Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
July, 2010
Regional Report

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This "hot" border was created with careful attention to plant size, form, and texture, as well as color.

Partner Plants with Aplomb

Ever heard the description "a marriage made in heaven"? How about "oil and water don't mix"? With plants, as with life, some combos work and some don't.

Successful plant partnerships juxtapose visual elements- primarily color, size, form, and texture- in pleasing proportions, balancing similarities and differences so that plants join forces to create a beautiful garden.

It's not as hard as it sounds.

When choosing colors, there are three easy combinations that always work: a mix of colors across from each other on the color wheel, a blend of those beside each other on the color wheel, or a group of tints and shades of a single color.

Contrasting schemes, such as blue and orange or yellow and purple, bring drama to the garden. Opposite colors contain no hues in common, so they seem to vibrate when placed next to each other. A mix like this shouts "look at me" and is best used to highlight a high-impact area, such as an entrance or a focal point.

Analogous colors, on the other hand, sing by virtue of their likeness. Popular combinations include the "hot" colors of red, orange, and yellow and the "cool" colors of blue, purple, and green. Hot colors are exciting, while cool colors are peaceful, so these schemes often set the mood of a space.

Hot and cool colors can also be used to trick the eye. For instance, placing hot colors at the back of a long, narrow garden will shorten the visual distance, bringing the garden into a more pleasing perspective.

To bring dissimilar elements into harmony or make a small space seem larger, choose a monochromatic scheme utilizing the tints and shades of a single color. Popular monochromatic color mixes for the garden include white, purple and red.

Whatever colors you choose, include foliage as well as flowers in your plans. Variegated foliage with white or cream on the leaves can help carry a white theme through the seasons. Enhance other schemes with silver, gray, blue, chartreuse, burgundy and maroon foliage plants.

It's important to select pants with different sizes and shapes too. If you're always looking down when you move through the garden, there's a problem. Add small trees, climbing vines and large shrubs to bring the eye up and moving around the landscape.

Contrasting forms will also vary the visual experience. Some plants can be round, but not all of them. Look for spiky shapes, pencil-thin cylinders and weeping forms to break the monotony.

Finally, ensure the garden has subtle levels of interest by varying the leaf texture. Fine textured plants with small leaves contribute a sense of lightness or airiness, while bold textured plants with large leaves add visual weight. Those in the middle act as visual blenders between the two extremes and will keep combinations harmonious.

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