Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

In Praise of Yellow

January - Aconites are out under trees

Sea of aconites

Is January the coldest greyest month? Or, if you know where to look, is it blooming? A carpet of naturalised Eranthis hyemalis covers the side of a hill near my house. It looks as if yellow paint has been spilled down the side of the hill, liquid sunshine to brighten up the gloomiest day. The tiny yellow blossoms are held above the decidous carpet of leaves by a sharp green ruff of leaflets. This tuber does well in heavier soils, where it can reproduce undisturbed. Here it is under a glade of beech trees and advantageously blooms when the rees are bare of leaves. 

The colour yellow is the colour is spring in my book. And although this isn't my book, it is my page, so go with it! 

primula vulgaris

Primroses and narcissus... the beacons of longer days. Often flowering simultaneously, they bring in March and crocuses and daylight savings time. 

Narcissus at West Dean

One of my favourite shrubs for spring is Forsythia x intermedia. Flowering before the leaves appear, this hardy shrub produces hanging yellow blossom along the length of the branches. We have it here at Wyck Farmhouse clambering up through a rowan tree. It is blooming now in harmony with the many daffodils.

Forsythia over wall

This shows a forsythia shrub tantalisingly on the other side of a garden wall on the High Street in Haslemere.

Candelabra primula at Muncaster Castle

These Candelabra primulas flower from late spring to early summer, preferably on moisture retentive, humus rich, damp slightly acid soils. This photo was taken in May in the bog garden at Muncaster Castle in Cumbria. 

Yellow can be used effectively in the border. Verbascum 'Gainsborough' AGM has palest yellow flowers which provide visual relief from stronger colours. A visual resting point can be calming. I plant this in the border at intervals; with nepeta, peonies, poppies, and alliums. The strong vertical emphasis contrasts nicely with 'fluffier' plants.


I especially love love love the California poppy. Colours range from creamy palest butter to sizzling hot orange. These flowers come into their own at the front of a hot sunny border. It is a generous self-seeder as well.

california poppy

By the end of the summer, much of the border will be looking a bit tired and in need of a tonic. This is when the daisy-like flowers and prarie plants really sing. 


Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' is a perennial sunflower which can reach heights of up to 1.8 m/6 feet. Helianthus 'Loddon Gold' has double flowers. These are useful for the back of the border and can also be used in flower arrangements. The small flowers are about 8-10 centimetres in diameter. 

And finally... no garden would be the same without some roses. Yellow roses range from the climber Rosa banksii Lutea which flowers once in early summer, to the repeat flowering medium shrub 'Golden Celebration'. These is a rose for almost every garden situation. Our 'Golden Celebration' has been not stopped flowering this winter. 

yellow rose

It is starting to look a bit bedraggled but what could be better on a dank rainy day then to see a cheerful ray of sunshine in the form of a flower soldiering on.

I urge you to give yellow a chance. You won't regret it!

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