Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
March, 2006
Regional Report

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Copper plants in shades of red, maroon, and burnt copper offer contrast for more common garden colors.

Contrast Power

Green may soothe the soul, but it can also be a cure for insomnia in the garden. A garden with too much of a good green thing calls out for plants with contrast to prevent garden boredom.

Color Categories
Shades of one color, even green, offer some contrast. The lighter tones are set off by the darker ones. Decorators would say lime or teal green "pops" when placed near forest or even Kelly green. In the garden, the lime green of a hosta looks brighter placed next to the dark green of cast iron plant.

Subtle Harmony
It may sound contradictory, but colors that contrast a bit with each other actually create a harmonious garden mood. Each looks better next to the other than alone, and together they please your eye. The primary colors (those that cannot be made by combining any other pigments) are red, yellow, and blue. Secondary colors (green, orange, and purple) are made by mixing the primary colors.

When these colors are arranged in order around a color wheel, the side-by-side colors are called analogous: yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange, for example. Choosing plants, pots, even paint for the plant bench that use analogous colors always heightens the contrast between them. Sometimes, the effect is present in one powerfully colorful plant: Canna 'Tropicana Gold' has yellow-green and yellow striped leaves, with a yellow-orange flower. The plant is lovely to look at because its colors -- though bright and bold -- are harmonious.

Opposites Attract
Colors opposite each other on the color wheel, like red and green and red-purple and yellow-green, create what is called "stable contrast." That means the wide difference in the colors works like the legs of a tripod. When spread wide, the view is stable and brings comfort to the viewer.

If you want to use red flowers in the garden, remember it is a primary color and will look different depending on what color background you provide. Against other dark colors, red is a brilliant focal point, but when planted with its analogous orange, it loses dominance. The two colors deliver a subtle contrast. But if you use red with a shade farther away on the spectrum, such as blue-green (its complement), the contrast will be more striking. Remember these color tips as you paint your garden, and go for contrast in all its variations.

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