Botanical Images: 9 Divine Color Combinations

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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.
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Circle of Light: The color wheel breaks wavelengths of light down to its simplest or primary colors; red, yellow, and blue represented here by red Hybiscus syriacus, the yellow flowers of a Verbascum hybrid and blue Eryngium planum ‘Blaukappe’.
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Going Green: Green could be the basis of a color scheme with variegation, shades, and tints. (Clockwise from top left) Adonis amurensis (leaves), Buxus sempervirens ‘Latifolia Maculata’, Hedera helix ‘Buttercup’, Fragaria vesca ‘Golden Alexander’, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Variegata’, Petasites japonicus ‘Variegatus’, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’, Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’, Tanacetum parthenium ‘Aureum’.
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On the Darker Side: “Black” is usually shades of purple and green. (Clockwise from top left) Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’, Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, annual millet Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’, Acer palmatum variety, Hibiscus x moscheutos ‘Kopper King’, Ligularia dentata ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’, lpomoea batatas ‘Blackie’ next to heart-shaped Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, Weigela florida ‘Fine Wine’ with Trillium fruit, daylily flower Hemerocallis ‘Jungle Beauty’, strappy black leaves and pale flowers of Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’, maroon leaf of beet Beta vulgaris ‘Bull’s Blood’, Begonia ‘Black Fang’ to its right and Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’ above it.
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On the Lighter Side: Pale-colored buxom peony blossoms contrast with the little light pink trumpet flowers from old-fashioned beauty bush, Kolkwitzia amabilis.
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On the Lighter Side: When mixing paint colors, adding white creates a pale tint; adding black creates a dark shade. White is represented here by tender, tuberous white dahlias, spidery annual Cleome ‘Helen Campbell’, and feathers of tender perennial Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria White’.
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Hue Do You Love: Colors on the wheel from red-orange to yellow are said to be warm, those that range from blue to red-violet are considered cool. (Clockwise from top left) Hot Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Acer palmatum var. dissectum f. atropurpureum ‘Red Dragon’, yellow Asiatic lily ‘Grand Cru’, red Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonia), Crocosmia, red Asiatic lily ‘Jazz’, fruit of Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’, yellow Heliopsis ‘Bressingham Doubloon’.
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Mono a Mono: A monochromatic combination from Louise Wrinkle’s Alabama garden in winter include (clockwise from top left) witch hazel, yellow spattered leaves of evergreen shrub Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata’, daffodils, globe clusters of Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Winter Gold’, berries of heavenly bamboo Nandina domestica ‘Leucocarpa’, pansies, yellow-green Helleborus foetidus fruits, and Caltha palustris.
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Split Complement: A split-complement color scheme employs three equally spaced colors from the wheel, and in this case (with a little horticultural liberty) rose red Rosa ‘American Pillar’, the long-blooming lavender-blue Clematis ‘Betty Corning’, and greens including chartreuse Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’.
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Natural Companions by Ken Druse, with botanical photography by Ellen Hoverkamp, contains a wealth of horticultural guidance, useful plant recommendations and gardening lore accompanied by gorgeous photos.

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.

Botanical Images: 9 Gorgeous Color Schemes

Visit the Image Gallery for our favorite photographs from Natural Companions, or click on one of the titles below to navigate straight to the listed image.

A Favorite Subdued Combination
Circle of Light
Going Green
On the Darker Side
On the Lighter Side
On the Lighter Side 2
Hue Do You Love
Mono a Mono
Split Complement 

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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