Color in the garden

stpaulite(z4 MN)April 29, 2006

I've been gardening for a while in a small spaces. So in order to get all the plants I want in, I usually end up with one or two of each. My "style" (if you can call it that) is to group different plants together that I think will look good. However, the color thing continues to puzzle me. Since all the plant colors occur in nature, and nature combines them in all sorts of ways, is there really a "wrong" color combination in a garden? I've heard things like never combine yellows with golds, or pinks and oranges. Since my space is so small, I'm very likely to end up with these colors in proximity to each other. I have a friend who insisted that because she was gardening in a small space, her garden had to be monochromatic (maroon and white). I thought it was pretty, but dare I say it? Dull. So I'm curious how others deal with the color issue. Any thoughts?

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twohuskies(z4A Mpls, MN)

I like the colors all mixed up. I do try to put stuff together that will compliment eachother but it doesn't always work out exactly the way I planned. I also don't believe everything has to look perfect though. Sometimes things that would clash can be put together if they bloom at different times. My garden is 100% done for me and I won't be losing any sleep if others don't like how I have things put together. Sometimes gardens that look too perfect bother me. I like a little chaos..

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 3:17PM
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I divide my garden into hot colors and cool colors. One side contains red, yellow, and orange plants, with some blue and dark purple for contrast ( as well as white). Many of these are annuals. The other side contains blues, purples, pinks, gray and white. Pale yellow can be OK there too. Another thing to keep in mind is tonality. Intense, deep colors work well together even if they might threaten to clash- fuschia and orange, for instance. Pale colors also work well together - pale yellow and pale pink. Chartreuse, grey, and dark purple can go with everything.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 3:37PM
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zenpotter(z4 MN)

I describe my garden as having a riot of colors. I put any colors together that I want to have together. One of the things I do over the winter is to go through my photos to see what color is missing in an area and add it the next spring. I figure it is my garden and why not.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 10:58AM
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Recently I went to a symposium on color in the garden and I asked one of the speakers your question about "wrong" color combinations -- he said it was almost all tradition and personal taste. We laughed about how some garden writers warn that some combinations will "burn your eyeballs out" or force you to rest on a garden bench to "recover." Perhaps those of us who grew up in the Sixties have tougher eyeballs!

Here is a list of my favorite books about garden color, a few of them more traditional but all with great photos so you can decide for yourself what you like best. I decided, for instance, that I like my garden better without any white, pastel, or "muddy" colors, and also without blue (although I like blue in my neighbor's yard! ) And yet orange (my favorite color) is "supposed to" look good with blue.

Also on the list are some good videos: almost everything is available at Southdale library.

Garden Book List

Penelope Hobhouse:
Color in Your Garden
Flower Gardens
Garden Style
Private Gardens of England
6 videos The Art and Practice of Gardening

Christopher Lloyd:
Flower Garden
Color for Adventurous Gardeners
Succession Planting
The Exotic Garden (to be published soon)

Beth Chatto:
Gravel Garden

Sarah Raven:
The Bold and Brilliant Garden
The Cutting Garden

Nori & Sandra Pope:
Color by Design

Noel Kingsbury:
Designing Borders
Plants to Transform Your Garden

Thomas Hobbs:
Shocking Beauty
The Jewel Box Garden

Pamela J. Harper:
Color Echoes
Designing with Perennials

David Stuart:
Classic Plant Combinations

Sydney Eddison:
The GardenerÂs Palette

Tricia Guild: On Color

Tony Lord:
The Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations

Anna Pavord:
Plant Partners

Marylyn Abbott:
Gardening with Light and Color

Rosemary Verey: The Art of Planting

Mary Keen: Gardening with Color

Freya Martin: Creating Contrast with Dark Plants

Elisabeth Sheldon: The Flamboyant Garden

Gisela Keil: Fabulous Flowerbeds

Ann Lovejoy: Naturalistic Gardening

Karen StrohbeenÂs videos The Perennial Gardener

Guy Cooper & Gordon Taylor:
The Curious Gardeners Six Elements of Design

Malcolm Hillier: Color Garden

Dominique Browning:
The New Garden Paradise: Great Private Gardens of the World

Elsa Bakalar video: Portrait of a Gardener

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 2:04PM
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Two years ago I planted my first garden and, being inexperienced, I mixed up all the colors of my impatiens. I didn't put any two colors next to each other. When I first looked at it I thought I blew it, but from far away they looked like fruit loops. Now I always mix up the impatiens.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 2:38PM
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birdwing(z4 MN)

for the most part, I avoid yellows and oranges. as long as I do that it seems that pretty much anything goes. I have 2 big gardens (and a bunch of smaller ones) in my front one I do whites pinks and reds w/ blue delpinium and purple delpinium. In the back I do blues and purples and whites w/ the accents being the pinks and reds.

All this said, if I find a plant I like and it doesn't fit into one of these schemes I find a spot for it.

I have a new philosophy this year. I looked around my garden at what seemed to be happy and doing well and I bought more of that (delphinium, geranium, thalictrum, peonies, roses, oriental lilies) poppies and foxgloves don't do quite as well but I'll keep replacing them cuz i love em.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 10:19AM
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sixidahos(z4 MN)

It really is about personal taste. Gardening isn't much different than decorating your home's interior. It should reflect your own preferences. Some people decorate a room to be picture perfect, but it may lack any hint of the home owner's own personality. I want my garden to reflect my own asthetic. However, whenever I see someone elses garden that I like, even if it's just a picture in a magazine, I look at it closely to see how the gatdener shaped it with color, texture, and height.
I'm not a huge fan of pastels, my own preference is to have reds, yellows, and blues together with some white to soften the look. Many "experts" say that these intense colors will make the gardens look smaller and in the heat of summer will cause the hot days to seem hotter. I don't agree. 95 degrees still feels like 95 degrees rather I use pastels or not. As far as making a garden seem smaller, what's wrong with that? I like cozy spaces.
With that said...I am going to experiment with pastels this summer in my front yard. The challenge will be fun. Somehow, it will still reflect my own taste. The fun part for me will be picking transitional colors that progressively lead the eye from the pastel front to the more intense back yard. I'm thinking that heavier use of yellows and deep pinks might do this. If I'm wrong, I'll learn my lesson and make adjustments next year.
Have fun in your garden and make it your own.

Final thoughts on landscape "experts".

Some of them have great advice, but beware. Just like interior designers, they follow trends. Remember when everyone painted their kitchen's burnt orange because it was all the rage in the late 70's? Then we all switched to teal. etc.
Landscapers do the same thing. Right now the trend is to replace structured gardens with wild native plants. That's not a bad thing, but within 10 years the trend will start to reverse. So my advise is to avoid trends unless you're absolutely sure it reflects your own asthetic.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 11:56AM
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jel48(Z4 Michigan)

I agree with sixidahos (and others who said pretty much the same thing earlier). It's all about personal taste.

One of my favorite combos is blue, lavender (purple), pink, and white and I have an old fashioned perennial bed that contains those colors.

Next to it is a rose garden with white, various shades of pink, and deep red roses. I'd like to find a pale creamy yellow to add to the mix but insist on having Z3 hardiness so I don't have to baby it (may be looking for that for a while).

Along the south side of my house I have a mix of shades of pink, purple, and bright yellow perennials. I think of that as my Vikings bed 'cause of the purple and gold!

And then there's the annual bed that surronds the bay window in the front. Two years ago, I had purple, pale pink, and white petunias mixed with dusty miller. To me that was a real winner! Last year, I put in yellows and oranges (heavy on the marigolds) with red accents (glads) for my husband, who absolutely loves marigolds. That looked nice too, though not my personal favorite. This year, we're going with the shrub type of Hibiscus - Home Depot usually has them for about $10 each. I'm going to put in either 3 or 5 (depending on how much I feel like parting with the cash), probably in orange and then will add some (either) coordinating or contrasting color. This one is meant to attract hummingbirds like crazy!

Gold and orange marigolds are really pretty in front of the painted dark brown raised area where I raise my veggies - tried that last year and loved it.

Shade garden areas have other mixes of colors, and I'm also working on an iris bed that I have NO IDEA what color combo I'm going to end up with yet.

Oh yes, right now there are yellow and red tulip combos with yellow daffodils and purple hyacinths - scattered all over the yard. Other stuff isn't blooming yet so those are my spring colors this year!

I love it all... and it doesn't look too busy at all! Not to me, anyway :-)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 9:00PM
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stpaulite(z4 MN)

Thanks so much for sharing your fave color combos with me, as well as your advice. It's so much fun to hear what other people do in their gardens. It also has reduced my anxiety about getting it right, since "right" sounds like a matter of personal taste. But I do have one more color question. I want to add a rose to my garden. After that, I've officially run out of room. And it will be in the one spot where I do have a color theme going--reds, oranges and golds with some white thrown in. I've got my heart set on either Sunrise Sunset which is a pink-yellow blend, or Morden Sunrise, which is a yellow-orange blend. My fallback is Hope for Humanity which is dark red. Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 8:39AM
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I looked up photos of your roses and my vote is for Morden Sunrise. I don't know what reds you have already, but it looks better to me to avoid rose-reds, blue-reds, and pale pink if you already have true reds or orange-reds along with orange and gold. But I may just think this because I'm not fond of pink in general (I was a tomboy forced to have a pink bedroom!) and reds that are on the blue side look depressing to me rather than warm and friendly. See how subjective color is?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 11:35AM
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twohuskies(z4A Mpls, MN)

Well Morden Sunrise will be hardier than Sunrise Sunset if that makes a difference. What I've seen from the Easy Elegance roses I have is that they will die back to the ground each year. Without a light winter covering over the crown you may even lose one. I don't have any experience with SS though. If you really can't decide maybe try going to the nursery and look at them blooming side by side and see which you like better. In my garden MS is a constant bloomer.. Without seeing your bed my vote would be MS too.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 11:25PM
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