The best thing about color in the garden is that nature knows no boundaries when it comes to color. Nature doesn’t care about complementary and harmonizing colors. In a completely natural setting, you’re apt to find blues and greens next to reds, oranges and purples. Nature is bold and playful, and there’s no reason that you can’t be playful too. Just don’t give yourself a headache in the process by mixing every color of the rainbow, one on top of the other. Use masses of color broken by foliage, nature’s “white space,” for maximum effect. It’s not nice to compete with Mother Nature. Flirt with her whimsy, but stop short of tacky.
While you read through this section, it would be beneficial for you to have a “color wheel”. It’s easier to follow along with the color scheme explanations if you look at where the colors fall on the wheel. Garden center stores carry color wheels. Keep the color wheel handy while you decide on your use of color, and take it with you when you shop for plants.
Color schemes that are pleasing are said to harmonize (not to be confused with harmonizing colors on the color wheel), and they fall into several categories in the garden:
• Complementary – Uses colors that fall close to one another on the color wheel. For example, red violet, red and red orange all fall close together on the color wheel.
• Monochromatic – Variations of the same color, ranging from soft and subdued (pastel) to vivid. Look at each of the long spokes on the color wheel to view a monochromatic color scheme.
• Harmonizing (also known as contrasting) – Harmonizing colors fall opposite each other on the color wheel. Examples include shades of yellow and purple and shades of orange and blue.
• Polychromatic – As often found in nature, many colors falling together in the same garden.
• Neutral – Black, silver and white. This color scheme is most often used in an evening garden. Green is also considered a neutral color in the garden, as it provides the backdrop against which to display other colors.
Photo by Charles Patrick Ewing