A Few Thoughts About Color

 

red-nicotiana.jpg

Given that there are 3 primary colors, and three secondary colors, and infinite possible combinations and permutations of those 6 colors, makes the topic of color a big one.  Have you ever tried to pick a color for a room from 10,00 paint chips?  I will admit I buy a lot of quarts to try before I commit to gallons of a color.  Understanding and working with color is hard.  Annual and tropical plants provide a level and longevity of color I do not get from my trees, shrubs and perennials.  It could very well be that the reason that I so love container plantings is that they enable me to explore the element of color-over and over again. The relationship of one color to another, or a color scheme, is of interest to me as a garden designer.  Planting annuals is the best way to try a color scheme on-before you commit to it in the landscape.  Explaining why certain color combinations are attractive, interesting is not so easy.  Pictures make things easier.  This dark red nicotiana pops when it is paired with a contrasting color, and when it is placed so the light shines through the petals.  This scheme-electrically charged by the rays of the sun.

phlox-and-violas.jpgExplaining why certain color combinations work, and why some schemes are attractive and interesting to my eye-not so easy.  My approach to color is very personal and intuitive.  I am just like every other gardener.  Some schemes seem right-others seem off putting.  But there are some observations I can make about color that might abet your choices.  This picture makes it clear that pale colors appear to come forward, while dark colors appear to recede.  The idea here?  If I have a mind to plant dark colored flowers, I plant pale colored flowers behind them.  A light background helps a dark color to read.

yellow-orange-and-white.jpgHot colors-as in red, yellow, orange, and hot pink, light up a shadier spot.  Fancy leaved geraniums contribute to a color composition via their leaves.  The Skies of Italy geranium has leaves of red, burgundy, green and yellow.  The color of the leaves of this geranium can help knit a color composition together.

farfugium.jpgShiny green is a very different green than matte green. The surface of a color can influence how that color reads.  A dining room painted in red high gloss lacquer is a much different dining room than one painted in matte wine red paint.  Color provokes emotional and associative reactions.  The reaction that matters?  yours.  Look at  a lot of color combinations before you commit.  This makes good design sense. Emerald green is a combination of yellow and blue,  fairly evenly matched.  How does this emerald green look with the colors of the flowers you have chosen?  Choose your greens!

red-and-yellow.jpgRed can be dark and moody in the garden.  It can be royally rich-when paired with yellow.  Pale yellow with dark red is not quite the brass band that fire engine red and gold yellow makes.  Pasiring red and yellow has many possible interpretations.  A variation on a traditional color theme can be very striking.  My advice-if you are developing a color scheme, pick 3 colors.  Two colors is a story with not enough detail.  The third color facilitates the relationship between the first two.

a-shade-of-white.jpgHow many shades of white are there?  White white.  cream white.  blue white. rosy white.  Greenish white.  Even an all white color scheme asks for some attention to be paid to the particular shade of white that works.  Some white flowers have yellow centers.  This would suggest that a yellow green foliage would compliment that shade of white.  Blue-white flowers, such as this silverberry petunia-yellow flowers would contrast.  Dark purple flowers would harmonize.

millet-jester.jpgHarmonious colors tend to be quieter.  More serene.  Contrasting colors provide visual excitement.  Lime green foliage always looks fresh and spring like.  Red with lime-very pleasing.  Lime with white-fresh.  Lime and orange-provocative.  Lime and purple-don’t you like this?  Lime green in the sun?  oo la la.  Lime green in the shade-the lights are on in this garden.  Lime green and pink-so Coco Chanel or Lily Pulitzer.  Pale lime and pale pink-fragile, ephemeral-breathtaking.  Wildly lime-a light fantastic version of green.

the-blues.jpgI will admit I like planting containers with plants all of the same tone and color.  The exploration of a single color in a lot of different plants makes a strong visual statement.  It focuses the eye on texture-another important design element.   If you are a big fan of texture, stay steady as you go with the color.  Contrast the texture.

pink.jpgAre you a fan of pink?  Which pink?   Carmine pink.  blue pink.  coral pink?  pale pink?  Dark carmine pink?  Blue pink?  Not all pink flowers harmonize.  If you are hoping to stir things up, plant a variety of pinks, and let the chips fall where they may. More interested in a strong and harmonious statement about a blue pink-you eye will tell you when a yellow based pink is gumming up the works.  Put lots of plants in your cart.  Put back those plant whose flowers threaten to dilute your idea.  As for right and wrong-that applies only to moral questions.  This is gardening.  Enjoy it.  Just take the time to sort through the color relationships.

coral charm peonyI have had this photograph of a Coral Charm peony on my computer for a long time-I do not know the photographer. If this is your photograph, please write me. I am posting it, as the color of this peony is so striking and unique, that it surely would inspire a color scheme-a spring color scheme-that would pay tribute to such an extraordinary color.

light-and-dark.jpgLight and dark colors-the contrast is lively.

related-colors.jpgPale pinks with blue green foliage-a great scheme for semi shady places.

carmine.jpgThe carmine pink of this cosmos flower is all the more visually dramatic-given the yellow center, and the burgundy red corolla.  The contrast of the yellow and red center makes that carmine pink shine.

orange.jpgOn the left in this picture-an orange begonia heavy on the yellow.  On the right, an orange tipping towards blue.  There is orange.  There is another version of orange.

bok-choy.jpgThe blue green foliage of the bok choy clearly compliments the color of the blue violas..  The addition of white makes the scheme all the more crisp and fresh.  Cool and clean-this scheme.

purple.jpgLavender and purple-you have choices.  The sun will make its own statement about your choices.  Light and dark purple both colors can be the star of the show.  Both colors can be a supporting cast that makes your central idea shine.  Purple is a color that fits into a lot of different color schemes.

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Sunny yellow-there is nothing quite like it.  Yellow is the color of the light that every garden thrives in.  Have a place for something yellow?  I recommend this level of garden cheer.  Your idea bout color is a good idea.  Another good idea-follow through on your sense of color.  Make the colors work just the way you want them to.

Scheming

This is the time of year I start planting annual plants for clients.  I am hoping we are at the tail end of the third rainiest spring on record; I planted all week last week in the cold rain.  It is a good thing I really like to do this; it kept my mind off my wet feet.  I have other things to think about besides being wet-like a color scheme, for instance.  I just planted one small garden at the shop, in illustration of the idea of scheming.  Scheming can refer to some underhanded activity-I prefer to think of it as an orderly way of working, or a way of working where all the pieces fit together in a satisfying way.  The concept of a color scheme for a garden is easy to understand.  Putting plants together where all of the respective colors workwell together-not always so easy.  

Color schemes that feature contrast will be lively.  The wild card of course is that every flower comes with a plant that has leaf color. The heliotrope pictured above has intensely purple flowers.  The leaf color is a medium green.  Flower color may be your primary interest-but there is a green scheme that needs attention too.  The lime licorice in this pot is a green that contrasts well with both the flowers and the leaves of heliotrope.   

Both the lime and variegated licorice are invaluable in planning a color scheme.  This lime green will read yellow, when planted next to yellow flowers.  It will read very lime green when paired with red flowers.  Red geraniums and lime licorice is a color combination that reinvents the red geranium.

This lantana topiary has several shades of yellow in the flowers.  Both lemon yellow and deep yellow are represented.  Why did I choose variegated licorice in this pot?  That more blue green leaf relates better to the deep bluey-green of the lantana foliage.  The alyssum chosen here is called “citron”.  In a composition featuring yellow, it reads cream yellow.   All of the greens featured here are related.  All of the yellows relate.  

The third element in the lantana pot is a yellow potunia.  Potunias are a series of petunias developed  for a compact habit of growth, making them perfect for a container planting that does not necessarily ask for a trailing element. The lantana pot has a piecrust rim and band at the top-I would not want to completely cover that interesting detail.  The pot is not that large-I would not want it to be overwhelmed by the planting.  But the best part are the two tone yellow flowers-a perfect element for a yellow and green scheme so strongly suggested by the lantana standard.  

Persian Queen geraniums have brilliantly lime green leaves; I value this about them more than their hot pink flowers.  The lavender trailing verbena is a cool and striking foil for both the Geranium, and the scotch moss (sagina subulata aurea). Purple and lime green is a great place to start scheming. 

Variations on a color create visual interest.  Heliotrope can vary from deep dark purple, to lavender.  Sky Blue petunias are a very pale version of Royal Velvet petunias.  Yellow petunias with Sky Blue and  Royal Velvet petunias- a color scheme begins to tune up.  Add some white petunias for bright, and some lime licorice to the green scheme makes for a series of color relationships that create visual interest.

The scheme for this small anuual garden is as follows.  Lavender verbena bonariensis, lime and white nicotiana alata are my tall elements.  Mixes of three plants mix more evenly overall than mixes of 2 plants.  My mid level plant-bicolor angelonia-white and purple in the same flower.  Vanilla Butterfly marguerite is the pale cream yellow verson of the intense lemon yellow “Butterfly”.  Purple heliotrope and yellow potunias finish up that level.  On the border, white, sky blue/lavender and dark purple putunias mixed with lime licorice.  This color scheme-white/purple and lime, with a dash here and there of yellow.  If you think you see petunias and licorice planted from back to front between my tall flowers, you are right.  The big growing annuals take a long time to come on.  I like a bed of flowers that engages my eye from the start as well as the finish.  We’ll see if my scheming amounts to something good looking; I have my fingers crossed.  All is in the hands of the plants, and how they grow, now.