Color Scheming

ageratum-artist.jpgSome gardeners come to a scheme for planting annuals based on favorite colors, or color combinations.  Others like a certain style of planting.  Others focus on the size of the flowers, or the color of the leaves.  The best plantings involve scheming on as many different levels as possible.  I plant the annuals in front of the shop in a different way every year.  That way, sooner or later, everyone will see something they like.  This is the best part of planting annuals.  Every year, there is a chance to try something new.

annual-planting.jpgLast year’s scheme was all green.  I planted panicum grass inside the boxwood.  More than a few customers said it looked like we were going out of business, as we had not cut the grass.   Like I say, everyone has a different idea of beautiful.  I knew I wanted to do something with purple. The color of this ageratum artist is so luscious.  It is a light blue/purple that I call heliotrope blue.  Lots of blue with a big dose of lavender.  Dark purple has a way of turning dull, if it does not have lively companions.  The blue salvia mystic spires has gorgeous blue/purple flowers that are so striking up close.  Plant it in a garden, and the color sinks into the background.  In the mid and background of this picture, you can barely make out the purple angelonia.

The planting needed some friends that would make that brooding dark purple more visually appealing.  We added both lime and white nicotiana to the purple angelonia.  This plant is airy growing, simple in flower, and sports big flat leaves.  This will contrast beautifully with the narrow leaves, smaller stature and flower spikes of the angelonia. So far, the planting has three colors in the mix.

tricolor-petunias.jpgMixing colors adds depth to a planting. Pictured above is a bedding petunia called “Great Lakes Mix”. The mix of white, medium blue/purple and dark purple petunias is a lively way to visually represent the idea of purple. A mass of white, or another light color can be quite striking.  A mass of dark purple can look dull and flat.  The value of the color purple, meaning its lightness or darkness, is very similar to the value of many greens in the landscape.  Dark purple blends with green, rather than standing out from it.  Determined to have lots of dark purple?  Underplant it with lime or white.   I dropped a floret of a red geranium onto this mix. This is a scheme I have planned for a client. The red will be all the more brilliant, given the purple mix.  The purple mix is even more lively, given the red.  Color in a garden is never about a color.  It is about the relationships that define every individual color in a strong way.

the dinnerplate dahlia fluerelSo far so good.  But this is a big planting bed, with boxwood that is over 3 feet tall.  The garden would need to be anchored by something.  A four foot tall dahlia would certainly provide a visual anchor to the garden.  This white dinnerplate dahlia called Fluerel has a pale yellow center, and pale yellow green buds.  This secondary color will relate to the lime nicotiana. The big flowers will be visible from a car driving by.  The nicotiana will soften the look of this stiffly growing upright plant. We will stake it securely, early on. We will do the same with the nicotiana.  The stakes are not the best look, but plants will completely disguise them in short order.  All there will be to do next is water and wait, and how the scheme is a good one. If the scheme is a good one, all the relationships will be both friendly and serious.   KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI saved the beginning of the story about this garden for last. I read the garden blog Gardenista almost every day.  Last winter they put up a post about a dinnerplate dahlia called “Cafe Au Lait”.  The story came from a the blog of a florist who features home grown flowers., if you are interested. This dahlia features flowers the color of cafe au lait, naturally.  Some flowers are more pink.  Some are more towards the cream side.  I have always been reluctant to grow these dahlias.  They can be too tall, too stiff, and too ungainly.  The blog post was very detailed in how and when to pinch them.  The pinching early on results in more flowers with long stems.  But it was the astonishing color that made me ask Mark from Bogie Lake Greenhouse to order 30 of them for me, and bring them on.  The entire rest of the garden is an effort to feature these dahlias.
Tomorrow we will add more ageratum to the edge.  I am after an 18″ wide rounded band of this color rolling down to the gravel to border the garden.  That low carpet of ageratum may not be prominent for long, but when it does fill in, it will lighten the look of all of the other plants.  There is a good while before the dahlias will have much to say. The ageratum border might be the best part of the garden, for a moment.  I am still thinking about what will go in the window boxes. Having and taking the time to look at a garden before proceeding is part of the pleasure of the process.


  1. Starr Foster says

    Awesome. Sophisticated. Humbling. Beautiful. Creative. I love the purple and green and the new opening in the boxwood. Looks like we will have to drop by often to see the changing display!

  2. Cynthia Green says

    I am waiting excitedly for your window box post and I am hoping you will address a 101 planting post as it is because of your blog that I finally realize why my current window boxes always look so disappointing. So I am going to try having boxes made and love the galvanized insert idea as your aged metal appears verdigris which would look perfect with our old copper entry roof. But my questions about the boxes still worry me. Like do you drill holes in the galvanized inserts to drain water as Shaker Heights Ohio where I live like Detroit gets lake effect rain that I worry could create a swimming pool after some of our rain storms and should you make the boxes as wide as the outside edge of the window shutters. Yours appear to be but your shutters are the narrow French design and mine are the English Tudor- esque variety so wider. All these questions I have!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cynthia, I drill lots of drain holes in my window boxes. Good drainage is key to successful culture. I like window boxes that are wide. Wide enough to visually support the windows, and the shutters. But you need to make a call for your own boxes, based on your eye. Study it, and make a call. Best, Deborah

  3. Susan Roubal says

    Deborah- I love to read what you have to say almost as much as pouring over the lovely photos featuring your color/texture selections. Its such a distince pleasure to have a fresh cup of coffee and sit down to see what musings you have posted. The artist inside you was showing today, especially in the color/value discussion and was so spot on. Refreshing to see it applied to flowers- especially one of my favorites-purple heliotrope! Every post is exciting and I’m anxious to savor the next. Thank you!

    On a local note- in my yard, all of spring is being compressed into a very short time span and starting to over lap early summer- daffodils alongside phlox, crab apples showing bloom and Wolf River apples blooming, wooly thyme showing a purple fringe, even some early budded delphinium stalks gaining height …craziness! But alive and colorful- so I love it!

  4. erin bailey says

    Isn’t color wonderful! I love playing with the relationships. Besides the color itself, I like to consider the value and intensity relationships, too. If one can scheme for all this plus leaf color and texture, too–what fun! Of course nothing is ever perfect, which also makes another year of playing with color such a challenge and interest. Love your blog, thank you for taking the time to write.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Erin, the thought that goers into any move in a landscape has to function on lots of different levels. Like you, I enjoy all of voices looking for a hand that will make for some harmony. Thanks, Deborah

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