As small children, our first exposure to color was often that first box of crayons with a brand new coloring book. Suddenly we were all budding Monets.
We all remember those wonderful boxes of sharpened, interesting-smelling crayons. (My dogs loved them as well, and frequently ate them.)
Those first boxes held eight cheerful colors, including the primary colors of red, blue and yellow, and the secondary colors of orange, green and purple. White and black — while not technically colors — were there too, a necessary part of our coloring tool box.
The same goes for our gardening tool box. Can you imagine the garden without dazzling white blooms to brighten up the shady corners? I recently got an email from a garden center featuring lenten roses with black flowers.
Gardeners have not strayed from their childhood use of primary colors (the basis of all other colors), secondary colors (two primary colors mixed together) and tertiary colors (a primary and a secondary color mixed).
There are so many beautiful books about color in the garden. On a rainy cold winter day, a book full of colorful gardens can be reason to offer thanks.
I ordered a gizmo called the Gardener’s Color Wheel. It is a fine way to expand our color horizons and create a perfect palette of colors in the garden. The color wheel is exactly that: a movable wheel based on the primary colors of red, yellow and blue. Around those three are colors that can be combined to create a new color.
According to the caption on my color wheel, there are only two things to remember about using color in the garden: either contrast or harmony. That makes this whole color thing a piece of cake.
If colors are exactly opposite from each other on the color wheel, they are complementary but contrasting colors. We all know that in human relationships opposites attract; same thing in the garden.
On the color wheel, red sits exactly opposite from green. They do not share a thing. However, they have a great relationship in the garden. Think of a brilliant red amaryllis bloom and the glossy green foliage. Yellow and violet also sit across from each other on the wheel. A mixture of yellow and violet pansies is dynamite in the color bed.
We can choose analogous colors to create harmony in the garden. Colors which sit adjacent to each other on the color wheel are analogous colors (or harmonious colors). For example, red sits next to yellow, and in between we have orange, orange-red, red-orange, yellow-orange and orange-yellow. Daylilies provide a perfect example of these combinations.
Opportunities for putting colors together abound. Many people over the years have asked me how to mix colors; the color wheel makes that task an easy one.
A single color makes a fabulous statement, almost like a huge exclamation point! For those following a monochromatic color design, a bed of one color is magical and a show stopper. Think of a bed of pink cone flowers, or a garden of bright yellow zinnias.
We might choose flowers all of the same kind — zinnias, for example — or a garden of different flowers all in the same color. Choosing different textures and sizes of flowers in the same hue is an exercise in creativity.
Artists and interior designers value warm colors in their projects. That goes for gardeners as well. Red and orange, both warm colors, make a vibrant color bed. Warm colors stir our blood and perk up our emotions. Those hot colors draw the viewer into the garden.
Cool colors are the opposite of warm colors. Cool colors calm us down. Blues and purples in the garden soothe our minds. Every garden needs something blue in it: calm in the midst of chaos. Cool colors should be admired close up.
It goes without saying that however we use this miraculous paintbrush, the subjects of our masterpiece must like the same planting and climate conditions. Sun flowers together, shade flowers together, water hounds together, and lovers of dry feet together. Plants, like humans, have specific needs in order to be healthy, and we must honor them.
I have said often in my gardening life that gardeners are artists with flowers. Instead of paintbrushes, we have soil and flowers and shrubs and trees that come together to satisfy the soul.
Perhaps we are overflowing with energy and enthusiasm and our beds are exuberant with red and orange colors. Perhaps we are feeling a bit more laid back and we want a garden with purple and white blooms. There is no limit to the beauty we can create. No limit!
No room for a garden? Try a container and change it every few months. I promise you will fall in love with color and realize its tremendous influence in your life.
Remember above all, it is your garden, your darling, so throw away all the rules if you should choose and plant what gladdens your heart.