Use color effectively in the landscape

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.

Various shades of red on different varieties of flowers create a color palette among green foliage and white accent flowers. (Photo by Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter)

It’s not hard to introduce color into the landscape as these cannas show. (Photo by Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter)

The yellow garden at Longue Vue House and Gardens in New Orleans is an example of how a single color can be effective in the landscape. (Photo by Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter)

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(02/19/16) Color is very important to us. We use it everywhere in our surroundings and on our bodies. We carefully consider which colors to combine and use in our interior decors. People take their time (sometimes too much) deciding on what colors they will wear for a day or even for a few hours. Yet, how many gardeners spend time to carefully consider and develop a color scheme for their flower beds and landscape?

Plan your color scheme

It is not hard to introduce color into the landscape. A trip to the local nursery will convince you of that. Many different trees and shrubs provide color through flowers or foliage. You can find annual bedding plants and perennials in every color of the rainbow – plus some.

But in all the excitement of introducing color into the landscape, it is easy to forget that the colors themselves require careful consideration in their use, placement and combinations.

Anyone can combine colors that suit their taste in the landscape. It’s no different than picking out the clothes you are going to wear in the morning or choosing drapes, carpeting and furniture for the living room. And just like getting dressed or decorating a room, you need to give it some thought.

Nature provides a great source of inspiration and examples when placing color in the landscape. One of the first lessons is that color needs to occur in drifts or clumps large enough to make a visual difference when viewed from the farthest vantage point. Nothing is more insipid than a few individual spindly flowers of different colors spaced out across the front of the house. On the other hand, look at the drifts of wildflowers along the highway.

If your budget won’t permit purchasing large numbers of plants, concentrate what you can buy in smaller, strategically placed beds and areas where they can be viewed at closer range.

Nature may display colors riotously or subtly, but green will always predominate. In our more colorful home landscapes, green will still be the major color. This can be monotonous, even when other colors are added, if all the greens are alike and the shapes are similar. That’s why you should vary the greens in your landscape from the lightest yellow-green to dark blue-green, and vary the leaves from broad and large to thin and tiny.

Choose a dominate color

One of the most important (and rarely done) steps in using color in the landscape is choosing a dominate color. A dominate color can be chosen for the entire landscape, or individual, separate sections may each be assigned different dominant colors – the front yard may have yellow as the dominant color, for example, while the backyard, pool or patio area has blue.

Plan to use major masses of flowers in light tones or pastel variations of your chosen color. Augment that tone with related colors. For example, if yellow is the chosen color, other colors could be shades of chartreuse, gold, yellow-orange, orange and orange-red. Use pure, brilliant hues, even of your chosen color, sparingly.

The dominant color idea can be taken to the ultimate degree by planting a garden totally in variations of one color. This might sound like it would lack interest and energy. But this approach, if carried out properly, can produce an effect that is harmonious and anything but boring. White gardens are written about in magazines and books fairly commonly. The yellow garden at Longue House and Gardens in New Orleans is always a delight.

Color accents

When it comes to using color in the landscape, you can also make use of color accents. They function like the addition of a contrasting scarf or necktie to an outfit or colorful pillows on a couch. Color accents relieve the monotony of masses of related colors and add interest to your plantings.

Generally, colors complementary or near-complementary to the dominate color are used as accents: yellow to accent the violets and purples; red to accent the blue-greens, greens and yellow-greens; bright blue to accent peach, orange and rusty red. Accent plants will stand out in the landscape and become important parts of the composition.

Balance the colors so that your composition invites the eye to linger and find something interesting to see but soon be tempted on to something else just as attractive.

Final colors

You may make some mistakes, as we all do. If that happens, a certain amount of resolve is necessary to make corrections. When what seemed a perfect color combination in your mind doesn’t work in the garden, don’t be shy about digging up and moving plants. Don’t live with a planting that doesn’t thrill you just because it’s there.

Despite the many recommendations in this article for using color, there is really only one bottom line. I believe that everyone has an absolute right to their own taste. If you enjoy and are comfortable with a color combination – go for it. But think about it first.

Rick Bogren

1/30/2016 3:11:39 AM
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