Combining floral and foliage colors can be an enjoyable and challenging aspect of garden design. The plant kingdom offers a vast range of possible color combinations, including mixes of the various shades of green.
When planning floral color combinations in the garden, a basic consideration is to select plants that will display their colors at the same time. This issue alone can require compiling notes regarding the bloom periods of plants under consideration, drawing on reference materials such as Sunset’s Western Garden Book.
In addition, the selected plants should have similar requirements for exposure, irrigation, and drainage.
Then, it will usually be desirable to select plants of similar size, so that the blossoms will be in fairly close proximity for optimal effect.
Once the gardener has satisfied these placement and cultivation considerations and has identified a good number of candidate plants, the focus can be on deciding the actual color combinations.
Unless the gardener has a natural gift for visualizing and evaluating color combinations, a color wheel is a useful tool for combining colors in a systematic manner, presenting the spectrum of colors in the familiar sequence of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (ROYGBIV). They vary primarily in the range of hues presented. A very basic wheel will show just the three primary colors: red, yellow, blue. A more advanced wheel will include the secondary colors: green, orange, purple. An even more detailed wheel will include the six tertiary colors, which are created by mixing primary and secondary colors.
A search of the Internet will produce numerous examples of color wheels for convenient reference in planning color combinations in the garden.
Color theory can be a lengthy study for visual artists and others seeking to appreciate the subtle relationships among colors. Most gardeners will need only familiarity with the basic color relationships on the color wheel: complementary (opposite colors), analogous (adjacent colors), triadic (three colors evenly spaced), etc. For illustrations of these and other relationships, search the Internet for “color harmonies.”
Real-world combinations might be reflect one of the formal color harmonies, but are as likely to be only a rough approximation. For example, this photo shows a chance mix of a blue-purple salvia blossom and a pink/white geranium blossom. This is a roughly analogous combination, but because the color green adds to the display, it qualifies as a roughly triadic harmony. In any event, if it pleases the gardener, it’s a success!
Another example of a chance mix shows succulent foliage in various shades of green. This too is a roughly analogous combination based on a small sample of the many greens that appear in many gardens.
Here is a brief reality check on color combinations in the garden.
- Creating classic color harmonies requires lots of study to select plants with similar cultivation needs, compatible sizes, and the “correct” floral or foliar colors.
- Many plants will present pleasing combinations of colors virtually by chance. While beauty is in the eye of the etcetera, it’s difficult to imagine mismatched colors in nature.
- Garden magazines often include breathless excitement over apparently random color combinations, and describe them with verbiage about their inspired creativity,
If you discover two or more plants that would provide a good mix of colors in your eyes, move them together or keep them together, and enjoy the effect. Garden design by the book can be time-consuming and frustrating, while botanical serendipity can be a delight.
Enjoy your garden!