Introducing Garden Colour Schemes
Many home owners spend some considerable time planning interior colour schemes, yet I wonder if they give as much thought to colour in the garden. There is a certain amount of general information available on this subject but this little volume is somewhat unique in that it embraces all the basic principles of colour planning and gives many familiar and more unusual ideas for using colour.
Planning colour schemes for the garden is not as difficult as it can sometimes be indoors, where we are particularly careful to avoid violent clashes of colour. We aim for colours which harmonise and complement each other.
It is said that in nature few colours clash and I have found this to be largely true, though there is no logical explanation for it. There is consequently far less likelihood of making disastrous mistakes in the garden than in the home. Some bi-coloured flowers, for instance, contain colours such as orange and pink that we would find difficult to combine successfully in interior colour schemes.
As in the home, colour establishes the mood of the garden and reflects the owner’s taste. When you plan a garden for colour you are making a personal statement for all to see – at least in your front garden.
Generally, you would be well advised to stick to a scheme when it comes to colour. For instance, your house may call for a cottagey garden, full of flowers and plants of all colours. Or you may feel that restrained use of colour would be more in keeping.
There is no reason why you should not use just two or three colours. If, for instance, you want to create a warm atmosphere, you could plan for beds and borders mainly in shades of red and purple. Mainly pink schemes would also create a warm mood. To evoke a bright, cheerful sunshine mood, yellow flowers and foliage would be the answer.
You may perhaps want to create a cool atmosphere. If so, try a green and white planting scheme; or for a really cool effect use blue flowers and silver or grey. Personally I would consider this to be more suitable for a warmer climate than ours – but the choice is up to you as there are few hard and fast rules in colour planning.
Of course, you don’t have to plan the entire garden this way, particularly if it is large and can be divided with screens, hedges and so on, so that it is not all seen at one glance. You could then have different colour schemes in various parts of the garden.
Basic Colour Planning
Most gardens need a permanent living framework to give them an established look. This framework is green – the basic colour of most gardens. It is formed of, possibly hedges, and permanent plants, mainly shrubs and trees. Other colours are provided by less permanent plants in beds and borders, and perhaps in tubs and other containers.
Do not be concerned that this green framework will be dull, for there are many shades of green, of which I would suggest you use as many as possible. There are light, medium and deep greens, blue-greens, grey-greens, bronze-greens, silver-greens and yellow-greens. Just look at plants in a garden centre and you will see what I mean – particularly the conifers and the foliage shrubs.
This green framework provides a marvellous background for bright colours. Indeed, suitable backgrounds are vital, for they ensure that colours show to best advantage rather than simply merging into the general landscape.
For example, a border of colourful flowering perennial plants orcould be backed by a deep green hedge, such as yew, holly, or a dark form of Lawson cypress such as ‘Green Hedger’. A bed of roses would benefit from a similar background.
Trees and shrubs noted for their autumn leaf colour or bright berries certainly show up best against deep green evergreen shrubs or trees. In winter, flowering shrubs such as witch hazel, winter sweet, winter-flowering cherry and viburnums need the same type of background or their flowers will simply not show up. Shrubs and trees with coloured stems or bark, like the birches, come into their own in the winter but must have a solid deep green background, provided by conifers and evergreen shrubs like laurustinus or.
As I have mentioned above, in nature few colours clash, but I would not attempt to combine some, such as orange and pink, or orange and lilac or mauve shades. I would also be very careful with really strong yellows and reds as combinations can be over-powering.
However, many people will want these colours in their gardens, perhaps even in the same bed or border. If the plants flower at the same time, try to keep them well apart, or separate them with pale or neutral colours such as white or cream. White, I find, is most useful for separating groupings of plants in strong, clashing colours as it goes with anything.
Another solution is to choose plants which flower at different times of the year if you need to grow them close together.
The aim should be to combine plants with contrasting or harmonizing colours. How do we know which colours complement each other? Be guided by a colour wheel. This comprises the three primary colours – red, blue and yellow – with the intermediate colours, obtained by mixing the primary colours, between them. On this wheel all the complementary colours face each other – red, for example, complements green, blue complements orange, yellow complements violet, and so on.
The closer the colours on this wheel the better they harmonize. What are the differences between contrasting and harmonizing colours? Basically contrasting colours create a more dramatic effect even violent in some instances, as with blue and orange. Harmonizing colours create a more subtle and restful atmosphere.
How do you handle many colours in one border? Well, you could arrange them in a progressive sequence, along the length of the border. Start at one end with white and pale yellow, and progress to stronger colours like the oranges, reds, scarlets and crimsons. This gives a rainbow effect which many people find very pleasing.
It probably goes without saying, but when you are grouping plants together for particular colour effects you must be sure they all flower at the same time. Foliage plants, however, have a very long season of interest, so there is generally no problem with them.
Consider the Site
When colour planning, do take your garden’s location into consideration. If, for instance, it is in a wild, rugged part of the country impressive for its natural beauty, you may not want to fill it with a mass of riotous colour. On the other hand, if you live in a ‘concrete jungle’, then this highly colourful approach might be welcome.
Plants must be chosen to suit the aspect, too. Many of the gold and silver foliage plants, and many flowers, need full sun. Yet equally many colourful plants will thrive in shade. Some plants need moistwhile others need it well-drained. When grouping different kinds of plants together make sure they are all suited to the particular aspect and soil conditions that are available.