Pink is a color that is very abundant in flowers. It’s so easy to find, in fact, that some people disdain it as being too common and not sophisticated. Pink is romantic, feminine (except in Japan, where it has masculine associations) and old fashioned. It’s a color of happiness and is lighthearted; it encourages friendliness. Except for shocking pink, it’s a soft color, one that doesn’t attract a lot of attention or overpower unless it’s used in quantity. It’s one of the best colors to use in big, billowing swathes.
Pale pink flowers work well in moonlight gardens; they reflect light almost as well as white does. Brighter pinks attract hummingbirds. Pink can lean to the yellow side (warm pinks that verge on peach) or to the blue (cool pinks that edge towards mauve). Pink interplanted with white flowers makes for a Victorian look, especially if your garden furniture is old fashioned and painted white. Pinks and blues create a soft, soothing effect; impressionistic and quiet. Pink with purple is still soft, but more sophisticated, especially if you use darker purples. Pink is stunning with gray, especially gray foliage. This combination is makes the pink stand out even more than it does against green.
There are pink flowers available for every season and in every plant type; bulbs, annuals, perennials, shrubs, vines, trees. Primroses, hyacinths and tulips start the season in spring, in shades of pink from palest to bright. Later, iris (most of which tend towards purple, but there are some true pink ones) take center stage, and then peonies, which offer every shade of pink in singles, doubles and bombs; some even have a few extra petals coming out of the center of the stamens like an extra, ‘bonus’ flower. Dianthus species are called ‘pinks’, but, while many of them are, indeed, that color, the name actually comes from the serrate edges of their petals. Lilies and glads offer many shades of pink. Pink Oriental poppies are actually salmon, but opium poppies do come in true pink. For shade, some astilbes are pink, including the uniquely formed ‘Ostrich Plume’, which has arched stems and drooping flowers. In the evening primroses, Oenothera kunthiana is a bright, medium pink and O. speciosa ‘Pink Petticoats’ is a soft light pink. The medium height Nepeta ‘Pink Dreams’ is a change from the more common purple, being a very pale pink that fades to white. Malva moschata, the musk malva, is a medium pink plant that looks like a very dwarf, bushy, hollyhock. Achillea millefolium, the common yarrow, is available in shades of pink- in fact, because the flower color fades as it ages, you can have every shade from dark to light on one plant at the same time! Later in the year, the tall sedums start to bloom. Some, like ‘Matrona’ and the variegated ‘Frosty Morn’ have pale pink blossoms that last a very long time and invite beneficial insects. And of course, tall phlox and fall asters provide color late in the season.
In annuals, cosmos is my favorite pink. The color ranges from pale to deep pink, the plants bloom from early-mid summer on, and they seed themselves without becoming pests. I haven’t planted cosmos in a few years now, but plenty of them come up every year- even though birds love the seed heads! Of course, petunias run a close second for me; also available in every shade of pink, in singles, doubles, stripes, stars and halos. Other good pink annuals are snapdragons, garden balsam, begonias, godetia, clarkia (a native plant for the area!), China asters, cleome, English daisies, and, the showiest, dahlias, which not only range through the shades of pink but through the most incredible variety of flower forms. All of these plants are easy to grow, although petunias can be finicky to start from seed.
Most shrubs have fairly short bloom times, but when in bloom they attract a lot of attention. While most pink lilacs have a purple cast to them, the late blooming (unlike other lilacs, it blooms on new wood in summer) ‘Miss Canada’ is a clear, bright pink. Like the lilacs, most hardy pink rhododendrons have a purplish look to them, but the super hardy, deciduous ‘Rosy Lights’ azalea is a true pink. Most of the Spirea japonica varieties have pink flowers, and bloom for a long period, with some repeat: ‘Anthony Waterer’, the orange foliage ‘Gold Flame’, the smaller ‘Little Princess’ and the super dwarf (18” tall) ‘Magic Carpet are all good choices. Like yarrow, these plants will frequently present several shades of pink at one time as the flowers fade. Weigelas virtually all have pink flowers. While the standard green foliaged varieties are beautiful, there is a variegated version whose white edged foliage grabs attention even when the plant is not in bloom. My favorites, however, are the ones with dark burgundy leaves, like ‘Midnight Wine’. The pink flowers stand out against the dark foliage like gems on a black velvet dress. Hydrangeas offer bright pinks in the mop head types, but they don’t bloom reliably in all areas of the Inland Northwest. The P.G. varieties, however, are rock hardy, bloom abundantly even in the colder areas, and offer flowers later in the year when flowering shrubs are scarce. The standard P.G.s bloom white and fade to a lovely, dusty antique pink, but some of the newer ones like ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ are bright pink from the time the blooms open.
The queen of the flowering shrubs is, of course, the rose- the word ‘rose’ has come to mean ‘pink’. Every shade of pink- almost white, medium pink, deep carmine, cool pinks with a touch of blue to warm peachy pinks- can be found in roses. The old European garden roses- the Albas, Centifolias, and Gallicas- contributed this color to the family in abundance. To me, one of the most beautiful uses of pink in the garden is a big, billowing old fashioned pink rose draping casually over a fence or gate. A great one to use this way is the brilliant pink large flowering climber ‘Felix Leclerc’, a continuous blooming, nearly thornless beauty that is hardy to zone 3. If you don’t have room for one of those big shrubs/climbers, ‘The Fairy’, a polyantha rose, can create a miniature version of that scene, growing next to and over the edges of the steps. ‘Morden Blush’ is a pale pink that fades to white; this is a casual looking shrub that fits into most landscapes. ‘Quietness’ is almost as pale, but is an upright rose rather than a shrubby one. The blooms are unfading and produced right through autumn. ‘Mordan Centennial’ is a medium pink, sturdy, medium height shrub rose that blooms in long flushes throughout summer. ‘Nearly Wild’ is also medium pink, but has large, single flowers, giving it the look of a wild rose but blooms continuously all summer. For a more formal looking rose, ‘Aunt Honey’, a hardy Buck rose, is medium pink, extremely fragrant, and, while classed as a shrub rose, looks like a floribunda; it fits into a more formal garden or a more casual one.
With all these plants to choose from, you can have pink in the garden from snow melt to snow fall. Pink almost always looks fresh, no matter what time of year.