Color rules

Over the weekend I read this post on Garden Rant that caused a runaway train of thought about color. (Here’s hoping it doesn’t cause a wreck.)


Zinnia ‘Zowie’ breaks rules all by itselfI think we all have a special relationship with color. For some people bright colors are almost physically painful; for others, flash orange equals love. There have been studies that show that colors can affect people similarly. For example, yellow is invigorating, green calms and orange causes hunger pangs. And there are common associations like pink is for girls while blue is for boys. (Why?? Does anyone know how that one started??) And then there’s color theory: cool colors recede and warm colors advance; complementary colors vibrate in contrast while near neighbors on the color wheel blend in harmony. But there can be no universal rule for how you choose to color your world. When I moved into my house the living room ceiling was purple. That could be the pinnacle of coziness for some people but since I’m not one of them, I repainted. One gardener’s dazzling combination is another one’s toothache. Something that struck me in the Garden Rant article (by Michele Owens) was what she said about French Gardens. She said,

Combinations of orange, blue-pink, and crimson seem to be popular. At Giverny, which I actually visited once while the tree roses were in bloom, these hot clashes are artful. In other gardens, possibly a sign of carelessness.”Gomphrena ‘Woodcreek Red, Orange and Rose’  (Globe amaranth)


To me, the only sign of carelessness in a garden is neglect.

With hundreds resources to choose from (books, magazines, public gardens, friends’ gardens), we can find a set of rules (or 10) that is particularly appealing and then once we come to the realization that our gardens are never going to be just like the coffee table book glossies (because no two gardens are ever alike), we can start breaking those rules and have a blast. Gardening is about coloring in your piece of the earth and whether you use all the shades of green in the box Greens in the Idea Beds:  Thalictrum, Kirengeshoma and Hakonechloaor Rose Garden combo:  Rosa ‘Carefree Delight’, Heliotrope and Zinnia ‘Profusion’ Deep Apricotpink, orange, and purple in concert; whether you stay in the lines or bust out, the important thing is that your garden pleases you most of all.

9 thoughts on “Color rules

  1. Kris: I love that post! Color is so personal! I will change it on a whim in my beds. One thing I truly love is how white looks in the garden and that is really the lack of color isn’t it? It shines at night and it makes red look oh so redder! This year I am into the hot colors some places and the baby colors others. As I said, oh so personal!

  2. I agree, clashing colors may not be carelesness. Could be just the sign of a gardener in love with flowers, who buys what she likes and plants it where she can. I’ve never worried about clashing colors in the garden.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  3. Layanee, we gardeners are so fickle – my favorite plants and colors change daily! And depending which color theory you go by, white can also be ALL colors! (spin a color wheel to see for yourself!)

    Carol, I’m with you – there are so many other things to worry about in the garden (the bees, the weather…)! Clashing colors – color accidents even – can be, could be, should be(?) part of what makes gardening fun and rewarding!

  4. Kris, you’ve just become another of my ‘hort heros!’ My thoughts exactly on colour however it’s spelled…;-) The late great Christopher Lloyd wrote in Color for Adventurous Gardeners, “Learn the rules of colour–so you can break them!” That’s my mantra. Things I wouldn’t put together in clothing or inside the house in decor, (like orange, blue and lime green) make me absolutely jubilant when growing outside in a pot or in a border. The only colour I don’t like is ‘dead’–and if the dead is on goutweed, then I LOVE it….:-)

  5. Yay! Thank you, Jodi!! I don’t love ‘dead’ either come to think of it! Although, there are some plants that in their healthy state are sort of brownish and slightly crispy – that I love – I think for the contrast with the abundant color of ‘alive’ of other plants… As for goutweed… we call it by its formal Aegopodium and does it ever really die????

  6. The Garden Ranters enjoy being agents provocateurs. Although I admire thought-provoking writing, I believe that there is a difference between encouraging discussion and inciting emotional diatribes. So I don’t enjoy writing filled with absolutes, writing filled with lots of shouting and little listening.

    I agree with you and Jodi. Let everyone color the world with their own passion. As for me, my favorite color is whatever happens to be in bloom at the moment.

  7. MSS, There’s certainly nothing like a few absolutes to spark a heated debate – even when debate is unnecessary (I was going to say “silly”). And having a shifting array of favorites means never a dull moment! Carpe diem and garden on!

  8. Like I say there are three things I like about gardening:
    color, color and color 😉

  9. I am trying to add only purples and blues to my list of flowers. I don’t mind different colors of foliage, but the flowers-all PURPLE!!

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