This slideshow of botanical images demonstrates garden color combinations based on color theory, diverse species and bloom time.
A Favorite Subdued Combination (counterclockwise from bottom left): Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Silver King’, Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’, Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’, mottled Geranium phaeum (leaf), Asarum canadense, Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’, Hosta ‘Gold Regal’ Flowers, feathery leaves of Cimicifuga (syn. Actea) simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Hydrangea serrate ‘Grayswood’, tiny Geranium phaeum flowers, dark flowers of Nicotiana ‘Ken’s Coffee’, Acanthus hungaricus flower spike.
Natural Companions (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2012), by acclaimed garden writer Ken Druse, presents recipes for perfect plant pairings using diverse species that look great together and bloom at the same time. This garden-lover’s guide features more than one hundred special botanical images of amazing depth and color, created in collaboration with artist Ellen Hoverkamp using modern digital photography. The slideshow in this article’s Image Gallery features nine of our favorite images from the book. The following excerpt on color theory is taken from Part Four, “Color.”
If you go to a public garden or speak to a professional garden designer and ask him or her about color in plantings, you’ll probably get an answer like, “I chose what I like,” or “I was inspired by a famous garden.” Few people will mention color theory. Nevertheless, seeing combinations based on color relationships is another way to discover appealing schemes and guide you to fine-tune color for the effect you’re hoping to realize.
For centuries, visual artists have benefited from a reference tool called the color wheel to help them create harmonious compositions of tones and hues. We gardeners can use it too. After all, a well-composed planting is indeed a work of art.
The basic principles of color theory and design are revealed by the hues relative positions and relationships on the wheel. They are there when you need them: Don’t feel chained to the wheel. These directives are enlightening, but like many sets of rules, they may be followed or broken.
You may want to choose colors that appeared to you in a dream or remind you of a favorite spot you saw on vacation. Carry a camera or snap a shot with your phone. Inspiration is everywhere: the fabric on a pillow, an Oriental rug. Flip through the pages of fashion magazines. Take a trip to a museum—a painting could inspire a scheme. For a planting at the front of the house, consider your home’s exterior and the colors that will look best with that. Look at everything with an eye toward color combinations: the shades, tints, and hues all around us.
Nature is always a good teacher. The woodland has its own palette, as does the sunny meadow. If you feel like putting every color of the rainbow together, do it. And if that Joseph’s coat combination doesn’t look right, edit. Select some potted species and varieties at the garden center, put them together and move them around. This way, you can arrange color schemes before you buy.
Notions of color have been passed along through the years, but I have to say that some of the nicest combinations in the garden happen by accident, and they always will.
For more on beautiful gardens and garden photography, follow Ken Druse's garden podcast on REAL DIRT, or view more scanner photographs by Ellen Hoverkamp available for purchase as prints at My Neighbor's Garden.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Natural Companions: The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Combinations, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2012.
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