17 February 2008

Colour in the Garden: Be Bold!

As my friend Kylee says, a garden designer I ain't. It's well known I may possibly be just a little bit of a plant addict...I just love plants, trying old as well as new varieties, trying different colours, textures, heights, and so on. I'm not shy about using colour in our gardens. The fun thing about playing with plant colours is if something doesn't work, you can change it quickly--it's not like painting your house and deciding it's not quite the right shade.

One of my favourite authors and inspirations is the late, great Christo Lloyd, and this book is one of a few I would have to take with me if I were stranded on a desert island.

In past posts I've written how Christo exhorts gardeners to 'learn the rules of colour--so you can break them!' Never being one to follow rules too rigourously, that works just fine for me. It was fun to find that rules I thought I was scandalously bending are things he approves of wholeheartedly.

There aren't too many colours I don't like, mostly because in many cases the shape of the flower or the bloom period or other feature overrules any hesitation I have about a particular colour. I'm not strong on pastels, but I do have some, of course. There's just one problem with pastels, and that has more to do with where I live than with the colours themselves.

Well, when you deal with as much RFD (Rain, Fog and Drizzle) as we oceanside dwellers do in summer months, you don't want to have only soft pastels...at least I don't! Not only do they tend to look like hell when the wet causes roses to ball like soggy lumps of kleenex, they just look washed out after day 3 of fog.

Whereas this would never look washed out, would it? This is a friend's garden, down the Valley where the heat shimmers in high summer. Marnie has some similar colour tastes and plant loves as I do, obviously, because hers is one of my favourite gardens, private or public!

Maybe some people find this many bright coloured plants tiring on the eyes...in which case you can cool them down nicely with something a little more neutral, like silver foliage on these rose campion plants (Lychnis coronaria, at least I think it still is unless the taxonomists have had a meeting!)

While this may cause some to run shrieking in horror, blue and orange is one of my absolute favourite colour pairings in the garden. I wouldn't wear those colours together, I don't think, but in the garden they provide me an instant lift. As an added bonus, both the wallflower (cv unknown, sadly) and the corydalis (C. elata, not the less-hardy-here C. flexuosa)

Some of my plantings have worked out really well, not so much by planning--I'll admit that freely--in earlier years I tossed everything in together and hoped it grew, but now I do plan a wee bit. I like the way the deep wine poppies (and their more red cousins) play off the even deeper wine, almost black foliage of Cimicifuga--whoops, that's Actaea now--'Black Negligee'. There are several gold-foliaged plants nearby to add contrast: Bromus 'Skinner's Gold' and 'Aztec Gold' veronica, among others.

It's no surprise that I'm a voracious reader, of magazines, newspapers, books, blogs and my evergrowing library of gardening books is the envy of many a visitor--those who get let into the sanctum sanctorum of my office. Another of my favourite authors is Britain's Sarah Raven, who is another cheerleader for gardening with joy, whether you're planting peas or portulaca, lettuce or lithops.

When I am feeling really tired and whited out by the dreary days, I know a cup of chai tea and a look through The Bold and Brilliant Garden will make me feel much, much better.

In looking back through photos of past container plantings of annuals, I don't think I've ever used exactly the same combination more than once. Most of our annuals, except the free range species (nigella, poppies, sunflowers and other exuberant selfseeders) are in containers, which I use for portable colour, moving them around the dooryard, entryways, and borders where there's a lull happening. Perhaps some bulbs are dying down, and perennials haven't yet gotten their growth; or perhaps I've whacked some of the perennials down to cajole a second flush of blooms out of them. Pop a container into a bare spot, and voila! Instant brightness. (And all these annuals give my pollinating friends something extra to dine on, too.

There's a lot going on in this particular part of the front garden, I admit it. The plants are selected to take some shade in afternoon, to always provide some colour (that yellow corydalis will flower nonstop until snow) but also there's a fair bit of focus on foliage texture; ranging from the straplike leaves of Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass), Asiatic lilies and hemerocallis to the fernlike Corydalis and Aquilegia species, and the coarser, strong foliage of Echinops. And for good measure, there's the silver spangled foliage of Lamiastrum, Dicentra, and Pulmonaria species. It might be too much for some, but for us, it works. And for the butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and others who visit constantly--it apparently works well, too!

Finally...a shoutout to my computer-genius offspring Ryan, who got into my blog template and made the side panels wider, so that I could post images and html widgets without them overflowing off the template. We're still puzzling over the way the template reacts to titles, but he'll figure that out. He reminded me that we were some of the first people in our area to be on the Internet (1993!) and that he's grown up with all this--he was playing on the Internet when others in his grade 1 class didn't know what it was. I smile, nod, admit to being a pretty good writer and a dunderhead about HTML and Java, and am very grateful for his skills 'behind the scenes'!


  1. Wonderful, wonderful! I enjoy the catchildren photos very much, and hearing about the talented offspring. We need to rethink our color usage here in TN, more, more and more of it!

    Frances at Faire Garden

  2. Just seeing all that color makes my heart sing Jodi. I definitely want more color this summer. I put an orange Crossandra infundibuliformis with a purple Scaevola aemula and a chartruese hosta (I forget the name) and it was a great look. I want more color this year for sure.

    Cudos to your offspring. You are mightly blessed lady.

  3. Ah color! Sounds like a much have book. I shall check it out! I echo your gratitude for computer savvy offspring. Thx to mine I started to blog 3 years ago and am loving all the information, inspiration and connections that lie herein.

  4. Gorgeous pictures and adventurous colors! Love them all. Thanks for the mention of those books. I have quite a collection also but neither of those mentioned. Another list!

  5. Hi Jodi, what a great post!! Colors are a big theme and you did a good job with showing so wonderful photograps and the books. Christopher Lloyd is one of my favourites also.
    Thank you for sharing your ideas and pictures with us.
    Have a nice day Wurzerl

  6. colors is very interesting subject. our choice depends on the inner balance or in-balance. we have desire for specific colors in different periods of our lives.
    my first summer in the garden was totally calling for WHITE (can you imagine?) flowers only! my friend gardener was looking at me and saying 'I'll wait till you see that every color in the garden is beautiful' - phew! (I thought).
    Today I know she was right. Last year I missed orange in the autumn soooo bad - I will exchange my pink autumn blooms to orange this year :)

  7. I agree, I don’t like rules in my garden (too many in the real world) for me every color combination works.

  8. Jodi - Just caught up with your recent postings. Once my eyes adjusted to all that vivid color, I removed my sunglasses and had a closer look. I may be a somewhat pastel gardener, but I can appreciate the dash and daring that brilliant floral displays provide.

    I enjoyed the chocolate plants and have a couple of these specimens, and just like real chocolates, I could always use a couple more.

    I also took a trip through the sidebar and loved the catchildren! I have one jet black, 20# male (Stanley) and three orange & white brothers (Kipper, Arnold & Jake), nicknamed "the triplets." The triplets were born in the backyard woodpile and somehow I wound up adding them to the "family." Lucy, the dog, tolerates them all - she has to, since she's their size.

    Thanks for the beautiful visions of summer... Deb

  9. I was just about to "fold up" for the night, when your comment came in. I have a title for the movie that features those suicidal mice, entering your cat-patrolled, farmhouse basement... "Death Wish" I'm off to the living room for "movie night," with my "beasties."...... Deb

  10. Wow, Jodi, that image of the blue corydalis and orange wallflower was just...wow. Now, if I could figure out how to do that here; neither one of those will grow for me. And I too absolutely adore Sarah Raven's book. And Nori and Sandra Pope's Color by Design. And Andrew Lawson's The Gardener's Book of Color, too!

  11. This was a great post to read. I love your use of colour - it especially looks appealing at this time of year.

    Aren't kids grand? Ryan did a great job ... your blog looks better with more solid colour.

  12. We should have more holiday weekends so we can have great posts like this one! Good job!

    I am all for boldness in color. Only once have I had it seriously backfire. I ordered a rose topiary for my Colonial theme garden. The roses were such a lurid pink that they made me sick to look at them! Like cheap lipstick! When the plant was blown down, I let it go and a friend finally dug it up and dragged it home with her. Good riddance!

    Robin at Bumblebee

  13. Your color is so uplifting - and all the textures and variation in heights and intermingling is spectacular. I love bright colors juxtaposed against each other, too. Your blue-orange is so unique. Your blog looks great, too - how nice that you have talented help at home. Kids are really great. I've put your books on my list - just sat here and started one!

  14. Blue and orange is one of my favorite combos in art and in the landscape (big fan of Moab, Utah--blue sky and deep orange rock). Last year I planned for that combo in part of my coastal prairie garden with CA poppies and douglas iris. We'll see how it goes.

  15. Well, Jodi, you'll be happy to know that there is a very real reason why you love the blue and orange flowers together in the garden. Blue and orange are complementary colors, sitting opposite one another on the color wheel. Any pairing of complementary colors (red/green, purple/yellow, orange/blue) and all the shades of each of those colors look very pleasing to the eye because our eyes want to see all primary colors present in a composition. When you have orange and blue together the eye likes that because there's red and yellow in the orange and then blue. Your brain says, "Ahhhh... that's nice and balanced." Cool, huh?

    Your resident color theorist,
    Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

  16. I love the container garden in the first picture. I could just sit and stare at these colorful pictures.

    I've always been fond of pinks and purples and hated orange. Since I'm specifically trying to grow things that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds to my yard, I'm adding more red and bolder colors. I loved the bright colorful zinnias last year, even the orange ones.

    I've come to the conclusion that it would be very boring to only have a few colors when there are so many wonderful flowers with such amazing colors. Definitely more interesting to have more colors, after all who wants a crayon box with just pinks and purples?

  17. You know I love it!!! That first pic says it all--just go for it. That's what I like about gardening. If you don't like it, move it, or don't use it again. I buy plants both on impulse and planning. I can always find a place for it. I am going to start collecting some very big planters and dotting them about the garden. I love the drama of different heights, textures, and the challenge of blending color. You showed so nicely the lychnis--it's one of my favorites cause it will help marry colors in the garden. Another match maker I use is---tall garden verbena--some call it verbena on a stick. I enjoyed my visit today---look forward to next time.

  18. Hi all and welcome as always!

    Frances, you're a pretty fine inspiration for TN gardeners who want to try different colour ideas!

    Nancy, that blue-orange always makes me smile--had a blue hyacinth in an orange forcing glass, and while not quite the same colours, the effect on me is instant cheer.

    Lisa, That sounds like a perfect colour combination to me! Orange, chartreuse and purple...singing hearts, indeed!

    Carol/Terranova (to keep you separate from May Dreams Carol!) I have other great books I recommend. Isn't it great to have computer savvy offspring?

    Layanee, I bet your book collection IS impressive. There are always more--stay tuned for my next post!

    Wurzerl, glad you visited and that you like Christo too...always an inspiration.

    Ewa, that's funny about the white garden! I'd like to do a white border, but never have yet, mostly because of what the fog does, as mentioned above.

    Rusty, yup, a little garden rebellion is always a good thing, I figure.

    Deb, you are even a hoot in your comments! Lucy is a wise puppy if she tolerates the triplets and the big guy. We have a couple of near-twenty pounders too...plus a couple that are type A felines, always going ninety miles an hour.

    Nan, I'm really surprised about the corydalis and the wallflower not cooperating for you. Is it too hot in the summer? Because they would be hardy enough (well, the Erisymum is a biennial, and this one didn't selfseed). I know about your love for Sarah Raven's book. Heh heh. Stay tuned for my next post. Oh, and I have the Lawson book--several of them, actually--but I don't think the Pope book. Hmmmm...must. get. more. bookshelves.

    Thanks, Kate! We northerners need a jolt of colour to cheer us up from all this grey--or white--or more grey--and dark! Although the days ARE getting longer....

    Robin, I can see how that lurid rose would not work...haven't had that happen here, or maybe I'm blissfully unaware--it helps too that I have a lot of space so things can be spread out and maybe if something is a bit too vibrant, it doesn't look so overwhelming when surrounded by fields and so on.

    Diana, glad you enjoyed the colour post. Actually, my son lives in the city--we got on the phone this morning, I told him how to get into my blog, and he tweaked it while I sat here and he sat ninety minutes away. Isn't technology great.

    La Mancha, welcome! I love the thought of the CA poppies (I'm too tired to try to spell Eschsholzia correctly tonite, but knew what you mean) and the iris. I think maybe the Ayers Rock and blue sky in Australia would be something similar for generating joy?

    Very good, Cindy our colour theorist, nice explanation. And here I thought it was just cos I'm lefthanded, right brained and a bit rebellious! Oddly, I don't like purple and yellow as well as I do orange and purple--I think it's because my cheerleading uniform in junior high was purple and yellow. Yes, really. Scary.

    Robin, glad you like my bouncy containers. It's a funny thing about orange--it's not a colour I would wear, not ever. But in the garden, it makes me instantly, exquisitely happy. And yes, the butterflies and hummers love reds and oranges for sure. If I had a crayon box with only pinks and purples--I'd give all the pinks to someone else and borrow their oranges in stead. :-)

    Anna, I thought you might enjoy this post, given your skills with containers. Wait til you see the pot I have that's done in mosaic. That's coming in a future post!

  19. Jodi,

    I love the color combinations, funny enough I really like the blue and organge combo. Thanks for all the great photos.


  20. jodi, I know that you already have it, but I also have given you the award for excellence :) so pass by to pick it up :) metaforically :)

  21. I love your colour combinations - the first photo is stunning, and I'm stealing the blue and orange for this year. Marigolds to go with my plumbago ???

  22. Your gardens are worth waiting for! You must take advantage of every single gardening moment during your shorter growing seasons. I enjoyed your entire post. Your site looks great (thanks, Ryan!) and I'm now heading to brew myself a cup of chai and ponder my Spring plans! :-)

  23. I'm not familiar with either of the books you mentioned, so they get added to my loooong list. Also... hadn't thought much about the effect of fog/rain/drizzle on flower color in terms of washing it out. Something to think about for foggy coasts.

  24. Every flower is the exception to the rule no matter what color. I don't feel any color clashes when you're talking about flowers. Well maybe someone could create an "ugly" garden but I'd bet it would take more work than a carefully designed one.

    Glad you got your sidebars adjusted. It was a treat seeing new catchildren photos

  25. Beautiful color in your gardens! I really use a lot of pink purple white and yellow however I rather like the look of your orange even though I have never used orange in my garden!!
    HUmmmm...perhaps you've inspired me to think on that one!! In the meantime I continue to be snowed under mountains of snow banks...long wait yet for Spring !! We met during the OWOH event! Nice to meet again :)NG

  26. I've always thought that pastels worked well in your climate as it is so much like the English climate. It's surprising to find that you need to use strong colors that we in the Midwest have to use in full sun to avoid the washed out look.

  27. I love the pics and your whole blog. I just came over to tell you I posted my first blooms for this year. Daffodils, of course.

    As for colour, I like them all!

    Great post.

  28. Yep, I ain't a garden designer either. Just let color run riot and revel in the chromatic intoxication.

    Blue and orange are complimentary colors, opposite sides of the color wheel as purple is to yellow and red to green i.e. each enchances the other so the blue look bluer and orange, oranger so that's probably why you like the corydalis/wallflower color combination.

  29. Your color wheel is wonderful--I especially like the wine red/gold contrast. You mention that you do allow a few pastels--any particular ones?

  30. Wonderful color post waking my tired snow white eyes, Jodi. Dainty blue corydalis ia a favorite of mine but disappeared this past year as well as the yellow. I love the right combo of wild pink/orange together. Another favorite, which I don't have enough room for but admire, is naturalized Flanders Poppy & Bachelor's Button, warming my heart when I see them wandering through fields.

  31. Your garden photos are beautiful. This is a great post.
    Yellow is the predominant color in our desert plantings, along with orange. Occasionally there's a plant with purple flowers, but mostly yellow and orange. It gets boring, so I try to mix it up with foliage colors. My favorite flower color is blue, rare in this climate. I do intersperse red with the oranges and yellows, and it looks great.

  32. Jodi, I think you are a garden designer! Like your color combos and if it make you happy that is all that matters!

    I tried to leave a comment on the geography blog, but it didn't work (or I don't know how!) anyway, finally got my post done.

  33. Jodi, I think you are a garden designer! Like your color combos and if it make you happy that is all that matters!

    I tried to leave a comment on the geography blog, but it didn't work (or I don't know how!) anyway, finally got my post done.

  34. I'm spreading the love around today, bloggy love that is, so I've posted today about your lovely blog. I adore visiting here when I am able to!

    Have a great day!!

  35. Great photos and some wonderful combinations. I'm planning an orange and blue garden - I too like that combination!

  36. Colours are food for the gardener's soul. I love them all! Finding good combinations is extremely satisfying and gives me a real sense of joy and appreciation for the gifts of the garden.
    I love the blue and orange!
    That's a great way to use containers. I like to put a lot of my annuals in pots too, so that they don't get overtaken by the voracious perennials.

  37. Hi again, Jodi :-)

    Great post on colour. As you know I am also a Christo fan when it comes to colour and planting so you are preaching to the converted here. However, I was delighted to see you singing the praises of Sarah Raven :-D

    Sarah Raven is also a presenter in a BBC Gardening programme where she is often seen in her own garden too where she grows cut flowers. She is also interested in medicinal plants and was once a doctor. However, I personally feel that with her particular flare for colour, for me, she is the next Christo :-D

  38. I'm still over here in this garden drooling. I might need some chocolate--I'll be here awhile! It's all so pretty.

  39. I'm drooling... such great amounts of color you pack into a garden, Jodi! And I admit that I like the orange and blue combo in your garden, even though I'm not sure that I would have it in mine.

  40. Your photos are great. No designer, Id say you were. I am not a fan of pastels much either, except in the deep shady spots in my yard.


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