Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Bulbs

Adding Color to Our Lives

by Kate Jerome


Which color did you see first?

Adding color to our lives is often why we garden in the first place. Color is an intensely personal element. Think of how you choose your clothes. I happen to love orange lilies in my garden although I would never wear orange. A friend of mine wants mostly reds in her garden, just as in her wardrobe, because the color is exciting.

Perhaps most importantly, the colors of our garden are a reflection of who we are. Who wouldn't be happy sitting on a bench in the midst of a mass of colorful blooming companions tapping you on the shoulder and strewn about your feet as part of a grand tapestry? Merely gazing upon a riot of color can move the artist in us all, and inspire us to use the artist's palette to combine tints and hues in exciting and dramatic floral illustrations.

Using Color Creatively

Color can excite and stimulate or it can soothe and refresh. One of the hardest features to design in a garden is color, especially because every color is affected by its companion colors. None stands alone.

You can use color as a focal point. A perfectly placed striking focal plant surrounded by an unadorned backdrop of muted greens is a work of art. You can also use lack of color as a theme in the garden. The Japanese have used this principle for hundreds of years in their gardens. Riotous color is avoided and the garden is filled only with subtle shades and tones of green. This type of garden lends itself to contemplation and reflection.

A few thoughts on specifics of color:

  • Pale colors such as pastel pinks and yellows brighten and accent dark corners of the garden or shady retreats. These are best used close to the viewer.
  • Muted colors soften, ease the eye, relax the garden visitor.
  • Dark colors add drama. They make their strongest impact when used in full sun, although they will add beautiful emphasis to darker areas when set off with white or silver.
  • Bold colors add exhilaration to the garden.
  • Warm yellows, oranges, and reds excite and give a sense of exuberance and assertiveness.
  • Cool blues, greens, purples and pinks calm and soothe us. They blend peacefully into the landscape and envelop us with composure. They can be overwhelmed by warm colors, so try for a balance.
  • Yellow reflects more light than any color other than white so eye will notice a yellow flower first.
  • Pink-reds go beautifully with pink and blue; orange-reds do not.
  • Orange can look unpleasant next to pinks, but combines beautifully with other shades of orange, yellow and blue or purple.
  • Use the color of foliage to enhance the garden and give color when plants are not blooming.
  • White, the most versatile color of all, blends other colors and lightens the garden.

Kate Jerome is National Gardening Association's reporter for the Northern & Central Midwest.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association

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