The Scarlet Flower

It’s a grey day, one of a long line of grey days, and I am feeling color deprived. So I thought: why not write about some favorite flowers by color?

red r

Readers of this blog know that my favorite colors in the garden are orange and blue. However, I’ve already written about orange and blue flowers. (To read those posts, click here or here.) But not red.

Red is associated with blood and anger, but also with passion and romance. As hot colors go, I find orange to be more cheerful and upbeat. Red often seems to have a brooding quality, especially later in the season. Even so, I like red flowers very much. In fact, I aim to have some red flowers in every season.

Species tulip 'Fusilier'
‘Fusilier’ is a species tulip that blooms in March.

First, of course, are the tulips. Tulipa praestans ‘Fusilier’ is a very early red species tulip that will wake you up after your winter slumber.

2015-05-04 08.24.14 couleur cardinal
‘Couleur Cardinal’

Later comes the Early Single Tulip ‘Couleur Cardinal’. You could argue that this tulip is more purple than red, as it has purple flaming on a background of scarlet. But why hide this beauty on a technicality?

Tulip 'Kingsblood'
Tulip ‘Kingsblood’

In May comes ‘Kingsblood’, with dark red tepals bordered in scarlet.

Paeonia anomala
Paeonia anomala

After tulips come peonies. Paeonia anomala is an early bloomer with ferny foliage.

Peony America
Peony ‘America’

The peony ‘America’ blooms later and looks upward, whereas P. anomala nods a bit.

2014-07-04 16.22.45 Asiatic lily
Asiatic lilies

Asiatic Lilies start blooming in early summer. I’ve long ago forgotten the names of the Asiatic Lily varieties growing in the garden. They are the decendents of a naturalizing mix planted long, long ago. Odd that the current generation is mostly orange, but there are also some yellow and a few dark red.

July 7f Red and yellow lilies
‘Chicago Apache’

When it comes to red daylilies (Hemerocallis), my favorite is ‘Chicago Apache’. Truthfully, it’s the only red daylily I have, so it’s a good thing I think it is also the best.

7 Honeysuckle
Trumpet Honeysuckle

Another early summer red is provided by the native North American vine, Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). This plant reminds me of one of the challenging things about color in the garden: few flowers bloom in a pure color of any kind. Take this Honeysuckle, for example. You could argue it is more pink than red.

2014-07-16 10.32.46 monarda raspberry wine
‘Raspberry Wine’ bee balm

As summer progresses most of the red in our garden comes from ‘Raspberry Wine’ Bee Balm (Monarda didyma).

Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm
Nativar ‘Raspberry Wine’ Bee Balm with straight species Wild Bergamot, a member of the same genus.

This is another plant that is somewhat ambiguous as to color. Is it really the color of raspberries? I’ve been told that the color raspberry comes from mixing red with maroon. But rather than being a touch dark, this variety seems to have a slight purplish cast.

DSC_0259 Indian pink
Indian pink

Indian Pink (Spigelia marylandica) is a good red flower for later in the summer, though when it opens there is a yellow star at the end of the red trumpet. My understanding, by the way, is that this is called “Pink” not because of the color but because it looks like it was cut with pinking shears.

DSC_0470 marigolds

Fortunately, there are many annuals that come in a wide variety of reds. Here’s ‘Disco Red’, a variety of Marigold (Tagetes patula) of which I am fond.

Pentas, Cigar Plant
Star flower, with cigar plant in the foreground.

Pentas, or Star Flower (Pentas lanceolata) is another annual that comes in some good strong reds. And that’s Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea) with the tubular flowers – arguably red though possibly closer to orange.

7-22 Cardinal Flowers 2

In my view the best of all the red flowers is one that, sadly, I don’t grow anymore: Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Few plants can match it’s clear, striking scarlet (though scarlet is supposed to be red with a touch of orange).

Unfortunately, Cardinal Flower is short lived and rather fussy as to its cultural needs. For years it kept dying on me and I kept replanting it. Finally, I gave up.

What’s your favorite red flower that you grow in your garden?


59 Comments on “The Scarlet Flower”

  1. All the red flowers in your photos look pretty cheerful to me! I don’t think you can beat a red tulip, and at the moment I have a deep red geranium in the garden that loves the sun, makes me think I’m in Greece or Italy…
    Good luck with the cold weather!

  2. I have several daylilies that are red; a lily; Cardinal vine; Japanese Maples; Coral Bark Maple. Gosh I can’t think of much more red. I love red.Must have more red. I love your peonies. I don’t have much sun to work with. I think you need more sun for peonies. That Cardinal flower is a tough cookie unless you have it’s preferred habitat. I am always stunned when I run into it blooming in the wild.

  3. I can always depend upon you for a beautiful tulip fix since I can’t grow them with all the rodents who live here (chipmunks, squirrels). 🙂 You’ve also made me think that I don’t have any ‘red’ flowers that I can think of right now. I just bought some Bishop of Llandaff Dahlias that are red, and I always have some red annuals, but I’m thinking I need to rectify that. 🙂

  4. Great choice of colour to feature close to Valentine’s Day, Jason. I love red, wear it often, use it whenever I can in the garden. I think my favourite is Lobelia cardinalis. Like you, though, I’ve given up on it. It comes easily from seed then peters out almost in a single season. Has anyone had a different experience?

  5. You’ve shown so many nice reds. That ‘Raspberry Wine’ is something I’d like to have but the regular monarda is pretty aggressive–not sure I need more. Burgundy reds are my favorite but difficult to find for the garden (for me anyway).

  6. As a fan of red flowers, I’m embarrassed to be stumped by your question. I guess it would have to be Dahlias, though I’ve not been as successful with them lately, due to the gopher problem. I’m always on the hunt for new reds, so this post is most welcome.

  7. I like all of your choices Jason especially Monarda didyma, your post reminds me to look out for it here, I think I’ve admired it in your garden before. A favourite red I grow at home is a Geum – Mrs Bradshaw which works well in tubs with grasses and in borders too.

  8. I’ve always preferred pastel colors in the garden–pinks, purples, and blues. But over the years, I’ve begun to appreciate the accent of hot colors. I don’t have a lot of red, so I guess my favorite reds would have to be the roses as well as the red poppies that come up all over my garden. Ironically, I don’t care for orange, but I hope to have some orange tithonia this year, though I still don’t know where I’m going to put it.

  9. A lovely post Jason – so good to see some colour in these grey days. I remember seeing pictures of your Pentas before. It isn’t common here, and I have only seen pink ones, but that red one is really striking. I love the red pineapple sage in summer, Salvia elegans. They are not hardy, but they do flower non-stop till the first frost.

  10. Cardinal flower is my favorite red too. I think that red isn’t my favorite in the garden in general but then there are all kinds of exceptions that I really love: pure red and blue red roses, St. Joseph’s lily, true red tulips, Indian pink and coral honeysuckle (and there are probably others that I’m forgetting now).

    I find cardinal flower difficult to grow too. It grows wild here and I’ve just found it easier just to enjoy it where it pops up in the ditches. The same with downy lobelia. And I think here it really does need to grow here where there is periodic running water – one year I tried growing it next to a small pond that DH had dug, and cutworms chewed it off just as it was starting to bloom. I know that’s not the case everywhere but that’s what happened here.

  11. Hello Jason, I would have expected you to have Crocosmia Lucifer on the list too! That’s what we have an every time I try and take a picture of it, the intense definition-red of the flowers is too much for the camera and blows the red out to a uniform mess. It’s a flower so red it can’t be pictured!

  12. Pingback: How To Care For Double Take Scarlet Storm Flowering Quince –

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