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

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Expanding my garden's color palette wasn't easy but was well worth the effort.

Learning to Love Color

It's hard to believe the recent research that touts a predisposition to pink and white for girls, green and blue for boys derived from the colors we sought as hunter-gatherers. Gardeners should -- and can -- learn to love colors across the spectrum.

Yellow Phobia
Green has always been my favorite color, but it's taken a lifetime to warm up to yellow and orange, lime and chartreuse in the garden. Whether bright or muted, those tones turned me off. A tan brick house fronted by a hedge of bright yellow daylilies caused me to blink. Orange brick paths lined with flowering pomegranates made me sweat. Variegated plants like gold dust acuba and mottled ginger looked ill to me. Even as a margin, such as you'd find on the leaves of hostas, snake plant or the popular shrub euonymus, yellow didn't appeal, and I avoided recommending those colors or plants.

For contrast in the color scheme, red and purple worked for me and did not heat up the view like the yellow and orange hues. Native to a warm, humid climate, my attitude and design style leaned heavily to shade trees with cool colors as accents. After years of cultivating pinks and blues, my gardens looked babyish but I didn't know why. Adding more red and purple didn't help, and visiting other gardens showed me why.

A greater appreciation of orange first came with travel to the Netherlands, where each shade in the range is used wisely in flowers and ornaments. I embraced the entire quadrant of the color wheel like never before! First came marigolds, plump and orange, leading the way to orange cannas with leaves striped with yellow. The floodgates opened wide with terracotta calibrachoa, yellow kalanchoe and allamanda trumpets. Freed from color prison, every planting has included the "hot" colors ever since.

Introducing Lime Green
Sometimes one must accept change slowly if it is to last. While it could be shocking to suddenly grow only orange impatiens and yellow butterfly bushes, adding more subtle shades comes more easily. The first step might be noticing the lime green shades of some new growth without revulsion. Now I like fatsia and rice paper plants and the bright avocado green of sasanqua and cleyera leaves as they emerge. Then I discovered the sweet white and pink flowers (and lime green leaves) on deutzia and small, summer-flowering spireas. Planting them around the gardens not only yielded the desired blooms, but the shrubs themselves gave depth to the beds. The previously spurned colors provided the "pop" of contrast needed to put a finished look on the grouping. These days both banana shrub, with lime green leaves and yellow flowers, and the yellow, ball-shaped flowers of St. John's wort brighten my gardens. I propagate both and suggest them heartily.

Warm and Cool Combinations
To add interest, contrast, and a decidedly more welcoming vibe to containers and mixed plantings, learn from my experience. Don't shun one color entirely nor give in to a love for one so completely that the scene becomes monotonous. Sometimes the issue in combining colors is that one dominates, overwhelming the effect of the others. If you think of colors as harmonizing voices, this need for individuals to blend well becomes obvious. Finding the balance can be as simple as managing the numbers of each "voice." Just as sopranos soar above altos in the choir, yellow, lime, orange, and their kin pierce the light almost as well as white. Purple shades recede first as your eye views the scene at dusk, while yellows persist until the last ray of sunlight fades. To truly see a mixed bed of colors, remember to plant greater numbers of pink, purple and red flowers in the area with the yellow shades.


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