How Using Flower Color Effectively

Few topics are as interesting as color, and few things affect the overall look of a garden as much as color. Used effectively, color can create a feeling of calm, graciousness, spaciousness, excitement, or just about any mood a gardener wants to achieve.

Home Improvement

If you are planning gardens near or around your home, it is natural to want the color scheme of the flowers to complement the exterior colors. If your home is basically neutral – beige, gray or white – you have a relatively easy task because you can use just about any color scheme you like. If, however, your home is accented with a colorful trim, you may want to pick colors that echo that color or complement it. Red, for example, is the direct complement of green, so red geraniums, salvia or petunias, etc., would be a good choice for a neutral house with green trim. Unless you are an expert at using color, stick to two or three colors that you repeat in your annual plantings. This will give a planned, unified look to all your garden spots, and avoid the hodgepodge look that lacks focus and distracts from the overall look you want to achieve.

      Professionally landscaped homes, public parks, botanical gardens, and gardening magazines can often give you “free advice” on effectively using color.

Take a Ride on the Color Wheel

If you don’t have a color wheel, you should be able to purchase one at an art supply store or possibly a paint store. If you don’t want to buy one, check out books on color at your library or find one on the Internet. A color wheel will show you what colors are complementary, analogous, triadic, and monochromatic.

Let’s look at each of these four-color harmonies:

      A monochromatic color scheme means that all the flowers are the same color or lighter and/or darker shades of the same color. One example of a monochromatic harmony would be red, pink, and burgundy impatiens. A truly monochromatic scheme, where all the flowers are more or less the same color and shade, can create a feeling of spaciousness because the eye is not interrupted by another color. However, having everything the same color could get boring. Introducing lighter and darker versions of the same color can add more interest, while maintaining your overall color scheme.

      An analogous color scheme uses colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. Reading around a basic color wheel, the colors go from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to violet, and then back to red. For an analogous harmony, you can start anywhere on the wheel and go forward and/or backward to get a harmonious scheme. For example, orange calendulas, yellow-orange coreopsis, and yellow cosmos would make an analogous planting in the garden.

      The complementary color scheme uses colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Examples are red and green, orange and blue, yellow and violet. Some very striking uses of color can be made with complements. Orange and its complement blue could be combined in a planting of tall blue lavender with a border of orange marigolds. Yellow petunias planted with blue saliva in a terra cotta pot would be a complementary color scheme.

      The triadic harmony uses three colors that are an equal distance from each other on the color wheel. For example, yellow sunflowers, red zinnias, and blue morning glories form a triadic harmony. This unusual, but very attractive scheme not only gives you more color, but it gives you the opportunity to have a greater variety of plants.

Everyone likes a bright, colorful garden, but did you know that you can use the colors of flowers and plants to create a mood, shorten or lengthen the look of a garden, or really call attention to a special feature? It’s possible because of the way we perceive colors.

Hey Look Me Over!

Red and yellow are two colors that immediately capture our attention. Scientists tell us that we actually see these two colors faster than others. Our eyes are drawn to displays of red or yellow, so they are excellent choices to put around a fountain, or to plant in a key area that you want people to see. Likewise, if you have something in your garden you DON’T want people to look at, plant bright yellow flowers opposite that area to draw attention away from there. Ideally, they will look at the yellow flowers and turn their backs on whatever eyesore it is you want to hide.

      If you have some steps leading to your garden or in your garden, consider planting a border of yellow flowers next to them. The yellow will catch people’s eyes and alert them in an attractive way that there are steps there and they should be careful.

      One color expert has said that a house will even sell faster if it has yellow trim or has borders of yellow flowers out front. This advice isn’t guaranteed, but if you are trying to sell your house quickly, this is certainly worth a try.

      Is your garden area long and narrow, and would you like to square it off a little with minimal effort? Plant lots of bright red flowers at the far end and this will visually pull that end in closer and it won’t seem so long and narrow. This can be done with anything you want to bring closer, because red advances visually.

      Red also physically arouses us and gets our adrenaline pumping. If you want to excite people, put lots of red around. Experiments have shown that food tastes better around red, so red flowers around your outdoor eating area will stimulate conversation and make the food taste better, too.

      Masses of red or yellow are guaranteed attention-getters and will not go unnoticed. In a full-sun garden consider the red blooms of petunias, celosia or wax begonias. Yellow is most often found in marigolds, but for taller plants with golden yellow blooms try sunflowers.

      And, by the way, men tend to favor yellow-based reds (like scarlet) while women tend to favor blue-based reds (like burgundy). If you and your spouse don’t agree on what “red” to plant, this could be why.

How Sweet It Is

The color pink is perceived as being sweet tasting and fragrant. You may not have noticed it, but people will usually try to smell pink flowers even when they don’t have any fragrance. And pink is a soothing, calming color as well. One researcher has said that people are less likely to argue with someone who is wearing a lot of pink, so lots of pink plants around your outdoor patio could contribute to amiable conversation when you entertain.

      In sunny locations consider pink blooms from dianthus, geraniums or tall cosmos. In shade, pink wax begonias or impatiens will brighten the area.

Crisp and Clean

If you are the type of person who likes things neat, tidy, and precise, white is the color for you. We think of doctors in their white coats and laboratories with white walls and equipment because we associate white with cleanliness, orderliness, and precision. Crisp flowerbeds or border plantings of white will give your garden a well-planned and orderly look. But don’t expect the color alone to do all the work – you will still need to tend your garden. Masses of white can be hard on the eyes, so you may want to include areas of other colors as well.

      White is also the last color to fade from sight as darkness falls, so it’s a good choice for areas you want to look at in the evening, and also a good choice for bordering pathways since you can follow your way easier even as it gets dark.

      Garden annuals that deliver good white booms are nicotianas, vincas and zinnias. These three will perform best in sunny locations.

      Green is an excellent complement to white because it actually helps your eyes recover quickly from strain. (Old-time engravers, who had to do very detailed work, often kept a green gemstone nearby so that they could look at it to relieve their eye strain – honest!) Mid-tone to deep greens can impart an air of richness and luxury to a garden, while lighter and yellow greens give a more casual look. You might want to consider this if you are planting up some areas with lots of plants you’ve chosen more for their foliage than their flowers.

Keeping Your Cool

Have you ever wondered why swimming pools are usually painted blue? It’s because we perceive blue as being cool and calming. If swimming pools were painted red, we’d think the water was hot.

      When our field of vision is filled with blue, our bodies actually slow down and we begin to get calmer. You can use this attribute of blue to create a feeling of coolness even in a full-sun garden by planting lots of blue flowers (lighter blues are better than dark blues). Even if it’s 95 degrees, you’ll feel cooler in the “blue” area of your garden.

      And blue tones can help you widen or lengthen the look of a garden because blue recedes, or falls back, from our sight. Lots of blue flowers and blue-toned foliage planted on the long sides of a long and narrow garden will actually seem to make it wider because the blue “falls back” visually.

      Blues are the first colors to fade from sight as dusk falls, so you may want to choose a brighter color if there is an area in your garden that you like to look at in the evening.

      Cool blue tones are borne on salvia, eustoma, morning glory, and ageratum plants.

Creative Gray

There aren’t a lot of plants that come in gray, but Dusty Miller (cineraria) and a few other foliage plants do come in silvery gray tones. What’s interesting about gray is that it is the only color that doesn’t produce an after-image. Usually, if you stare at a color for a while and then close your eyes and look away, you will “see” its complementary color in your mind’s eye. This doesn’t happen with gray. Gray is said to promote creativity (you’ll often find gray walls in an advertising agency), so if you often go into your garden to think, consider planting a bed of gray to look at.

Let The Good Times Roll

What if you like lots of different colors mixed in among each other? That’s great. Mixes of bright colors give a happy, festive look to an area. Mix different flowers, different colors and different texture to your heart’s delight, but just be careful not to overdo it. Too much mixing can look more disorganized than festive, so using three or four colors over and over can help tie the look together.

      For a wide range of colors, try mixtures of zinnias, petunias or portulacas. For a more limited but still festive look, a marigold mixture can display the four colors of yellow, orange, gold and maroon.

Color You Can Eat

While we often focus on flowers for color in a garden, vegetables can be as decorative as they are delicious. A compact zucchini with a small trellis in a pot provides lush foliage, bright yellow flowers, and the attractive texture and shape of maturing fruit. Eggplants, tomatoes, ornamental cabbages, and other vegetables can be used creatively in pots and in among flowers to add height, color, and texture to a garden.

If you haven’t thought about the psychological effects of color before, these tips may give you a starting point for creating not only the look you want in your garden, but also the “feel” you want as well.