Monday, June 11, 2012

Consider the Colors When Planting


Have you ever driven by a house and seen orange flowers, next to bright pink flowers, up against a clashing shade of brick?  Consider the color of your house and the color of neighboring vegetation when you add trees, shrubs, or flowers to your garden.

In my flowerbeds, I have set color schemes to make purchasing annuals for color and perennials and shrubs easy.  In the back border, I use pastel pink, blue, and yellow for all plants, except for a few that have white flowers.  In the border around the vegetable garden, I use red, orange, purple, and yellow—“hot” colors. The bright colors complement each other when planted together.

Chartreuse and burgundy by the front door
In the garden by the front door, I plant shrubs, perennials, and annuals in shades of burgundy and chartreuse, with white flowers.  The muted burgundies and purple do not clash with my brick house, as a garish orange or pink might, and the unified color scheme gives some of the order expected along the front of the house, while also adding some creative features to an otherwise boring foundation planting.

If you remember the color wheel from art class, you will know that the primary colors are yellow, blue, and red.  Orange, purple, and green are between those colors.  Planting flowers that are across from each other on the color wheel, such as yellow and blue, or orange and purple, make each color stand out.  Think of sports teams: many of them use opposite colors for their team logos. 

Orange, red, and yellow are warm colors; throw in some purple flowers for contrast and you have a flamboyant and pleasing garden.  For a more peaceful garden, plant pastel shades.  Near my patio, I have a garden with white flowers and plants with silver and variegated green and white foliage.  At night, white is more visible than other colors.  As I gained experience in gardening, I began to figure out how to plant flowers that bloom in different seasons the same color.  For example, dianthus blooms pink in spring, phlox blooms pink in the fall, and asters bloom pink in fall.  Planted together, they provide a nearly continuous swath of pink. 
Pink and yellow at Seed Saver's Exchange, Decorah, Iowa


When you plan your garden, steal another lesson from artists: plant in odd numbers.  Artists know that three or five objects are more pleasing to the eye than two or four.  Try it yourself with some framed pictures or other movable objects on a blank tabletop: try to make a pleasing  arrangement with four objects, and then try with three or five and see what your eye prefers. 

Remember that if you do not like the arrangement of the objects when you put them in the ground you can dig up the plants and move them around without much damage to the plants, as long as you keep them watered.  I have some perennials and shrubs in my yard that have had several homes before I found the correct one.

A garden will always be a work in progress.  Plants die, or grow bigger or smaller than the gardener wants or needs.  Ironically, the garden area at my house that’s the most visible, by the back door everyone uses, currently looks the worst.  I planted a tea olive there when we moved in 7 years ago, knowing I would have to prune it heavily to keep its size under control, because deer do not eat it.  The perennials died, and the bed is partially empty.  The tea olive looks like a 5-year-old gave it a haircut.   Now that I have an electric fence to keep the deer out, I’m thinking about pulling out the tea olive and putting in some other shrubs that are more appropriate for the space, along with some more perennials.  

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