Painting colour with plants

VIVID CONTRAST: But harmonious co-planting colourful plants like Heliopsis (above).

COLOURING a garden is possibly best regarded as ‘painting with plants’ as there are so many colour and size combinations that fill the gardeners mind and pallet. The choices are immense so to try and simplify the decision making I wrote a chapter in our seminal book ‘Your garden in Spain’ Chapter 2.6 titled ‘Painting with plants’.

In that chapter I spawned the concept of ‘the seven C’s of colour combining’ and included a table giving examples. This is reproduced below due to the difficulty of obtaining copies of the book as the publisher is no longer trading.

1. Common colours: Planting a single type or mix of plants with a single common colour of flower and similar foliage colours to create a mass effect.For example, a bank of purple lantanas, a wall covered with purple bougainvilleas, a bed of single colour gazanias, a single pink oleander hedge, a bed of bright red geraniums or a pine garden with only pink hydrangeas.

2. Compatible colours: Planting plants with different but close shades or hues of a colour in the flowers and foliage. For example, a bed of varied coloured gazanias, a bed of San Diegos, side by side pastel coloured pink and yellow water lilies alongside the delicate mauve of the water hyacinth, or a bed of soft pink and mauve small pin-cushion zinnias.

3. Complementary colours: Co-planting several different plants with vivid contrasts but harmony between the flower or flower and leaf colours. For example, a view of yellow heliopsis, red geraniums, blue agapanthus, bright green geranium leaves, orange leonotis, red/orange lantanas and a pink flowering oleander hedge in the background.

4. Clashing colours: Purposely close planting a number of plants with violently different colours at either side of the artist pallet and the rainbow. For example, an orange leonotis underplanted with bright red geraniums and bright red crocasmias in front of a purple bougainvillea and orange bignonia on a wall. A bed of mixed colour large spiky headed zinnias.

5. Calming colours: Purposely co-planting plants whose flower and foliage colours create no clashes, rather a sense of restful harmony between flowers and foliage. For example, purple lantana under planted under an old tree stump covered with a white/blue passion flower, or the dark greens in a mixed corner of oleander, bay and pistachio and grey green foliage of curry plants.

6. Cold colours: An extension of point five with a mix of cold white and mauve flowers and grey blue leaves that look cool even at midday on a mid-summers day.For example, white bugle lilies, agapanthus and gladioli in front of a wall of white solanum or white irises alongside a white flowering echium with white alyssum in front.

7. Caliente (hot) colours: Purposely mixing the most vivid reds, oranges and yellows to create a garden hot spot. For examples, red, yellow and orange lilies beneath a red and yellow devils tongue alongside yellow lantanas and orange leonotis with a background of purple and red bougainvilleas and an orange bignonia.

That should give you plenty of thought in evaluating what you currently have in the garden and how you might adjust the colour schemes to create more impact and interest. Unfortunately garden centres do not lay out plants this way but it is easy for you to group plants in the centres before making final purchasing decisions.

© Dick Handscombe –

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