In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
March, 2011
Regional Report

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The rims and leftovers from broken pots bring softer colors to balance these bold yellows.

Garden Color Primer

Each week in March, garden centers add to their ranks of colorful plants in every category. It's tempting to plant at random, but please think first about what colors do in the garden.

Color = Garden Mood
The first element most people notice in any view is its dominant color, and each one sets a distinct mood. Red is the power color, while yellow sets a happy tone and orange, the color between them on the color wheel, combines their moods. Orange has not always been my favorite color in the garden or elsewhere, but it kept after me until I made its enthusiastic determination my own. Taken together, these three colors are called "analogous," which means that their colors are next to each other on the wheel. Using such colors together in the garden makes a pleasant, eye-catching display because they colors are related but not so closely that they blend together. A bed of mixed Sunpatiens or New Guinea impatiens often includes all three of these analogous colors with accents of equally bright, deep pink. Nature's combinations are seldom seen in better balance than that and the human response is positive, powerful and happy.

Yellow Flowers
A more subtle and even thoughtful mood comes when you use different shades of the same color, such as yellow, together in one pot or area of the garden. Such combinations force your eye to differentiate between the hues, a complex task that calms the mind. Worth following a pattern to do, a progression through the shades of a color adds the illusion of movement to any area, large or small, but may work best on a mound or terraced bed. Move the eye up from dark to light tones at the apex of the group, using gray or green leaves to blend the scene together. Use different plants to achieve a dark-to-pale range with flower colors, and raise the interest factor with leaf forms and colors to explore.

Such displays can be highly seasonal and more satisfying to grow than beds or pots planted willy-nilly with the latest annuals and bulbs. The snapdragons, diascia and violas you might plant here and there can complement each other wildly for weeks when you plant with a simple color gradient plan. When the flowers of one season fade, and in the case of the pansy family, get smaller in size, it is time to decide on next scheme.

Shades of yellow alone may feel too hot for the summer garden. When you replant this design in June, use zinnias and include cream shades for a sophisticated, cooler view. Or a different color entirely may better suit the summer garden if it is already full of orange cannas, black-eyed Susans and blanket flowers. Purple lies opposite yellow on the color wheel, so is called its complement in the sense of complete spectrum. Opposite colors share no common pigment; together they contain the entire spectrum and produce strong contrast when taken together. Rather than equally balance complementary colors -- other examples are red/green and orange/blue -- choose one to become a focal point and place it among the other. For example, a splash of purple salvia among a host of yellow black-eyed Susans makes for a more thoughtful scene than the happy yellow or somber purple alone.

Colorful Leaves
Flowers have powerful effects depending on how their colors are arranged in the garden or pot, but plants grown for colorful leaves deliver equally strong visual messages. Smart, memorable plantings incorporate some of these in every palette, alone or with flowering plants, to create contrast and background effects. Classic, multicolored coleus plants of similar heights can be grown in a row without regard to the individual plant's coloration. Pinch several times to produce bushy plants. Fill the front of the coleus bed with any solid color flower that speaks to you. Orange mounds of narrow leaf zinnia work for me, but you may prefer rosy pink dwarf cleome. Mounding petunias and their cousins among the calibrachoa will stand out planted among the wildly striped leaves of Joseph's coat or silvery dusty miller. The patterned leaves call attention to themselves and the adjacent flowers.

This year I'm planting an old favorite, copper plant, with a rather strange bedfellow, sanchezia, just to see if their leaf colors and patterns work together or cause a riot.


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