Sunday, June 15, 2008

GT Week 3. Colour: (Kill me now.)


I apologise for possibly being mistaken for a planted p.r. agent for P. Allen Smith. But after I read his book, "Colors in the Garden" last night, I feel like I can begin to tackle the whole conundrum. I'm going to do my best to encapsulate the advice he gives.

How to pick a colour scheme.

1) Connect the colours from inside your home to the outside.

  • If you have a peach, green and yellow scheme in the living room, repeat that outside the living room window.


  • 2) Reveal or conceal your home.
  • Reveal:

  • figure out the style of house you have, choose colours for your garden which reflect that style. e.g, choose warm Mediterranean colours for an Italianette home.

  • a note for brick home dwellers: if your home is a red-orange brick, don't pick any plants which may have a blue-red in them. They will clash. And vice versa.


  • Conceal:
  • Paint your home cream, tan, grey, or white. Then pick any colour scheme you like.


  • 3) Play off Nature.
  • Take a walk around a natural area where you live. Take the camera. Take pictures. Notice the colours in the "natural foliage." Use plants with those colours.


  • 4) Feature a Favourite
  • Pick a plant, any plant you like. Find every colour in it: every shade of green, every shade of whatever.
  • Pick a colour from a paint chip. Take particular plants you're thinking of using and place them against the painted board. Watch what happens.


  • 5)Embrace New Possibilities.
  • Buy flower arrangements which appeal to you and then find plants to match it.
  • Put new plants in pots. Move them about with each other and your other plants until you find a pleasing combination.


  • In all of this, be sure to contrast the textures of the plant and its foliage.

    Designing with Colour.

    Establish a backdrop.
  • make the backdrop uniform so the differences don't compete with the plants. (So, I'm dead on with wanting to paint the fence just a shade or two darker than the house). If two clashing materials must meet, you can place a simple divider in front, such as a green hedge, neutral coloured foliage, an arbor or trellis or other sorts of screens can be used to help "ease the eye" from one to the other.
  • the backdrop, whether shrubs, a trellis, a wall or a fence will be with you all season long. These define your boundaries.


  • One colour theme per "room."

    1) Monochromatic:
  • a soothing scheme can be had from a monochromatic scheme: every tint and hue of purple, for example. Sections of one colour can be separated by foliage. (I think he means different sections of the same colour, not different sections of different monochromatic schemes, but it isn't entirely clear.)
  • you can pick one colour per season within the same room.
  • Unlike interiors, however, there is no such thing as a purely monochromatic garden. There will be all the different greens of the foliage in there, too.
  • You can also "shake up" a monochromatic border over time, too, gradually introducing other harmonious hues as you go.


  • 2) Analogous:
  • He calls this "cousin colours." Bah. Simple: Choose all the colours you want, every tint and shade from within either the "warm" or the "cool" sides of the colour wheel. The plant world colour wheel is a bit different than what I'm used to. Yellow, apricot, orange and red are "warm" while blue, lavender to purple, pink and magenta are considered "cool."
  • In these schemes the proportions of colours is entirely up to you and whatever you prefer.


  • 3) Mix across the colour wheel.

    Here, proportion is important.
  • 1. choose a dominant colour. It will represent about 50% of your plantings.
  • Make sure it works with all the other things already present, like the house colour, pavement, the fence, deck flooring, etc.
  • Make sure there are enough plants in that colour which will grow well in the soil and light conditions you have to work with.

  • 2. Select three more colours which will harmonize or contrast with the dominant colour.
    Colour #2--about 25% of your plantings
    Colour #3--about 15 %
    Colour #4--about 10% (sparkle and accent)
    "The colours you choose and their ratio to one another is what creates a sense of harmony in the design." p. 60
    The percentages are "guidelines" of course.
  • 3. Throw in some pleasing neutrals!* You must! Yes, into each colour scheme. P. Allen Smith insists upon it. Calls them "seasonings" and what-not. (After Maxwell's admonition to create a room with a palette consisting of 80% neutrals, this is NOT hard to swallow.) Neutrals can brighten a scheme, tone it down, or harmonize.


  • Planting

  • Plant in large drifts.
  • Use odd numbers of plants in your groupings.
  • Establish rhythm with repetition.
    divide the length of the bed into five foot intervals and then fill a section of the border with a colour combination of six or so plants assembled in a pleasing arrangement. Before repeating the colour combination again,** create a pause in the border by planting a cluster of transitional plants in a harmonizing color such as gray or green, and then add your next color grouping. Continue this pattern down the length of the bed. In this situation the pauses or breaks between the groupings create enough definition to set up an interesting rhythm of colour. p.72


  • Use Time.
    I barely understand this, but I'm sure I will once I'm more familiar with the behaviour of plants.
  • As perennials bloom and fade, different ones can take "center stage" gradually altering the colour scheme of a given bed in a given season. The key to making it work, he says, is "to keep a constant colour scheme running through the garden as one colour segues into the next."


  • There's more, including lists of plants organized by colour. I highly recommend the book if you're interested.

    *The range of "neutrals" include: green, chartreuse, glaucos (blue-green), variegated, silver, white, tan to brown, and black.

    **Note he said "colour combination" and not "plant combination."

    2 comments :

    lorijo said...

    WOw! You have jumped into this with both feet! I love reading this- and some of the websites that you have linked to. I especially like this post- planning is so important- if you don't then you get to the nursery and just load up on plants you really don't need- or want later on.

    Please remember this- any new garden you plant will look bare for the first 2 years (at least)- don't overplant because of this.

    You will want to take pictures of your plantings in various seasons to remember what is coming up when-- it's easier to tweek it later when you have something to look back on that's not just your memories. Also, you may want to leave something in your planting beds to remind you what is where-I leave signs the first year or two, then I move to small stones.

    Gardens are funny things. Plants will go where plants want to go. Many "creep", some will get eaten and die, some will just die. In a few years your garden may look much different than what you had originally planned for it to look- nature will "take it's course"

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