Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
January, 2004
Regional Report

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This pink lupine is beautiful in its own right, but see how it is enhanced by the white iris.

Go Ahead and Try Those Colors Together!

Are you terrified of putting plants together, especially choosing colors? This is the part of design that makes most people run for a professional designer. Happily, "mistakes" in the perennial garden are easily fixed by moving or removing plants.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that landscapes change, plants grow, and it's okay to move things around -- even every year, if necessary, until you get exactly what you want. I know ... my neighbors tease me for moving plants around as easily as I move furniture.

Vita Sackville-West, famed creator of the Sissinghurst Castle Garden, once said, "Successful gardening is a matter of good marriages, arranged ones for the most part. There may be difficulties because of the roving nature of some of the characters, regardless of the impeccable lineage. In this case, the only solution may be a divorce (commonly known as the compost heap)." She speaks from experience.

Combining colors can seem daunting, but if you let your imagination go, it can be fun. Put any colors together that you like, and remember, white, gray, and silver can tie almost anything together. Best of all, your combinations make it your garden.

Using Color Themes
Color themes have always been popular, with white gardens sort of leading the way in elegance. Sissinghurst has an exquisite white garden, although it's important to note that there are other colors in the garden. Even an all-white garden is best emphasized with shades of silver, cream, pale yellow, and even pale pink and blue to set off the whites. Colors are made much more dramatic by contrasting them with other colors.

Monochromatic gardens tend to emphasize a single color, while complementary themes emphasize a close range, such as mauve, pink, and blue; or lemon, gold, and orange. Even with the range of colors in a complementary theme, be sure to toss in something of contrast to set off the theme colors.

Themes of contrasting colors, such as yellow and purple, or orange and blue, can be quite dramatic and exciting. Again, they're best tied together with cream or silver. A polychromatic garden includes all colors and gives a carnival-like atmosphere that is full of energy. A riot of colors is exuberant, especially if you use white and silver to tie the garden together and to ease the intensity. This type of garden can be elaborately planned, or a complete accident, as in my garden. I always mean to plan my color scheme, but then I visit the garden center and come home with something I couldn't resist even though it's not part of the plan.

One of my best accidents was a deep black-purple dwarf iris coupled with a bright yellow-orange wallflower. The colors are both intense, but they certainly draw you to them. My favorite accident, which I have perpetuated, is the pink-and-maroon-speckled Stargazer lily coupled with a short, dusty pink, annual nicotiana; and a pink-maroon bee balm I recovered from an old farmstead. And just in case I have too much pink together, these plants are complemented by creamy yellow Graham Thomas roses trained onto a trellis. Ahhh ? can't wait for spring!

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