More Color Theory–Contrasting Color in the Garden

So let’s go back to our old friend the Color Wheel for a second because Contrasting Colors aren’t exactly what they sound like.

They sound like they should almost be colors that clash–but really they’re not. They’re just colors that are opposite each other–or on opposite sides of the Color Wheel.


So red is opposite from green, yellow is opposite from purple (violet on the wheel but not obviously to us gardeners!) and orange is opposite from blue–that makes each of those “contrasting” pairs.

If you’ve ever wondered why that geranium/vinca/spike combination works so well, one of the reasons is that it’s made up of contrasting colors. (There are others, but we won’t discuss them here).

The next time you see a plant combination that you like, take a good look at the colors–perhaps it will have some of these contrasting colors in it. I once decided that most of the “weeds” or wildflowers of summer and fall came in colors of blue and yellow (at least in my region), with some white and an occasional orange thrown in. But it was the contrasting colors of blue and yellow that predominate.


Obviously I like this combination and plant a lot of it myself, even in containers. But notice the torenia (the yellow flower with the purple throat). That’s a study in opposites right there in one flower!

Cone Flower heads

Here’s the combination in perennials–cone flowers with black-eyed susans.

Fall container close-up

For something a little different, here’s a fall container of mums–again, same color palette.


And finally, you can see how nature herself uses this palette within a single bloom of an iris.

I hope this has got you thinking more about color. Next we’ll talk about “complimentary” or color echoing on Friday.

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