Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
May, 2006
Regional Report

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To see if two flowers make a good color combination, pick one and place it beside the other, such as with this iris and clematis.

Color Corrections

No doubt there does exist, somewhere, that gardener who is totally satisfied with how his or her garden looks, who never impulsively acquires a plant without knowing exactly where it will be placed, whose plants never outgrow their space, and whose color schemes seem to be inspired by any number of great painters.

Then there's the rest of us, fitting somewhere on a continuum, perhaps close to perfection or maybe more to the center, or, alas, at the abysmal opposite end. The bottom line, of course, is what makes us happy, not what some garden writer or visitor thinks is best. Still, most of us would like our gardens to be, well, at least pretty and appreciated somewhat by others. Although there are many factors that go into making a garden pleasing, one of the most important is how color is used.

How we combine colors is one of the main factors in what makes an attractive outfit, a beautiful room, or a delightful garden. Certainly, just as a crazy quilt can be charming, so can a garden composed of all the colors of the rainbow mixed together. With just a bit of extra thought and planning as to how the colors are used, the effect can become stunning. The dilemma is in knowing exactly what shade a particular variety might be and when it blooms in relationship to other plants.

What initiated this train of thought was a recent "walkabout" in the garden. First, I passed a beautiful lavender-blue clematis. A little while later, I noticed a gorgeous ruffled German iris. The infamous light bulb went off in my head. Wasn't that iris similar in color to the clematis? Picking a flower and taking it over to the clematis proved my conjecture correct. Each one alone is certainly lovely, but planting the two in proximity would have an even greater effect. Plus, my observation showed that the two bloomed concurrently. Of course, now I have to remember which iris it was when the time is right to divide and transplant.

Keeping Track of Colors
The same goes for a large holding bed of iris that I planted last year in order to rescue an area that had been overrun with weeds. The colors are all jumbled together in the holding area. One friend suggested I take a digital photo of each individual plant and assign a number to all that were the same. That number could then be placed on a plant tag and attached to each plant. Then when I was ready to transplant, the different varieties could be placed where appropriate.

Actually, it's a good idea to use both a digital camera and a computer in helping to keep plant records, including name, source, and growth records, as well as bloom time and color. Microsoft Works Home XP has a "plant description" template in the word processing program, under "lawn and garden worksheets," that includes space for a photo plus common name, Latin name, date purchased, source, growing instructions, and notes. You can certainly develop your own, however, with very little effort.

Another aspect of using color in the garden that has drawn my attention recently is in a garden of a friend. In one particular area, a large bed (about 30x50 feet) on a slope is composed mainly of perennials, with a few trees, shrubs, bulbs, and annuals. When I first started visiting several weeks ago, there were maybe fifty white iris blooming, interspersed around the area. These have faded and now there are about the same number of yellow iris in bloom. After these finish, the spiked foliage will add contrast to the next wave of perennials to bloom. This use of one color, repeated, gives the area tremendous impact.

There have been many books written over the years about using color in the garden, but nothing matches experience -- moving plants until you get the look you want. For more information about using the color wheel and creating different types of color schemes, visit this Color Matters Web site ( Bottom line, never be afraid to experiment and try something new.

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