Plan Color Scheme for Your Cool-season Landscape

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.

October is a transitional month in Louisiana flower gardens. Many warm season annuals have finished or are finishing, and gardeners' thoughts are just beginning to turn to cool-season bedding plants for fall, winter and spring color.

When you decide it's time to replant flower beds and containers, there are lots of wonderful cool-season bedding plants available. Excellent choices include pansy, viola, dianthus, sweet alyssum, calendula, snapdragon, petunia, forget-me-not, sweet William, nicotiana, hollyhock, poppies, annual phlox, stock, statice, ornamental kale and cabbage and dusty miller, to name a few.

The colors available in these cool-season bedding plants are virtually unlimited. But that has its drawbacks, since the hard part is avoiding planting your garden with every color you can get your hands on. I know it is difficult to resist all those colors, but using too many will lead to chaos that is not as effective as a well-thought-out color scheme.

Color is an extremely important factor in how we perceive and appreciate our landscapes. 

I'm not going to tell you what colors to plant or how to combine them, because that is mostly a matter of taste. But you should think about your color scheme and what you are trying to accomplish with color in your landscape.

Here are some quick tips on color to get you started:

  • Combine cool colors together or warm colors together for reliably harmonious results. The colors within each group naturally combine well and look good together. Cool colors include reds with a blue tint, burgundy, rose, pink, magenta, purple, violet, lavender, blue, navy and any variations of those colors. Warm colors include reds with an orange tint, orange, gold, yellow, rust, peach and any variations on these colors. White combines equally well with either group, and true blue flowers also look good with just about any other color.

  • Use color where you want to focus attention. The human eye is drawn instantly to color. Never use color to "beautify" an unattractive feature in your landscape such as a fire hydrant, storage shed or trash can area. You will simply make sure everyone notices it, and the color will not make it look any better.

  • Use color where you can enjoy it. Many gardeners lavish their attention and garden budget on their front gardens, and this is a wonderful gift they provide to their neighborhoods. But when little or nothing is done in the back area where family members spend most of their time, I think that is a pity. Don't forget to include plantings of colorful cool-season bedding plants in beds, containers and hanging baskets around the patio and other outdoor living areas. Fragrant plants such as alyssum, stock and nicotiana are especially nice.

  • Generally, reduce the number of colors you use for best results. In other words, use the colors you like in combinations that you like, but don't use every color you like at the same time in the same bed.

  • It also is important to plant individual colors in masses or groups, especially if the bed will be viewed from a distance (as in a front bed being viewed from the street). If, for instance, you decide to use red, pink and white petunias, it is more effective to plant groups (three or more plants) of red, groups of pink and groups of white in the bed. This allows each color to be noticed. A scattered planting of individual red, pink and white petunias would give the overall appearance of pink when viewed from a distance.

  • Use pastel colors in areas that will be viewed primarily in the evening. Paler colors show up better in low light, of course, so pastel colors also are important to consider when planting shady areas.

  • Another benefit of pastel colors is that they make a space look larger and more open. If you have a courtyard that seems a little cramped, a pastel color scheme would be quite appropriate. And cool, pastel colors tend to create a serene, restful mood.

  • Vibrant, rich colors energize the landscape and can help make a larger area seem smaller and more intimate. Combining colors that are complementary on the color wheel such as blue and orange, purple and yellow or red and green is particularly energetic. Combining white with the primary colors - red, blue and yellow -- also is cheerful and lively. Or how about a patriotic red, white and blue color scheme to go with the American flags everyone is displaying now.

Creating an attractive, colorful look is easier than ever. But do a little thinking and planning before you go to the nursery. That way you generally will be more pleased with the results. 

Above all, have fun. After all, if the color scheme isn't as great as you thought it would be, it's only there for a season. You can always try something different next time.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter.

10/4/2004 4:24:25 AM
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