which you garden, bee balm or Maltese cross may be blooming on Independence Day. These two perennials could fill the role of the red flower (with the Maltese cross offering a better red color).
Note, however, that none of these perennial choices supplies you with a plant that is short (or can be pinched back so as to remain short), the way alyssum or ageratum does. This limits your design options. For certain designs, you simply must have a type of plant that hugs the ground -- a compact plant that explodes with floral color. That's why, while it's fun to think about perennial alternatives, you can't beat annuals for red, white and blue flower plantings.
4. Relaxing in the Shade for July 4th
You may be wondering why I have yet to mention certain popular annuals with which you may be intimately familiar, namely: impatiens, wax begonias and coleus. There's nothing wrong at all with using these annuals in July 4th plantings. However, I suggest that you reserve them for areas in light shade, not full sun. They have similar water requirements, too, making them good companions for each other.
As with sun-loving annuals, though, this shade-loving group doesn't offer a lot in the way of blue flowers. To fill that slot in your red, white and blue color scheme, you can grow a less common annual called Browallia. Blue lobelia (a versatile plant already referred to above) will also take light shade.
Both impatiens and wax begonias commonly bear red or white flowers, so those two colors shouldn't be a problem for July 4th plantings in light shade. For a different touch, take advantage of the brilliant foliage of a red-leafed coleus.
Whatever you choose to grow, remember that you can increase the flower power of many plants by deadheading. In some cases, the need to remove spent blooms will be inescapable, even if for only aesthetic reasons. For example, petunia blooms "melt" after a heavy rain, leaving an ugly mess behind. For that reason, if you're looking for a low-maintenance display of red, white and blue flowers, avoid petunias.
5. Design Ideas With Red, White and Blue Flowers
You can design with red, white and blue flowers in numerous ways. Here are a few ideas:
- Group your flowers so as to form an American flag (this no-brainer is an oldie but a goodie)
- Mass plants of one of the colors together to form a heart shape, with rows of the other two colors radiating out of it
- Grow your red, white and blue flowers in concentric circles (this is the easiest design for beginners)
- Arrange your red, white and blue flowers in a container
In implementing ideas 1-3 above, it will become readily apparent why plants on the small side are preferred for such July 4th plantings. You can easily "paint" a design with them, so to speak. Or to employ another metaphor: you need to juxtapose a bunch of small, colorful plants to create a "mosaic."
Those with a creative flair, however, might well find a use for taller plants in certain designs (although an excessive number of tall plants will obscure your more petite selections). For example, in the design with concentric circles listed above, try placing a taller plant at the epicenter to serve as a focal point. A tall red geranium (an older plant that has put on some height over the years) could be surrounded by alyssum and ageratum. Pinch the ageratum back to keep it looking compact; alyssum can be kept short simply by giving it a haircut periodically with scissors.
More creative designs may also vary plant form and texture. To meet the need for a red flower, for instance, try Celosia: either the plumed type or the crested type (cockscomb) would provide your July 4th planting with a nice variation in texture.
When arranging in a container, include something with a trailing form (habit) that will spill over the rim. In the picture (above left), white million bells (Calibrachoa) performs this function).
Another landscape design principle to keep in mind is unity. Don't grow a wild mish-mash of different kinds of plants. Instead, repeat a plant type, and grow it in masses. That's why, in the combinations I've presented, you'll notice I name three plant types for each. Four is OK; five is probably pushing it.
Finally, remember that this is all about creating a display. Some settings are better than others for optimal effect. A small group of short plants simply won't show up very well if they are growing too far back from the road. For designs meant to mimic a flag or a heart, a gradual slope makes for a better setting than flat ground, where the shape you worked so hard to create won't be discernible unless you're hovering right over it.
Now that you have plenty of ideas for your patriotic planting, perhaps you could use some tips in planning your perennial beds. If so, and you'd like to have a good book to guide you, read my review of the Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations. I think you'll find it helpful, since the author does all the research that you, yourself would otherwise have to conduct.