I'm reading Tracy DiSabato Aust's book
Her section on color theory got me thinking about what I have planted in my own garden. My design has focused on trees and woody plants --- their form, leaves, structure, their function in the garden (fruit / fall color / shade / screening) and height. I then plunked perennials in between the woody plants and called it a garden. Some of it turned out really nice.
Now, reading the actual theory behind garden design and color pairings, I'm thinking I should take a look at what I've done. Have I followed any of the recommended color pairings? It turns out I have, but honestly, most of it was pure accident and the happy collaboration of the plants themselves.
|A classic pairing of intense cool purple and soft warm peach|
|Cool and warm again with blue gray lambs ear and golden Hakone grass|
|Wine colored drumstick alliums, this time against a hotter orange Helenium|
|The sweetness of pink and white are tempered with a gray blue spruce and neutral green foliage|
|Ruby red lobelia and pink zinnias are analogous (near) shades, really almost the same color|
|Orange zinnias and blue caryopteris are opposites and naturally complementary|
|Deep red penstemon foliage under a chartreuse leaved Japanese maple contrast beautifully|
It turns out my untutored eye knew what was soothing and what popped, and lo and behold, those successes actually followed color theory guidelines.
It's more than just using hot and cool colors together. The book delves into intensity, hue and value, and the things that affect them, such as distance and reflectivity. The last pairing above of the 'Huskers Red' penstemon and the Japanese maple works well because the red hue is a saturated value and the maple is a light reflective value and we're getting that contrast as well as the color contrast. There's more.... but some basic reading tells me why this works.
But it hasn't been all goodness and joy.... there have been some bad pairings in my garden, and they clash, just as the guidelines tell us they would. For example, pink and yellow, adjacent on the red-pink-orange-yellow section of the color wheel, do not play nicely together.
|This is a very jarring combo -- bubblegum pink snapdragons and yellow allium moly|
And it's not that they are too bright. A softer shade of pink and a mellower shade of yellow-gold in autumn is even more off-putting, as the witch hazel and hardy mums below show:
|This color combo doesn't work, and the mums will have to move next year|
It turns out garden design is intuitive. There are specific and predictable reasons why pairings look good, and a sophisticated and complex theory about why they do, but the bottom line is: you know it when you see it.