Color in the garden - seems simple enough. When we paint our homes or dress ourselves, we use colors that are attractive to us, that lure us and intrigue us. Yellows are bright; blues are cool. What more is there to know?
Well, color is actually much trickier than that. It is usually the first aspect considered in a garden because it is what most gardeners are drawn to. Whether we like a color for the mood it stirs in us or how it plays against our surroundings, color is king. Mother Nature adjusts her hues from the soft pastels of spring to the bold primary colors of summer to the jewel tones of autumn and finally the cool tints blanketing the earth in winter.
The best place to start when it comes to color might be arranging small bouquets in a vase and exploring how those colors play off one another, how they appear as the daylight changes and how those colors make you feel. Mood is significantly altered by color, more so than we probably even realize. Artists tend to understand how color can evoke our dispositions.
Artist Louis Copt explains: "From foggy mornings to bright sunny days, to fiery sunsets, I try to capture the mood with color."
If you want to feel stimulated and boost your energy, the colors of red and violet will actually cause the body to pump more adrenaline into your system. Red and violet will certainly liven up any space. The hues of sunshine and grassy meadows will make us happy. That's right - both green and yellow evoke smiles in us. And probably to no surprise, blue creates a calming effect. In fact, blues can be used quite liberally in the garden without causing a jarring or overwhelming feeling.
Another great place to begin in tackling what colors to scatter throughout your garden or which hues make you happiest is to address the color wheel. The color wheel is a tool used by artists to understand the relationship of colors to one another. The colors are arranged in progression, from violet-red to red to orange-red to orange to yellow-orange to yellow and so on, in the same order as they appear on the spectrum. The majority of color wheels contain 12 colors, although in nature we'll find far more subtle variations.
"Many colors used by artists from watercolor to pastel are from natural pigments," Copt says. "For instance, today the sky is a brilliant blue filled with clouds. I see ultramarine blue, cerulean blue with the clouds the color of titanium white, with yellow ocher and cadmium red light."
If we want to fashion beauty in our gardens we might do well to understand the terms of color when speaking about it:
¢ Primary colors - Red, yellow and blue. By blending these colors we can create every color in the rainbow.
¢ Secondary and tertiary colors - Orange, green and violet are secondary. Yellow-orange, yellow-green and blue-violet are tertiary colors.
When we are combining colors we have two choices: harmonious, which are colors that are similar, or contrasting, which are colors that are opposites.
¢ Harmonious-monochromatic - Choose one hue and use various shades, tints and tones. With this method you'll find that less is more in order for the eye to rest, and to pull this garden off you'll need a keen eye that can see the subtleties within the one color. The uses of texture and repetition are more noticeable and have greater importance when creating a harmonious monochromatic garden.
¢ Complementary - Choosing two colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel and bring out the best in each other. Red and green, orange and blue, and purple and yellow all complement one another. No complementary colors share a common pigment, which is why they create the maximum contrast possible and why when mixed in paint form they'll always create brown. It is a good idea to concentrate on texture and form when creating a complementary garden, rather than using too much color.
¢ Polychromatic - Shake off all this color talk. Throw up your arms and use every color.
¢ Hue - Pure color
¢ Intensity - Potency or saturation of a color.
¢ Tint - Lightening with white.
¢ Shade - Hues darkened by black.
¢ Tone - Dulled by gray.
A full-strength hue in its pure color works quite well at a distance or as an accent, while tints can become muted or washed out in full sun. You will also find that tints and tones recede at a distance.
What of how light plays with colors in the garden? Artist Ann Trusty explains, "The changeability of the light morphs all color. A cool blue light on an overcast day cools the yellow of the daffodil and creates a warm shadow. The warmth of a sunny day does the opposite and can make the daffodil trumpets glow like lanterns and cool the shadows."
¢ Value - The lightness or darkness of a color.
Yellow possesses the lowest value (except for white, which technically is void of color). Violet has the highest value (except for black, which technically is all colors combined). Our vision tends to be drawn to the lightest value in a scenario first. If you need more help in establishing the values of your existing garden, try taking photographs of it in black and white, then you can really establish the true color value.
Not only does value alter how we see colors, but various other conditions amend the way color is viewed as well, such as the fact that no two people see color exactly the same. The light of the day will affect the saturation of a color; a red will appear dull at twilight, while a yellow will glow. The surface texture of a plant plays a huge role as to how the light of the sun or the moon or an overcast day hits its leaves and blooms. The smoother the surface, the more light is reflected and the more saturated the color will appear.
What other conditions alter how we view colors in the garden? Well, proximity, if you have a monochromatic garden - from a distance it might appear like a blur. If you are standing right next to a contrasting garden, your eyes might become unsettled and anxious. Age can also be a factor in how we view colors as many plants colors transform as they mature.
Color is not so cut-and-dry, or in this case, black and white. A garden of many colors is like a landscape painting - it takes immense thought of composition, perspective, distance, lightening, tone, tint, shade, value and emotion.
Trusty says, "I am deeply moved by color - the changing light and its magical effects on color, the infinite interplay of light and shadow, color and tone."
Play with your pots this spring; create color combinations in vases, experiment with the hues of nature, how the sun and clouds morph the moment and ultimately how the colors create a mood in the gardener who juxtaposed them together.