Color Theory Again–Complimentary Colors This Time

This one is a little stranger than it sounds. The best way to think of complimentary colors is to think of “color echoing,” as a synonym. In other words, you choose one color that you like and then “echo” it in the other colors in the garden or the container combination.

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It’s really easy to see how I have done that with this container. I took the white begonia–or the white container, for that matter–and I “echoed” the white ribs in the leaves of the alocasia and the white variagation of the creeping ficus.

It’s a little harder–but not impossible–to do in a garden.Fall Front Yard

This is some perennial begonia, growing out for the cracks in my slate steps. It’s backed by a red Japanese maple–and for some extra color, I have a couple of burgundy mums up there on the top of the slate wall.

New Fall container

Another container, this time with mostly perennials (the monkey grass doesn’t over winter for me but the coral bells have–for 7 years!)

So that should give you some idea of how “color echoing” works. Give it a try!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Some More About Color

A week ago I talked about color and how my sense of color has evolved as I have grown and changed as a gardener. I wonder if those of you that have been gardening awhile have found that to be true?

For those of you that are beginning gardeners, this may or may not happen to you. Gardening is a life-long adventure. That’s what makes it so interesting. There’s always something new to learn and always something new to explore.

Sydney Eddison, one of the great gardeners and garden writers, who has written many books on lots of different aspects of gardening, was also an artist. She was especially sensitive to the use of color in the garden. In her “middle years” of gardening, she would change up the color of her patio furniture and even her structures like pergolas to match what she was planting in a given year. She talks about it in her book on container gardening called Gardens to Go.

While I haven’t yet gone to that extreme–and I don’t know that I ever will–I definitely have years when I prefer “hot” colors and years when I prefer “cool” colors. Luckily, because I do garden in containers, I can change it out every year without redoing my entire garden!

What do I mean by “hot” or “cool” colors?

Without making this overly complicated, in color theory there are 3 groups of colors: complimentary, harmonizing and contrasting. You can see this by looking at a Color Wheel (artists are familiar with this tool–gardeners less so.)

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Both “hot” colors like reds, oranges and yellows, and “cool” colors like blues, lilacs, pinks and the purple family are in the “complimentary” category. What does that mean? It means they are next to one another on the color wheel. Look at the wheel and you can see that.

What does this look like in a “plant palette?”

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Here’s a “hot” colored container using orange and yellow flowers–and leaves.

For a very different look–and a different part of the spectrum but still plants in the “comlimentary” range, try this:

rose & hydrangea

This is a shrub rose and a hydrangea. Pink and red together–it’s not something I would have planted together had I been thinking about it, but it’s worked out incredibly well.

On Monday we’ll talk about–and show–some other examples of color theory. Sometimes pictures speak louder than words!

Garden Re-Imagining

So I have been talking about how I like to use plants as living mulch. This idea is gaining traction with some popular garden design books, most recently the very well received Planting in a Post Wild World.

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This is what that looks like in various parts of my yard where it is already established. Here is my rose garden around my mailbox. The “living mulch” is catmint “Walker’s Low” and golden hops.

This is a raised bed–actually a bed created on top of my driveway and behind a stone wall about 5′ high. The bed is so large that it contains a native dogwood that was planted when the house was built–so 60 years ago. There are numerous other shrubs in there are well, including one of several Japanese maples on the property. While it faces east, because of the dogwood, it is mostly shaded. I am encouraging moss and the ferns that have naturally begun springing up to cover the rest. While it is still in progress, it is progressing quite well and is a lovely, shady oasis.

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My “wildlife” garden, which is a mix of native and non-native shrubs and perennials, is also a work in progress. Most of it has filled in nicely and needs no wedding or cultivating each year.

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The front corner has never managed to do well, however. It is on the northeast side of the bed–perhaps it’s too shaded by the other parts of the bed, or by overhanging trees. Whatever the reason, I have replanted it several times already. So needless to say, I haven’t managed to get any sort of perennial ground cover in there yet–unless you count the grass!

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In fact, as I was on my hands and knees patiently weeding out all the grass before replanting, I overheard a couple walking by. The man remarked to the woman “That’s why perennials are better…” The rest of his comment was lost to me as they continued on. Just as well. Little does he know that annuals have never graced this bed. Perhaps little does he know, period, or he’d see that the entire rest of the bed is perennials, and shrubs.

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In any event, here is the result of my weekend planting. Two swamp milkweed, two agastche, two liatris, three black-eyed susans, a mountain mint and a tanacetum (apparently I never learned the rule that everything needs to be planted in 3s!) There’s a dwarf Joe Pye weed yet to come, but a rabbit nibbled it down to a stalk and I have to wait for it to regenerate to “garden” size.

And yes, everything is spaced much closer than the “rules” say they should be on the tag. How else will I ever get my living mulch (and shade this ground so all that dreadful grass doesn’t grow back?)

After all, these are perennials–they can always be divided later–provided this time this corner really does grow!

And also, remembering my post from Monday, these are all pretty much blues, yellows or oranges–good butterfly attracting colors, of course, but also now my “preferred” garden palette. We’ll see how it turns out.

Color Can Be So Subjective

So on Monday I ranted a bit about why I find succulents–and in particular, Gold Sword yuccas (although this could be true for any yucca; it just seems that all we grow here now are the “Gold Sword” variety) completely out of place in Connecticut.

While I’m ranting, let’s take on color, shall we?

And please remember, what I like (or don’t like) doesn’t matter. I’m just posting to get folks thinking about their own ideas about color.

I remember back when I first started gardening with perennials. I think I did what most people do–I chose softer colors of blues, pinks, whites and purples. It’s easy to do. There are lots of plants in that color family and many of them bloom over a long season.

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I still have whole gardens like that. My “hydrangea hedge” is primarily blue and pink–because let’s face it, hydrangeas don’t come in really shocking colors (at least not the ones that do well in my climate, anyway!)

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But as I have gotten older I find that I like colors that are a little brighter.
I will often choose colors that are near opposites on the color wheel like yellows and purples. I also love reds and purples together.

Do not, however, ask me to put red and yellow together unless orange is also part of the combination. The red/yellow thing just reminds me too much of McDonald’s.

Habitat Garden in full bloom

In fact, while you’ll find quite a lot of yellow in my garden, I am quite particular about what I will mix it with. I only like it with certain shades of blue or purple–hydrangeas are fine, coneflowers are fine but you’ll never see me mixing it with rhododendrons, for example.

But, as I said, these are my “rules” not anyone else’s. What drives you crazy in the garden?

Wordless Wednesday–Real Plants Instead of Plastic

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Less than a week ago I had photos from our local mall of the most dreadful plastic plants.

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These are from an atrium of a building in West Hartford center. They never see a hint of natural light–and barely get any artificial light either. I had to touch them to believe they were real.

And most of these are plants that clean the air as well. Beautiful job!

Gardening Ideas, Continued

On Monday I talked about living mulch–or the idea the ground cover plants could actually fill in the spaces between perennials and shrubs and be used instead of truckloads of bark or cocoa hulls or whatever it is you prefer (I refuse to even consider the idea that it might be colored mulches, although I know that box stores sell gross tonnes of the stuff every spring. Whatever.)

Today let’s talk about watering–or not. I know that lots of you are not blessed–or cursed–with my heavy wet clay. You may think you are. I’m continually surprised by how many folks tell me that they have heavy wet clay soil. Then I’ll ask them how often they have to water an established plant. If it’s more than once a month, I’m going to tell you that you don’t have the same heavy wet clay that I do.  In a drought, I may have to resort to turning on a soaker hose once every 6 weeks–or not. That’s how well my soil holds water.

What does that mean? A lot of my plants rot if they are not carefully selected for these conditions. Anything the least bit succulent-like–forget it! Lavender? Nope. Heaths and heathers, which should ordinarily love my highly acidic soil, can’t take the wet. Herbs are grown in containers or raised beds (and obviously those need more water).

But roses do fine, hydrangeas are great, because they’re usually very thirsty plants and thirsty plants aren’t going to have an issue in my yard.

This is all another way of saying “know your conditions and know your particular microclimate.” I killed a lot of heaths and heathers before I figured out what the problem was and that there wasn’t enough compost to amend the clay.

We’ll talk about amending on Monday–but before I finish up this topic, I want to talk about how to properly water a plant as it is getting established.

Less frequently and deeply is the proper way. What does that mean? It rarely has anything to do with you standing over the plant with a hose (unless the plant is an annual in a pot–those are the only plants that are acceptable to water by hand with a hose).

If you have a hose that you would like to leave running at the base of the plant at a trickle for an hour (for a large shrub,  longer for a tree) that’s fine. You need to water the plant down to the depth of 1″–and do check, don’t just guess.

Do this once a week. And then, unless it’s a rose or something that needs a lot of water, don’t do it again for another week. If you have questions, let your garden center advise you. Fewer, longer waterings are better. You are training your plant to endure periodic dry spells.

Whatever you do, do not rely on a sprinkler system to water for you. That’s the quickest way to kill a plant. It encourages shallow roots that cannot stand up to drought.