Picture perfect gardens.
You too can produce such moments in your garden once you appreciate the history of garden color and understand the color wheel. The garden color schemes of today had their beginnings in the revolutionary designs of Gertrude Jekyll, a dowdy 19th-century artist and gardener extraordinaire with a striking likeness to Queen Victoria. Jekyll took issue with her era's gaudy mishmash of garden colors. Her solution was to apply the same theory of color used in Impressionist painting. Her masterpiece, Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden, is still read today.
Jekyll believed that a gardener should be like a painter, using the flower bed as the bare canvas, a trowel as the paintbrush, a spade as the spatula. Gardens should first have a well-planned and deliberate grouping of colors, she asserted. Although Jekyll "painted" on a grand scale, the idea of harmonious color combinations can be applied to smaller American gardens as well.
A garden color scheme is best developed around either the exterior color of your house or the interior color scheme of a room opening onto the garden. A color scheme can also coordinate with a view of a woodland, a lake, or a nearby natural feature; or it can be built around single plants, such as a cut-leaf Japanese maple, a smoke tree, or a white birch.
The color wheel helps to develop pleasing and effective color schemes, especially for newcomers to gardening. The wheel is composed of the three primary colors-red, blue, and yellow-and the three secondary, or intermediate, colors-violet, green, and orange-achieved by mixing the primary colors. The pastels, or paler tints, are made by adding white; the darker shades, by adding black.
Harmonious color combinations are created by marrying colors that blend naturally. The simplest, and perhaps most sophisticated, way to color harmony is a monochromatic color scheme-additions of one main color only. A monochromatic garden eliminates clashing color partnerships. The most famous-and possibly the best-monochromatic garden is the white garden of the late British garden writer Vita Sackville-West, at Sissinghurst Castle, England. Visitors there sense a peaceful ambience, a hallmark of monochromatic garden schemes. A blue-violet garden of pansies and heliotropes, progressing to the violet of verbenas and the blue of lobelias, browallias, and anchusas, provides a similar restful effect.
Colors nearby on the color wheel can add to a monochromatic color scheme without affecting its restfulness. For example, red Salvia splendens, a perennial orange-red Crocosmia, or a redviolet petunia go quite well with a monochromatic-blue scheme. Reds, oranges, yellows, and lime greens also produce a bright, cheerful color scheme, and pinks, crimsons, violet blues, and purples create a cooler, more restful garden tapestry. Bisect the color wheel to create such harmonious color schemes; colors within any semicircle will combine successfully. Other harmonious color partnerships can be built on related colors-any three successive colors, such as green, yellow green, and yellow.
Dramatic garden color schemes use contrasting colors-opposites on the color wheel. These colors are called complementary. For example, blue complements orange, a combination feasible by mixing blue salvia and purple-violet penstemon with coral dreamland zinnias or other orange zinnias or marigolds. Colors taken from opposite sides of the spectrum can harmonize instead of contrast; the colors must be similar in tone and equally low in intensity. Pale blue and pink are perfect partners, but scarlet and royal blue can be disconcerting.
"Peacemakers"-such neutral colors as gray, white, or matte green-or third colors lying between contrasting colors on the color wheel will unite contrasts. Silver mediates between blue and yellow, and violet provides a smooth transition between red and blue. Contrasting color combinations create emphasis in the middle of a border or unite different sections of the garden by directing the eye from one definite color group to another. But don't overdo contrasting color combinations. The result could be a hyperactive garden-not a restful place to spend time in.
Split complementary colors create pleasing combinations with interesting contrast-for example, a color plus the two colors on either side of its direct complement, such as violet with yellow orange and yellow green. Or choose from related complementary colors-two adjacent colors from opposite points on the color wheel-such as blue and blue green with orange and red orange.
The most dramatic color schemes contain a contrasting color in an otherwise harmonious group. Startling yellow-and-violet or red-andgreen complementary color pairs can be used. Imagine the impact of a giant red dahlia displayed against a pristine green lawn. A quiet effect can also be achieved, as when a soft lavender, rather than a bright violet, is added to a scheme of apricots and corals.
Repeating the plant associations throughout your garden gives it unity, balance, and harmony, regardless of size. You might simply repeat your favorite color or combination of colors. If reds and yellows dominate one section of your garden, blues and pinks another, choosing one unifying neutral color will be important. White, the sum of all colors, is the perfect neutral framework to hold any flower garden's design together. Silver or green also makes a good unifier.
Color is of utmost importance in creating a garden's mood. A garden for a Victorian house will feature burgundies and clarets, golds, rich blues and purples, and deep greens. An English landscape atmosphere for a country farmhouse will employ such muted, hazy colors as pinks, blues, lavenders, very soft reds, and pale icy yellows to create an illusion of distance in the garden, because these pale colors cannot be seen clearly. Intense colors used in the distance"shorten" a garden by appearing closer than they actually are.
If you prefer to paint your garden with many colors, arrange them in a progressive sequence. Start at one end with flowers in shades of blue; move on to white, pale yellow, and pink; continue with the stronger colors of scarlet and orange; and end with red. This rainbow effect eliminates the chance of color clashes.
Most important, don't let the color in your garden be an afterthought. Although you have many other plant characteristics to consider-height, texture, annual versus perennial nowers, season, length of interest, etc. -color should be your first consideration. As Gertrude Jekyll pointed out long ago, lots of plants merely add up to a collection and not a welldesigned garden with unity and harmony. Make good marriages of plant colors in your garden and create a look that expresses your style. In the process, you will discover that the garden is never finished; it continually evolves, and as it does, you too will evolve and develop as a gardener and as an artist in your garden.
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|Title Annotation:||color schemes can make a garden masterpiece|
|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||May 1, 1988|
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