From acid brights to cooler tones, green can be relaxing or refreshing, and it’s not just for foliage. Louise Curley reveals the surprising variety of green flowers out there
When you think of the colour green, it probably conjures up images of lush foliage, neatly mown lawns and newly emerging growth in spring. But does it make you think of flowers? Plants have, in general, evolved to produce blooms in colours that stand out from the foliage in order to attract pollinators. As a result, green flowers aren’t common; but there are probably more out there than you think.
They certainly have a curiosity value; some green flowers have evolved slightly differently from other blooms; instead of petals, they have green bracts – modified leaves that surround the actual flowers. But green flowering plants are much more than a garden oddity. There are shrubs, perennials, climbers and bulbs that have green blooms, and these can be every bit as beautiful as their more colourful cousins.
Just as green foliage can be used to create different moods, so too can green flowers. They come in a range of different tones – from vibrant acid greens that are close to yellow on the colour spectrum, to jade greens with a touch of blue in them, and creamy hues featuring just the subtlest hint of green.
Cooler tones of green – those with hints of blue and white – have a calming effect and work well alongside flowers in similarly soft pastel shades; they will also shine in shady corners. Meanwhile, flowers with zesty green tones – many of which tend to emerge in spring – add vibrancy to a border. They have a strength of colour that means they partner well with other, equally eye-catching flowers – for instance, tulips and wallflowers in jewel-bright colours.
Then there are the mid-greens. These will complement all colours, whether they’re leaning more to the cool or hot side of the spectrum. Use mid-green flowers in the same way as you would foliage: to provide a foil for the more showy blooms planted nearby.
Many green flowers have the added bonus of being great for cutting. Some work best when displayed on their own in a vase – the likes of zinnias or Primula ‘Francisca’, for example; others, like Dianthus ‘Green Trick’, can take the place of foliage and be mixed in with flowers of other colours.
Green flowers may lack the statement-making ability of reds, yellows or blues, but they are versatile enough to deserve a place in any garden.
9 flowers to green up your borders
Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ AGM
Elegant shrub producing snowball-like flowers that emerge in acid green tones in May/June, before gradually fading to creamy-white. Ideal for the back of a border, in sun or part shade. Has fabulous autumn leaf colour, too. H&S: 13ft (4m).
Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Jewel’
An unusual echinacea with a deep green, thistle-like centre surrounded by zesty lime petals. Team it with pale yellow and white blooms in a sunny spot in well-drained soil – it won’t like winter wet. HxS: 28inx1ft (70x30cm).
Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ AGM
The trumpet-like flowers of this half-hardy annual appear all summer, and perfume warm evenings with their after-dark fragrance. Keep well-watered to reduce the risk of powdery mildew. Sow in April or buy plug plants. HxS: 2x1ft (60x30cm).
Euphorbia x martini
Martin’s spurge provides great sculptural presence in a border, particularly in spring and summer, when the upright stems are clad in clusters of long-lasting green bracts with eye-catching red centres. Evergreen. H&S: 21/2ft (75cm).
A statuesque biennial, featuring huge greeny-yellow, domed umbels in early summer; these later dry to fantastic seedheads. Plant in a mixed border or in the veg patch – use both seeds and stems in cooking. HxS: 61/2x4ft (2×1.2m).
Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ AGM
A base of ivory white with broad flashes of green on each petal in April-May – it makes for a cool, stylish tulip. Plant in a sunny position in well-drained soil and, unlike many tulips, it will reliably return each spring. HxS: 20x4in (50x10cm).
In late summer and early autumn, the towering stems of this little-grown bulb are covered in ivory-green, bell-shaped flowers. Plant in spring, in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Mulch or lift in autumn. HxS: 28x20in (70x50cm).
Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’
Compact, deciduous shrub; branching stems are topped by conical clusters of flowers – they fade from lime green to cream, then blush pink. The summer flowers give way to coppery-coloured seedheads. H&S: 4ft (1.2m).
Mathiasella bupleuroides ‘Green Dream’
A favourite with Chelsea designers, ‘Green Dream’ has loose umbels of cup-like, jade-green bracts protecting the smaller flowers. These bracts take on coppery tones in summer and autumn. Hates winter wet. HxS: 4x2ft (1.2mx60cm).
3 spring greens to plant garden-ready
Helleborus viridis subsp. viridis
This simple, elegant native hellebore has nodding lime green flowers held on tall stems above leathery, dark-green foliage. It blooms from February until April and is best grown in part shade, but is otherwise unfussy. H&S: 16in (40cm).
Primula ‘Francisca’ AGM
Well worth tracking down for the multiple stems of distinctive fringed flowers, in jade-green with yellow centres, held above neat rosettes of foliage. Hardy perennial; needs acid-neutral soil that’s moist but well-drained, in part shade. Flowers: Mar-May. HxS: 8x6in (20x15cm).
Want a dainty, evergreen clematis that’s covered in masses of fragrant, pale-green blooms in spring? ‘Pixie’ ticks all the boxes. It will scramble up a support or tumble over the sides of a container, and can be used as groundcover. H&S: 39in (1m).
4 annuals for cutting
Dianthus Green Trick
They may not be actual flowers, but who cares? The shaggy, vibrant green pompoms of this sweet William – sitting on top of sturdy stems – work perfectly as a foil in flower arranging. They are not only long-lasting but highly prolific, too. HxS: 11/2x1ft (45x30cm).
Chrysanthemum ‘Green Mist’
Ideal for adding to autumn vases, a frost-hardy chrysanthemum with magnificent spidery, lime-green flowers that are made up of rows of slender petals. Either lift plants or give them a deep mulch before winter. H&S: 20in (50cm).
Zinnia elegans ‘Envy’
This half-hardy annual has unusual semi-double, creamy, lime green blooms that work well alongside pastel flowers in a vase or bouquet. Zinnias don’t like root disturbance, so sow direct where they are to flower, in a sunny position in well-drained soil, in mid-May. HxS: 2ftx20in (60x50cm).
Gladiolus ‘Green Star’
Plant in late spring for fabulous summer spires of elegant, silky, ruffled petals in a zingy lime-green. Needs full sun and a light, sandy soil. In cold gardens, cover with a deep mulch in autumn, or lift and store corms somewhere frost-free until the following spring. HxS: 39x6in (1mx15cm).
Get the best from greens
- Don’t use too many different green flowers in the same border or they will lose their impact.
- For a dramatic look, create a massed planting of one variety of green flower – grown as an informal hedge lining a path, Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’ has real wow factor.
- Yellowy-greens will draw the eye and make planting come towards you, while paler greens will recede and make a space feel bigger.
Unusual options to try
Bells of Ireland is a hardy annual with tall spikes covered in apple green ‘blooms’. These are made up of oversized calyxes that form a hood over the actual – rather inconspicuous – flowers. Great for cutting. HxS: 3ftx16in (90x40cm).
All the flower parts of this rose have become leafy structures; bright green at first, they later develop coppery-pink shades. It’s a repeat-flowerer and makes a neat plant. You’ll either love it or hate it! H&S: 3ft (90cm).
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Where to buy
Crocus – crocus.co.uk 01344 578000
David Austin – davidaustinroses.co.uk 0800 111 4699
Sarah Raven – sarahraven.com 0345 092 0283
Taylors Clematis – taylorsclematis.co.uk 01302 700716
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Did you know…?
- In the 19th century, the green pigment in paints used to create elaborately patterned wallpapers contained arsenic, a highly toxic poison with carcinogenic properties.
- The human eye is most sensitive to the colour green; we can see more shades of it than any other colour.
- Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that allows them to absorb light and, in turn, convert it into the energy they need to grow.