Category Archives: color in the garden

Color in the Garden

Now that the weather is cooperating it’s a pleasure to spend time out on the deck and in the garden. Even the evenings are warm enough to enjoy outside. If you find yourself looking about and thinking the garden of your dreams needs a little something more, consider adding color from flowers, foliage, bark and landscaping materials.

Don’t be afraid to play with color even if you don’t get it right the first time. Just learn from your mistakes and make adjustments. Whether it’s a pastel Monet garden or a hot Samba garden you want to create, here’s how your own garden can draw oohs and aahs in every season.

Warm colors , dynamic and noticeable from afar than cool hues which are more calming and understated. Warm colors advance visually, cool ones recede. So to make a small garden appear larger use cool blues and lavenders in the back with just a touch of scarlet, orange or yellow up close for contrast. Do the opposite to make a large space more intimate – position warm colors at the back, cool colors in front.

Garden colors aren’t static either. They vary with time of day, the season, the weather and the distance from which we view them. Also color perception varies among people and not all people with normal vision see color the same way. Since color and light are inseparable, white, yellow and pastels seem more vivid in low light. In overcast or fog, soft colors like pink, creamy yellow, pale blue and lavender come alive. As night approaches and the earth is bathed in blues and violets, those colors are the first to fade from view.

Have fun with color. don’t be afraid to try new combinations. . I often hear people say "I like all the colors except orange". Orange naturally combines with blue as these ‘sunset’ colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. Think how nice bright orange California poppies look with blue marguerites or peach poppies with blue violas. You might not think of linking orange with pink but it’s a pleasing combination. It works because pink is analogous with purple. Try combining orange calibrachoa in a planter with pink arctotis and lavender Silver Sky bacopa to harmonize with the pink and contrast with the orange.

Foliage is a rich source or garden color. You can find plants with yellow, red, purple, blue or gray foliage as well as shades of green with variegated, marbled or streaked leaves. Rose Glow barberry has rich marbled bronzy red and pinkish hew foliage and looks sensational next to coral Grosser Sorten pelargoniums.

And don’t forget white, cream and silver flowers and foliage to brighten up the night garden. White combines nicely with both warm and cool colors so it’s easy to place. It’s an effective peacemaker between colors that would clash if placed side by side. In shady gardens, plants like white bleeding heart, wavy cream-edged hosta, white browallia, white hydrangea, lamium and white calla lily pop at night. Gardens in more sun can plant Holly’s White penstemon, silvery bush morning glory, dichondra Silver Falls, fragrant Iceberg roses and white sweet alyssum and Whirling Butterflies gaura for the butterflies.

Plants grow and gardens change over time. Realize that you’re embarking on a journey that may take many years. Have fun getting there.

Plant Combinations for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Every spring while driving Hwy 280 on the way to the S.F. Flower & Garden Show, I enjoy the beautiful combination of Western redbuds blooming vivid fuchsia alongside electric blue flower clusters. It’s a sight that always excites me. In early spring there are many other plants that bloom at the same time creating  colorful vignettes. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve used.

Shady gardens come to life when Valley Valentine Lily-of-the-Valley shrub ( Pieris japonica ) is planted in the same area as Bleeding Hearts, Geranium Biokova and Red-leaf Japanese maple. If you’ve never seen this shrub covered with hundreds of rose colored, tiny urn-shaped bells you’ve missed a spectacular sight. The flower buds form in fall and are colorful all winter then open slowly over many months. This plant sails through winter weather, hardy to 0 degrees and is scorned by deer. Even the bark is beautiful on this 5-7 ft evergreen shrub. Add a Red-leaf maple underplanted with pink and white Bleeding Hearts and pale pink Biokova geraniums and your woodland scene is complete.

A beautiful combination for a sunny garden in spring is Spanish lavender Dedication blooming near a Pink Breath of Heaven. Add the strappy leaves of a apricot striped Sundowner New Zealand flax and you’ve created a beautiful addition to your garden.

Sundowner is one of the larger phormiums reaching 6 ft when happy so allow it room and make this your focal point. Lavender Dedication is a stocky 2×3 ft plant that blooms all spring into summer and often repeats if sheared. Short, fat 2" flower spikes have 4 flag-like bracts resembling rabbit ears. Pink Breath of Heaven bears tiny flowers that cover the plant winter and spring and can continue scattered bloom at any other time. The delicate slender leaves are fragrant when brushed or bruised and would be nice along a path where you can enjoy the foliage fragrance. All three of these plants are drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Another nice combo for the sun is Bush Morning Glory planted with Erysimum Orange Zwerg and Echeveria imbricata (Hens and Chicks). If you’ve been wanting to add just a touch of orange to your garden, the dainty 18" tall Orange Zwerg erysimum cooled off with the silky smooth, silvery leaves of Bush Morning Glory is just the ticket. This small mounding erysimum is actually a golden orange and contrasts nicely with the fast growing 2-4 ft Bush Morning Glory. Hens and Chicks in the foreground with their blue green succulent rosettes and loose clusters of bell-shaped orang-red flowers complete the picture. All these are also low water use plants.

When planning, re-arranging or adding to the garden it’s smart to keep plants together that have similar water requirements. That way you won’t overwater and waste water. You still have time to move any plants or shrubs that are in the wrong place. The weather is still cool and they can settle in before the hot weather arrives.  If you have just one plant that needs regular watering among low water use plants you’ll be watering everything more to keep that one alive.  Transplant it to another spot and your water bill will reflect this savings come this summer.

Fall Planting ideas

It’s always exciting for me to see the first fall colors of the season. we may not have a show like they do in the the hardwood forests of the east coast but we’re still barbequeing and they’re not. If your garden cries out for a something that you can put a table and chairs under and still have room to play, consider a red maple. Autumn Blaze maples spread to 40 ft. wide and you’ll be enjoying their brilliant orange-red fall color long into the fall season. They need an occasional deep watering like a fruit tree but little pruning.

Take advantage or fall weather to plant cool season flowers.  October is a great month to plant as the plants will have time to become established and start flowering before winter sets in. You’ll be amazed at how much color your plants will produce when you start early. Good choices for this area include iceland poppy, snapdragon, chrysanthemum paludosum, calendula, stock, pansy, viola, primrose and cyclamen.

Orange and Peach color in the Garden

Enjoying a spectacular sunset on a warm evening in the summertime is one of life’s simple pleasures. Peach and orange tones bounce off the bottom of gauzy cirrus clouds as they streak across the sky. Combine these warm colors with varying shades of blue sky and you have he perfect color combo –opposites on the color wheel. We can’t help but ooh and aah,  we have an emotional response to this particular pairing of colors.

If you don’t have a vignette or section of your garden with peach, orange and blue yet, now’s the time to create one. All the tints and tones of orange warm and cheer up our gardens, no matter what the weather. And orange flowers set off every color of foliage, from blue-gray to lime to copper.

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Canna ‘Pretoria’

Here’s a short list of my favorite peach and orange flowers and foliage:
•    Orange hummingbird mint ( agastache aurantiaca ) a drought tolerant, summer-blooming favorite of hummingbirds.
•    Crocosmia – an old garden favorite with long blooming flower spikes that make good cut flowers.
•    Kangaroo paw Tequila Sunrise ( anigozanthus ) – another long blooming hummingbird favorite
•    Canna Pretoria – beautiful variegated gold foliage and orange flowers make this perennial a classic
•    Yarrow Terra Cotta ( achillea millefolium ) – drought tolerant, carefree, generously blooming perennial attractive to both butterflies and their larvae
•    Flowering Maple Tangerine( abutilon )- favorite year-round bloomer of both hummingbirds and yours truly.
•    Fuschia gartenmeister – the orange fuchsia that needs no cleaning. May still be blooming at Christmas time for your hummers.
•    Orange New Zealand sedge ( carex testacea ) – widely arching clumps of beautiful rusty grass

Other inspiring orange flowers your sure to want in your garden are calibrachoa Sunrise or Terra Cotta, gazania, lantana, dahlia, coprosma Evening Glow, orange tuberous begonias and orange daylilies

Combine with blue flowers, stir well and stand back to enjoy your own garden sunset.