"Moonbeam flowers"

I love soft-yellow flowers.
Sunday, 07 November 2021     

Pale yellow form of Clivia miniata

Lockdown decluttering has revealed a trove of forgotten-about documents, scribblings, letters and other bits and pieces hidden away in boxes and tubs in various cupboards in my house. Some of the finds included drafts of gardening articles written many years ago when I was an occasional freelance contributor to a couple of gardening magazines. One such article was entitled 'Moonbeam flowers', and it revealed how much my approach to gardening has changed in the intervening years!

The subject was my obsession with soft, pale, creamy-yellow flowers, the colour sometimes seen in a full moon. I have always had a deep fondness for the moon, and enjoy watching it in all its phases, perhaps explaining why I still love this peaceful, serene hue more than the in-your-face, brassy glow of golden-yellow blooms (though I do like them too!). I had amassed quite a collection of plants with flowers of this 'moonbeam' colour in my previous garden, which I described in the article. Almost all of them were cool-climate perennials, the sort of thing that do brilliantly in English gardens: Sisyrinchium striatum, Anthemis tinctoria 'Moonlight', Coreopsis 'Moonbeam', Scabiosa oechroleuca, Phlomis russeliana, Nepeta govaniana, Primula vulgaris, Kirengeshoma palmata, Digitalis grandiflora and Digitalis viridflora were some of the plants I listed with great enthusiasm. All were doomed to fade away in my humid Sydney suburban garden, leaving only prettily coloured labels to show they ever existed. I felt quite sad thinking of how my naïve hopes would be dashed not too long after writing the article. It was just as well it was never published!

However, on a more positive note, I realised that even while I was focusing my attention on these perennials, I had also included in my collection a couple of warm-climate plants, even though I paid scant attention to these when writing the article - they were simply mentioned in passing: creamy-yellow forms of marguerite daisies and Dietes bicolor, with its scapes of rounded flowers of the same hue (and not a pest like other species of Dietes). These are the sorts of plants that comprise my garden more than 30 years later, and they still flourish and survive, along with more 'moonbeam flowers' that I have acquired since that are far more suited to the Sydney climate.

These include various Abutilon shrubs, with the softest yellow blooms, in both large and miniature sizes; a hybrid Lantana with its rounded heads of tiny, clustered, pastel yellow flowers; an Ardisia with creamy-coloured berries instead of the usual scarlet ones; Bauhinia tomentosa, with its bell-shaped, black-centred flowers; a lemon-hued variant of Ruellia brevifolia, usually seen with bright red/orange trumpet blooms; a daylily and a Canna with the palest of yellow flowers; clumps of the creamy-yellow form of Clivia miniata; bulbs of the sulphur-yellow Zephyranthes primulina; and a cream Gazania with a hint of yellow at its centre. Pale yellow nasturtiums also sometimes appear in my garden via self-seeding and are very welcome. All these plants prosper in my garden and cause much less heartbreak than those precious perennials. I still look out for more possibilities when visiting nurseries and gardens, which, thankfully, we can now start doing again.

Some other future options include shrubby Brunfelsia americana, the white flowers of which age to cream and pale gold; forms of the sailor-boy daisy (Osteospermum hybrids) with just a whisper of lemon on their petals; various roses; Salvia microphylla 'Iced Lemon'; Portulaca and other annuals; and cultivars of Dahlia, tall bearded irises, Kniphofia, Lilium and Alstroemeria.

I originally grew my moonbeam flowers alongside plants with soft blue blooms and I still do this, as I find the combination very satisfying. I shudder to think of what plants I put in then to achieve this effect but nowadays I use shrubby Eranthemum pulchellum and Salvia roscida; perennial Iris wattii (like a giant form of Iris japonica); and the self-seeding annuals borage and forget-me-nots, to be the companions to the winter and early spring flowers of the Clivia and the Abutilon. Then come the long-flowering powdery blue Plectranthus zulensis along with similarly hued Thunbergia natalensis, as well as Agapanthus to accompany the later blooms such as the Lantana, Bauhinia, Zephyranthes, Ruellia, daylily and Canna.

Plants with cream-variegated foliage can make colour echoes with the flowers: I have used a Syngonium with creamy-patterned leaves; a mystery shrub that could possibly be a compact, variegated form of Buxus; and variegated-leaf Agapanthus 'Zambezi' (which also adds pale blue flowers as a bonus!). Other options can be coleus and Hosta cultivars with pale yellow markings. There are also some variegated succulents that could play a role, including Sedum alboroseum 'Mediovariegatum', which I would like to try in my garden someday.

 Reader Comments

1/7  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 08 November 2021

A fascinating topic - I had not taken much notice of pale coloured flowers until this blog, but I have been encouraged to think of my pale yellow coloured plants. Some of the plants you mention I also grow, including M.daisy, pale lemon clivea, abutilon and a pale lemon verbascum, which I have had for years, but it does not always appear each year. Thanks, Margaret. That verbascum sounds nice! Deirdre

2/7  Geoff - 2323 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 08 November 2021

Thanks for the posting Deidre. I also enjoy the pale yellow flowers and find Dietes bicolor a very useful addition to the garden as it is so hardy, yet doesn't spread like the more common one. I also have a variety with smaller, paler yellow flowers and wide, grey/green leaves that create quite a dramatic effect in the garden. My single, pale yellow hollyhock is also flowering well.

3/7  Shaun - 2075 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 08 November 2021

Deirdre, You're a 'words artiste' too and I love your use of 'moonbeam' flowers, A happy start to my week so thank you, Shaun Thanks, Shaun! Deirdre

4/7  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 08 November 2021

Another inspiring blog to start off the week !! Our gardens certainly change over the years. I too enjoy Nasturtiums popping up here and there especially the yellow/cream one. The yellow salvia now on my 'wish list'. Thanks, Maureen. That Salvia is lovely and I'd like to get it some day. Deirdre

5/7  Pam - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 08 November 2021

I really love the tall Grevillea 'Moonlight' and have a few as they flower for a long period. I have planted the contrasting deep pink Grevillea 'Sylvia' next to 3 of them as they look lovely together. I love that 'Moonlight' Grevillea! Your planting sounds delightful. Deirdre

6/7  Jean - 4035 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 08 November 2021

Yes I have yellow clivia, and the most brilliant shade of yellow day lillies among other pale yellow beauties. The daylilies have so many lovely shades of yellow! Deirdre

7/7  Valerie - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 09 November 2021

I've come around to yellow in the garden in recent years so I especially appreciate your blog this week. My favourite in flower at the moment is the Dietes bicolor. The daisy sounds lovely. Do you know where I could find the Agapanthus Zambezi? I've not seen this one before. I wish Incould remember where I got it from! It may have been from a stall at the Cottage Garden Club in Epping or else the Collectors' Plant Fair. Deirdre

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