Bright Blossoms or Pale Petals? The Choice is Yours!
Have you ever looked enviously at a neighbor’s garden and wondered how they achieved such ideal color? Maybe it’s a riotous contrast of red, yellow, and purple, or perhaps it’s all delicate (but distinct) shades of pink, but somehow it just works, and you don’t know why? There’s actually as much science as there is art to maintaining a colorful garden, but once you know the basics, you can create your own perfect palette for a yard as unique as you.
Color by Numbers
When you look at a combination of colors, you intuitively know if they look good together or not, even if you can’t describe why. Light yellow and baby blue complement each other perfectly, but gold and turquoise is headache inducing. Why?
The answer lies in how the eye perceives color, which in turn depends on complicated facts about light and wavelengths. Fortunately, there’s a shortcut for all of us who don’t want to have to learn biology or physics: a color wheel.
As a general rule, colors that are directly opposite one another (like yellow and violet) or colors that are adjacent (like yellow and yellow green, or red violet and violet) offer pleasing combinations. The more complex the color wheel, the more subtle the combinations.
When you combine colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel, you create vivid contrast that gives your garden a bold look. In this case, the color wheel guides you toward colors that stand out against each other without clashing.
Colors that lie next to each other on the wheel complement each other and create a smooth, calm palette of colors. In this case, you may choose one anchor color (like red orange) and supplement it with the colors that lie on either side on the color wheel (orange and red).
What does this mean for your garden? Essentially, it helps you define what you like best. Are you drawn by the energy of bright, contrasting colors? Are you looking for a harmonious blend of similar shades? Once you narrow that down, you can start to design your masterpiece. Here are a handful of ideas to get you started.
The side of the color wheel showing shades of yellow, orange, and red represents warm colors. These hues bring in energy and liveliness, and they can make a large space seem smaller. A garden of warm colors might include Marigolds, Zinnias, Geraniums, Tiger lilies, Poppies, and Tulips.
The other side of the wheel shows the cool colors of greens, blues, and purples. These tend to be calming and soothing, and they can make small spaces feel larger. Plants in cool colors include Delphiniums, Calla lilies, China asters, Columbine, Cornflowers, and Cyclamen.
The Rainbow Connection
Mixing colors is a great way to create depth and visual interest in your garden, so don’t be afraid to play around with fun combinations. If possible, “try before you buy” by visiting a garden center and actually putting plants next to each other to see if they contrast brilliantly, blend harmoniously, or clash blindingly. It doesn’t necessarily matter where the color wheel points you … you’ll know the right mix when you see it.
What Else to Consider
Once you narrow your color scheme, you’ll need to do some homework to find out what plants grow best in your climate and available space, as well as whether they fit your gardening interest. Do you want to lay in some plants and forget about them, or are you ready to spend some time developing your green thumb? Are you looking for year-round color, or do you just want an explosion of color in a specific season?
If you’re a novice gardener, your best bet is then to find a plant-savvy friend or ask for help at a local garden center to bring your color palette to life. You may also want to consider whether your preferred plants will create an environmentally friendly landscape that won’t need excessive upkeep.
Finally, remember that you can bring color into your garden with objects as well as plants. If you can’t find a flower that captures the neon pink of your dreams, look for planters, decorative accents, or patio furniture that pops, or paint a vibrant backdrop on a fence or shed.
In the end, you’re limited only by your imagination. There is no right or wrong when it comes to creating your perfect garden, so let your colors fly!