Spring brings wealth of color choices for your garden
For those of us who love the garden, this is undoubtedly the most exciting time of the year. Our landscape undergoes a magnificent transformation seemingly in the blink of an eye. Yellow and dull lawns turn rich and emerald overnight. Endless expanses of grey begin to break with brave flashes of green buds. Bulbs like daffodil, hyacinth, and tulip surprise and delight us all in forgotten corners. Fruit and ornamental flowering trees look like floating clouds of white, pink, and yellow. And my personal favorite icon of the spring garden, forsythia ignites in a vivid yellow demanding attention from even the most disinterested passerby. It seems hard to believe that regardless of how harsh, or in this year’s case mild, the previous winter was, spring can always be counted on for a mesmerizing spectacle. One of my favorite aspects of the wealth of color that spring gives us is the ability to arrange plants of all different variety together based on color.
One of the most important elements of successful gardening is to forego rules and simply arrange your garden in the pattern (or lack thereof) that pleases you. My two very favorite schemes for gardens are gardens with solid blocks of color and monochromatic gardens. Color blocking and monochromatic schemes have a lot in common. In both styles plants are grouped together by similar shade. What separates a garden designed in color blocks from a monochromatic garden is in blocking there is very high contrast between each ‘block’ of color. For example, in a garden with a monochromatic color scheme all of the plants in that garden would be in similar color families. In a color blocking garden, a block of yellow-blooming plants might be placed next to a block of blue and violet-blooming plants for contrast and impact. I enjoy these methods as much for their beauty as their purpose.
The theory behind a garden planted in color blocks is that by seeing a mass of a color next to a mass of its’ counterpart (get out your color wheels!) you experience the full depth and impact of each color. One of my very favorite color blocking combinations for a garden is violet and yellow. Violet and yellow are opposite one another on the color wheel and complement each other beautifully. The warmth in the yellow accentuates the cool, blue undertones in the violet; and in turn the violet realizes the full potential of yellow’s warm impact. Color blocking can be applied in different ways for different impact. The combination of green and yellow is of the greatest sensitivity to the human eye so if you are trying to increase curb appeal on your house that sits far off the street, adding yellow to your landscape will make your property more noticeable to people. Think how commonly you see yellow in advertising, it is no accident. That is why forsythia in bloom has the ability to capture anyone’s attention. Our eyes cannot help but focus on the luminescent spot of yellow in an otherwise green landscape. On the other hand, if you are aiming to create a tranquil and calm garden, blocking together cool hues like blue, violet, and white is your answer. Our eyes are amazing feats of nature and the way our mood can be manipulated by the colors we see is astonishing. Color blocking is very popular in fashion and home décor, but not as often seen translated to a garden. It is a very fun and striking way to enjoy the spectrum nature has to offer.
In color blocking, color is enhanced by contrast. In a monochromatic scheme, color is enhanced by texture and the full range of the hue. Monochromatic gardens are, and have always been, very popular. They are peaceful, beautiful, and fun to put together. Monochromatic gardens can be created in whichever hue is your favorite and are very easy to plan. Any plant you find in that hue, regardless of its’ lightness or darkness, can be incorporated. If one were to decide for instance he or she wanted a monochromatic garden in shades of white, every shade of white nature gives would be welcome. The bright white of annuals like geranium or impatient against the soft white of roses and white lilac tied together with the energetic green-white of an Annabelle hydrangea makes for a stunning garden with the range and versatility of white. Whereas color blocking requires a bit more foresight and planning, in a monochromatic garden you can literally add whatever you would like as long as it is loosely within the same hue. When the human eye sees the same color in multiple textures and shades, it fully discerns the depth and tone of that color. Also when all the blooms are of the same hue, the textures of each individual plant are much more noticeable. The gloss of a variegated hosta leaf or the fuzzy stems of a fern are all of more interest to the eye when placed among one color.
Color is without a doubt nature’s greatest gift to the human eye. It has the power to captivate, excite, and relax us. Gardens are the best place to enjoy the colors nature gives us, and with a little careful planning we have the ability to display one or all of those colors to their full glory.
Stephen Jones is an Delaware County OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.