When selecting plants for your landscape, the use of color relationships is an important principle to creating an attractive and functional work of art.
In design principals, plants can play a major part in creating emphasis, balance, harmony, variety, movement, rhythm, proportion and unity. A plant’s color, whether used for its flowers or foliage, is a strong design element and, if used successfully, can attract attention and guide the human eye in a pleasing way through the landscape.
Colors can be described as cool or warm. Green and blue are considered “cool” colors associated with water, sky and forests, and evoke a feeling of calm and relaxation.
Warm colors are red, orange and yellow. These colors are associated with heat, fire and the sun; they demand attention and create excitement. The feeling a gardener wants to create in a landscape will depend on the selection of plants and use of color.
There are at least six schemes to consider when choosing a new garden or natural setting, each evoking a different mood.
Monochromatic color schemes use only one color and its various hues and tints. For example, a monochromatic scheme could use green as a base color and add various shades and tints in combination to create a harmonious visual effect. This scheme creates a subtle and soothing garden space.
Analogous schemes include colors next to each other on the color wheel. If you have taken classes on principles of design, you know that is a great resource. For example, orange and red are next to each other on the wheel; mixing them in the landscape will create a rich blend. Depending on which side of the wheel one chooses, a warm or cool effect can be achieved. Analogous green and yellow planted together create a warm impression that is visually pleasing.
Complementary schemes use colors that are opposites on the wheel and complement each other. For example, purple and yellow are opposites, but when planted together, intensify the brightness of each color. This combination is popular in plantings because they accent each other. Often you will see pansies in complementary color schemes.
Primary schemes use the three primary colors, red, yellow and blue. They are bright and energetic when used together, stimulate and attract attention. Sometimes planting them together can be too intense, so adding shades or tints of each can create a softer effect. Adding a lighter pink, light blue or gold will create a pleasing statement.
Riotous schemes use many colors in vibrant combinations. This can be difficult to achieve, and best if colors are used together as much as possible to ensure unity. The mixing of many colors can be too energetic and can look messy and chaotic. The use of a dominate color, along with others, is the best way to plant this scheme. This will tie the overall composition together.
Pastel color schemes use tones to create a subtle mood. It is important to combine other pastels together. Pastels work well with silver- and gray-tinted foliage plants like dusty miller and artemesia. This scheme works well in a garden with water features and cool color hardscapes. Another example would be to use mauve flowers of angelonia with purple foliage of coleus in combination with silver gray foliage of juniper.
Remember that in all of these schemes, the flower color is important, but the foliage (leaf) color can be combined to create a successful landscape. Colored foliage creates softness and blends well in every type of scheme. Use the foliage of variegated abelia, coleus, yucca and eleagnus.
Use these schemes when considering the changing of season. Color is important to plant combinations from one season to the next. Consider the color of your landscape through all four seasons. This will help you to achieve a visual impact throughout the year.
Another concept to remember is that cool colors tend to recede in a landscape, where warm colors advance and appear closer. Cool colors make the area appear larger while warm colors tend to make it seem smaller.
Color has a powerful visual effect in the overall landscape and can evoke powerful emotional responses, so carefully consider what you are trying to achieve for best results.
Thanks to Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.