Colouring Your Garden – Part 9: Colour Schemes

Over my last 8 posts I have looked at colour theory in considerable depth, focussing of course on its application in  garden design. One of the most powerful ways we can utilize this knowledge is by experimenting with colour schemes in our gardens.

Many gardeners balk at the idea of purposefully employing a garden colour scheme, assuming it’s just one more rule to follow, or at the very least, too restrictive.

Utilizing a colour scheme doesn’t have to be restrictive though, if we think rather in terms of a hue scheme. Looking to the Munsell Book of Colour, we find that for each hue, there are many permutations of value and saturation all arranged on an individual page. So if we want to work with a scheme which includes red, we have a whole hue page to choose from  just for red! The other hues in our scheme afford us the same broad selection of colours. A little less restrictive than you thought, right?

Colour Schemes

A colour scheme is a planned or logical combination of hues on a colour wheel. As we discussed in earlier posts, there is more than one colour wheel, but you’ll probably find the artist’s colour wheel to be the most user-friendly. You can then refer to Munsell hue pages (or reasonable facsimile) for guidance with the various colours that fall within that hue. I do sometimes utilize Munsell’s hue circle to work out colour schemes, but they aren’t always as straightforward. For ease of use then, I am mixing models here.

So how does one go about choosing a colour scheme for the garden? If your house or other backdrop is a particularly strong chromatic colour, then it’s most effective if you include that colour in your scheme. If on the other hand, your house is more neutral, then start with a colour you really like and build from there.

The colours used in this restaurant patio planting echo the muted red and yellow hues of the siding on the building. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Keep in mind that most plants – both in your garden and in the surrounding landscape – have green foliage, hence green will always be present. Since this hue is so much a part of the outside world, the eye tends to ignore it, and will instead focus on other colours. Green is therefore experienced mostly as a backdrop for your garden composition. But it can certainly be one of the hues in your colour scheme too.

You can vary the colour schemes from one part of the garden to another (particularly if you have a large canvas), and the scheme can also change or evolve as the season progresses. For example a garden that has a yellow-green and red-violet combination in the spring might add other colours later in the season, but those hues must always be part of the scheme.

Realistically speaking, some scenarios don’t lend themselves to formal colour schemes (if only for the reason that the proprietor of a well established garden may not want to part with anything – just to incorporate a colour scheme). One can still play with colour schemes though; containers are a great way to experiment without committing to a particular composition.

So let’s have a look at what we can construct using the artist’s colour wheel and some Munsell hue pages.

Monochromatic colour schemes use various values and degrees of saturation of a single hue. Working with a single hue creates naturally harmonious colour compositions.

Monochromatic colour scheme using the hue of red-violet (5RP). Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Complementary colour schemes contain two hues that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

This is a high contrast colour combo, which means it can be loud and demand attention. So you’ll want to tame it by including numerous value/saturation variations of the pure hues – and of course lots of green.

Complementary Colour Scheme: Red-violet (5RP) and yellow-green (5GY). Photos: Top left – Pat Gaviller. Bottom and right – Sue Gaviller

Analogous colour schemes use two or three hues that are next to each other on the colour wheel.

Although this is a low contrast combination, analogous hues still benefit from utilizing variations in saturation and value of the chosen hues, thus introducing more variety. Remember if you choose warm hues, there will need to be significant green (foliage) in your composition to provide the necessary cool/warm balance.


Analogous Colour Scheme: red-orange (10R), orange (5YR) and yellow-orange (2.5Y). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Counterpoint schemes consist of a hue and one of the hues on either side of its complement.

This too is a dynamic colour combo, but somewhat less so than complementary compositions – many people prefer this colour duo as it generates less visual conflict. Again the use of variations in value and saturation of the two hues will create both unity and variety.

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Counterpoint Colour Scheme: red (5R) and yellow-green (5GY). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Split-complementary schemes are three-hue combos that use one hue and the two hues on either side of its complement.

The split-complementary colour combo has all the dynamism of complementary and counterpoint, with the balancing addition of two hues that are closer together. A garden may transition from the aforementioned counterpoint theme to split-complementary as the growing season progresses and more plants (thus more colours) take the stage.

Split Complementary colour scheme - yellow, blue-violet and red-violet. Photos: Top left: Cathy Gaviller. Right: Jane Reksten

Split Complementary colour scheme: yellow (5Y), blue-violet (7.5PB) and red-violet (5RP). Photos: Top left – Cathy Gaviller. Right – Jane Reksten. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Analogous-complementary schemes use two adjacent hues and the complement of one of those hues.

Similar in effect to split-complementary, analogous-complementary schemes are especially soothing if the analogous constituents are cool hues.

Analogous-Complementary Colour Scheme: violet (5P), red-violet (5RP) and yellow-green (5YG). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Analogous-complementary Colour Scheme: violet (5P), red-violet (5RP) and yellow-green (5GY). Photos: Top left – Pat Gaviller. Bottom left/right – Sue Gaviller. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Double-complementary schemes use two adjacent colors and the complements of both of those hues.

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

This four-hue scheme brings both drama (from opposites) and subtlety (from analogues) to a garden composition, and can be a natural seasonal transition from analogous-complementary as more plants come into bloom.

Double-complementary Colour Scheme: violet (5P), red-violet (5RP), yellow (5Y) and yellow-green (5GY). Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Diads are colour schemes that consist of two hues located two spaces apart on the colour wheel.

Though this colour duo provides more contrast than an analogous scheme, it is still a low-contrast theme and less dramatic than higher contrast combinations. More contrast can be introduced if one of the hues is warm and one is cool, for example red and purple.

Diadic Colour Scheme: red (5R) and violet (5P). Photos: top – Pat Gaviller. Bottom – Sue Gaviller. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Triads use three hues that are equally spaced around the colour wheel.

Triadic schemes offer interesting colour combinations and are inherently balanced because the hues are all equidistant from each other.

Triadic Colour Scheme: Violet-blue (7.5PB), orange-red (10R), and yellow-green (5GY). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Triadic Colour Scheme: blue-violet (7.5PB), orange-red (10R), and yellow-green (5GY). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Tetrads are colour schemes using four hues that are consistently spaced on the colour wheel.

  • Square tetrad – 4 hues touched by the four corners of a square placed in the centre of the colour wheel.
  • Rectangular tetrad – 4 hues touched by the four corners of a rectangle placed in the centre of the colour wheel

Four-hue schemes provide considerable colour choice thus can be quite vibrant, especially when hues are at full saturation. They can be toned down somewhat with the addition of less saturated versions of the pure hues.

Tetradic Colour Scheme: red-violet (5RP), orange (5R), yellow-green (5GY) and blue (5B). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

You can see that with all the variations in value and saturation for each hue, many different but related colours are available to you – even when using only a couple of hues. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have access to the Munsell Book of Color, but there are numerous apps and online tools that will provide more than enough visual info for application in the garden.

I highly recommend the Virtual Munsell Color Wheel. It’s very easy to use – just bear in mind that it includes all the intermediate hues that lie between the basic hues (totaling 40 hues), which you may find overwhelming. The digital ‘hue pages’ aren’t identical to those in the Munsell Book of Colour either (copyright and such). You’ll also note that, compared to the traditional RYB colour wheel, Munsell’s blue (5B) appears more green and his purple-blue (5PB) more blue – this is because he divided the circular colour spectrum differently. I wouldn’t get too carried away with detail or accuracy though. Just choose your colour scheme using the artist’s colour wheel and find the hues that most closely approximate them on the Virtual Wheel.

Finding foliage or flowers in exactly the right colour may be next to impossible anyway. But don’t get discouraged. Remember green foliage abounds in the garden, and with all that ‘green between’, you’ll find that almost-the-right-colour will be close enough.

‘Til next time,




Colouring Your Garden, Part 7 – You Can’t Believe Everything You See

It’s the last week of March and it’s again been more than five months since I last posted to this blog. I just don’t know where the time goes. I’m as busy as I’ve ever been, and yet I feel like I’m accomplishing less. Perhaps it’s a function of age – everything seems to take longer the older I get. Or maybe it’s a function of the increasingly higher standards I set for myself. For example, last month I gave two  lectures to the current class of Master Gardener students. One of these was a full day design presentation – a talk I’d given (in some form or another) dozens of times and to a variety of audiences. It gets tweaked each time – compressed or expanded depending on the audience, but this time I ended up rebuilding the whole damn thing! Why? Well, as I reviewed my PowerPoint slides I found myself scoffing at everything; the photos looked unprofessional, the font was dated, the animation amateurish… and so a ‘tweak’ became a major reconstruction.

I was relatively happy with the finished product, but I don’t know if it was worth the several all-nighters I pulled to get it done (staying up all night was way easier, and waaaay more fun, in my twenties than in my fifties). And in the end, did I actually impart any more, or any better information to the students? Who knows? I do know though, that perfectionism isn’t always in one’s best interest. Because now I am sick. Not deathly ill, but miserable enough that I don’t feel like doing much of anything. So loyal readers, it seems my misfortune is your good fortune since the one thing I do feel up to, is writing. In fact it just might make me feel better.

If you remember my last post (it was so long ago, I barely remember) we examined the relationship between colour and various aspects of human perception – more specifically, how the former can impact the latter. Continuing with this exploration then, let’s look at some of the ways our visual perception can in turn affect and distort colour.

Understanding various visual mechanisms – ways our vision adapts and adjusts – is a key piece of the garden colour puzzle. For the most part, our eyes successfully adapt to ever-changing visual data, allowing us to maintain a stable and consistent interpretation of the world around us. We know that an object appearing smaller from across a room is the same size regardless of where we view it from, or that the darker colour created by a shadow doesn’t change the actual colour of an object. We know these things without even thinking about them – unless we are trying to draw or paint said objects. Sometimes though, this ‘constancy apparatus’ fails and our eyes make erroneous adjustments. Four such adjustments are commonly experienced; Simultaneous Contrast, Successive Contrast, Colour Assimilation and Colour Separation. Today we’ll look at the first two of these visual phenomena.

Simultaneous Contrast

Adjacent colours interact with one another other in a most curious way – actually changing the appearance of each other; an effect known as Simultaneous Contrast. Of course this phenomenon isn’t due to any magical properties the colours possess; rather the adjustments are taking place within our own visual system as it attempts to decipher and differentiate that which it sees by accentuating colour differences. All three colour attributes can be influenced by neighbouring colours, the effect being most noticeable when one colour is completely surrounded by another.

sc - colour wheel

Simultaneous Contrast of Hue. An identical magenta-coloured circle is placed all around the Artist’s Wheel illustrating how a hue can differ dramatically in appearance depending on the background hue. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

So what is actually happening here? Are our eyes just playing tricks on us? Well yes in fact they are. As I mentioned before, one of the ways our eyes recognize and discriminate between adjacent colours is by accentuating their differences, and in so doing, imbues each colour with traits of the other colour’s opposite. Yikes, that was a mouthful wasn’t it? Maybe I can better explain with some examples.

In the first example below, a magenta-coloured square is surrounded by a green square on the left and an orange square on the right – we can all agree it doesn’t look like the same magenta, right? (I assure you it is though). Our eyes acknowledge the green then ‘over-differentiate’ and induce green’s opposite hue, red, which then mixes with the magenta, making it appear warmer – hot pink even. The orange square on the other hand stimulates our eyes to add its opposite, blue, thus creating a cooler looking purple-pink. Another way to think of it is that colours will shift in hue, value and saturation away from those of the surrounding colour. Because the magenta square is smaller and completely enveloped in another colour it has little effect on those surrounding colours.

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast of Hue – note how the hue of the smaller square appears different depending on the background colour. Graphics: Sue Gaviller.

The next example shows Simultaneous Contrast as it relates to Value alone. On the left a medium gray square is enclosed on a background of darker charcoal gray, and on the right the same medium gray is surrounded by lighter gray. Again our vision discriminates between the darker gray and the medium gray by overstating the lightness of the medium gray (left). Likewise our eyes discriminate between the lighter gray and the medium gray by overstating the darkness of the medium gray (right).

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast of Value – a medium gray square looks markedly different surrounded by darker gray than by the lighter gray. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

In the third example the smaller square is a red of medium to low saturation, but its saturation seems to strengthen as its background colour weakens.

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast of Chroma/Saturation. All of the above squares are the same hue (5R or Red) but vary in saturation (colour content). The smaller square is weakly saturated but appears even less so in contrast to the fully saturated square on the left. However when contrasted with the almost-gray square on the right, it appears to have much richer colour content.  Graphics: Sue Gaviller

It is difficult to illustrate this effect with garden photographs – photos can deceive, particularly where colour is concerned. Perceived hue differences (or lack thereof) could thus be the fault of the photo and not a real representation of what is happening in the garden. And the degree to which Simultaneous Contrast is seen in the garden is less than one might think – there are many other factors at play, for example; weather changes, seasonal changes, daily sun movements, and even the amount of particulate matter in the air, can all affect lighting conditions, which in turn affect the colours we observe. Colour is reflected from other objects and surfaces too, thus altering hue perception, and the constant presence of unifying green can mitigate various colour illusions.

Nevertheless we do witness Simultaneous Contrast in our gardens and landscapes, though it is more subtle than squares of colour on a computer monitor. The effect, especially where hue is concerned, is most noticeable when two adjacent hues present as solid blocks of uninterrupted colour. Of course plants don’t always present this way since foliage, flower petals, stamens etc. are often different colours, which means colours will intermingle (this can produce yet another effect, one I will look at in my next post). Tertiary or intermediate colours (red-violet, blue-green, etc.) will be influenced to a greater degree by their surroundings than basic or primary hues because their make-up is more complex.

sc - liatris resize 3

Liatris spicata is a medium to high value red-violet – when contrasted with bright yellow Heliopsis helianthoides, it appears slightly blue-ish. However, next to Helictotrichon sempervirens, it looks somewhat pinker. Photos: Sue Gaviller

sc - hue juniper 3

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ is a widely spreading evergreen groundcover – note how its blue-green hue shifts from slightly mauve-ish on the left to dull green on the right. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’ (left) looks a rich saturated purple-blue when paired with very desaturated Eryngium (right). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

The same Echinops would appear somewhat less saturated if situated beside the very rich-hued Gentian on the right Photos: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast is the reason two complementary colours, when used together, create such a forceful pairing – they increase the intensity of each other. Think about it; each colour bestows upon the other, the traits of its own opposite – which is the other colour. A double dose of each!

sc - complementary colours 2 crop

This complementary pairing of red-violet Iris germanica against a backdrop of yellow-green Spiraea japonica ‘Goldmound’ creates an intense vignette. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Red-orange and blue-green succulents bounce dazzling colour off each other because they are a complementary pairing. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Successive Contrast

Another visual effect related to Simultaneous Contrast is Successive Contrast – the best way to demonstrate this effect is to try the following: stare at the coloured circle below for 30 to 60 seconds, then immediately turn your gaze to a blank piece of white paper. What do you see? If you don’t see anything, try again. And if you have any serious eye condition or disease, you might want to avoid this exercise altogether.

green circle 2


When you look at the white paper after staring at the green circle,  you should see a circle of the same size in a light reddish pink colour – this is called an afterimage. Let’s try another one. Stare at the orange circle below for half-a-minute or so then look at the white piece of paper again.

orange circle


So what colour did y’all see this time? Light bluish right? We see this afterimage because the eye’s receptors for a particular color become desensitized to it, or more accurately, the receptors for the other colours become more sensitive – hence we see the perceptual complement of the colour we’ve just been staring at. The afterimage will dissipate shortly, its duration proportionate to the length of time you viewed the original colour and the intensity (saturation) of that colour.

Now try looking at each of the circles again, but this time when you avert your gaze, instead of focusing on the white paper, look towards a different coloured background. What do you notice? The colour of the afterimage should now blend with the new colour you are looking at. You can see where this might come into play in the garden – look at the following garden image for at least 30 seconds then at the white paper again. Do you experience the same effect?

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

How about this one?

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The two previous images should produce afterimages the same size and shape as the photo images, in colours opposite to the predominant colour in the photos. Now see what happens when you look at one of them for a bit, then the other right after – how do they affect each other. What about the next image – how does staring at each of the previous two photos affect the way you see the colour of the Rudbeckia in the following photo?

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo: Pat Gaviller

The effect here will likely be muted – in fact you may have to do this exercise a few times before you recognize it. And because the effect is fleeting, its implications in the garden environs are limited. Large swaths of colour are more likely to produce afterimage effect because you will look at them for longer – all in all the experience of afterimages distorting the visual experience of successive plant colours, will at most be intermittent.

However, learning to recognize this phenomenon, as well as Simultaneous Contrast, affords the gardener one more advantage in working with colour in the garden. We’ll look at two more interesting colour effects in my next post.

Well whaddya know? I feel much better. Now if only pretty plants and pretty colours could heal our hurting world….

’Til next time,



A Nice Pair

………Of plants that is.  (Well what did you think I meant?)

Now that winter is here to stay,  I thought I’d take this opportunity to profile some ‘pretty plant pairs’ that caught my eye this year, and why it is they look so great together. I actually started writing this post months ago. Each plant pair I profiled had a clever name and was followed with the subheading ‘Why This Works’. However after visiting a favourite blog, Christina Salwitz’s, I discovered that I’d been beaten to the post (no pun intended). Christina has just co-authored a beautiful book on plant combinations and shared a couple of sample pages in her Aug. 1st blog post. Like me, she’s given her combos clever names, like ‘Strawberries and Chocolate’, and after each one has a subtitle ‘Why This Works’.

Wow – really? Yes really. I guess great minds think alike.

Anyway my first thought was to abandon the idea altogether, but I decided to go ahead and just rework my format. Besides they’re really very different approaches – Christina’s is a fabulous ‘how-to’ book on creating artful foliage combinations. Mine is a more casual read, a haphazard ‘see how pretty these look together’ approach. I’ll still tell you why they work though – sans the subtitle. And I’m keeping my cutesy names……….

Courtin’ Couples

Stella and Karl

When combining plants, it’s important to consider contrast and/or repetition of colour, form and texture. Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ make a subtle but effective combo, for a couple of reasons  –  Stella’s strappy  foliage is a broader version of Karl’s grassy foliage and the same dark green, so provides repetition.

Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro' and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

As well, in early summer when the grass sends up its vertical inflorescence, the soft arching form of the daylilies contrasts beautifully with the upright form of the grasses. As the grass turns to gold in late summer, it will echo the colour of Stella’s blooms. The two look striking together as a linear planting along the fence and will become more so as they both mature.

Stella and………….another Karl?

Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro' and Campanula carpatica v. turbinata ‘Karl Foerster’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Campanula carpatica v. turbinata ‘Karl Foerster’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

That’s right Stella is cheating on Karl – with another of the same name. Here she’s seen with Campanula carpatica var. turbinata ‘Karl Foerster’, bred by famed Swedish hybridizer Karl Foerster, who of course also bred the aforementioned grassy Karl.

This Campanula cultivar is used extensively in Europe, but can be difficult to obtain here – I special ordered mine years ago. No matter, C. carpatica ‘Deep Blue Clips’ will do quite nicely.

The key to this combo is the colour contrast, as well the contrasting forms – the fountain shape of Hemerocallis arches nicely over the rounded mound of Campanula. Nice pair eh?

Stella and Ruby

Tsk, tsk – Stella you do get around don’t you! This time she’s with Berberis thunbergii ‘Ruby Carousel’ – a stunning combination. Stella’s bright gold blooms contrast beautifully with the barberry’s dark wine-coloured foliage as well as the texture, and her arching form repeats the form of Ruby’s horizontal arching branches.

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d'Oro' and Berberis thunbergii ‘Ruby Carousel’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Berberis thunbergii ‘Ruby Carousel’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Okay enough of Stella’s tawdry affairs – let’s move on to something more appetizing.


Palatable Pairs

Guacamole and Plum Pudding

Hosta 'Guacamole' and Heuchera 'Plum Pudding'

Hosta ‘Guacamole’ and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Guacamole & Plum Pudding? Blech! That sounds decidedly unpalatable – sure looks pretty though doesn’t it?  The contrast in hue is lovely, and since Hosta ‘Guacamole’ and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ are both foliage perennials, this colour combo is offered on the menu all season long.

Though both are very coarse-textured (large leaves), there’s still textural contrast because the Hosta leaves are so much larger, and their leaf shape differs significantly.


Peaches and Salmon

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Begonia ‘Nonstop Salmon’

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Begonia ‘Nonstop Salmon’.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

C’mon now, peaches and salmon? That sounds awful too. However it looks quite delicious – the muted coral-rose leaves of Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ are a lovely foil for the bright coral-red blooms of Begonia ‘Nonstop Salmon’.

The contrast of slightly fuzzy Heuchera foliage with the waxy surface of Begonia leaves, also contributes to the success of this container combo.

As well, the lobed foliage of both nicely echo each other.


Peaches and Cream

Now that sounds yummy – like summer brunch on the patio.

These two foliage plants display understated colour contrast because they are both muted hues.  Variegated foliage like that of Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ always makes an eye-catching backdrop for warm colours like this Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’.

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker. Photo: Sue Gaviller

While one might think that the two-toned colouring of each would make for a ‘too busy’ picture, it really doesn’t. The veining of the Heuchera leaves presents quite differently from the dogwood variegation so they don’t compete visually with one another. In fact they make a truly scrumptious pair.


Berries and Cream

Sorbus decora berries and Cornus alba 'Cream Cracker'

Sorbus decora berries and Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mmmm, this too sounds tasty. The berries from a client’s Sorbus decora were so plentiful that they hung down into the Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ below. As I said of the previous pair, variegated foliage is an excellent foil for warm colours. Here the effect is even more stunning because the berries are also very bright against the more muted tones of the dogwood foliage.

The Cornus leaf petioles are the same plum-red as that of both the Sorbus leaf petioles and the peduncle/pedicels of the berries, hence providing subtle repetition.

As well, the peachy pink colour of the changing leaves is a lovely contrast to the berries – tasty indeed!


Opposites Attract

Red-violet and Yellow-green

Red-violet and Yellow-green, as seen in this pairing of Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ and Spiraea bumalda ‘Goldmound’, are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Using these complementary colours together makes a dramatic, eye-catching combination – generous amounts of basic green foliage should therefore be included to soften the high contrast.

Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ and Spiraea bumalda 'Goldmound'

Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ and Spiraea bumalda ‘Goldmound’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blue and Orange

Hemerocallis fulva (tawny daylily) and blue Delphinium

Hemerocallis fulva (tawny daylily) and blue Delphinium.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Another complementary pairing, Hemerocallis fulva (tawny daylily) and two different shades of blue Delphinium team up to create a really outstanding combo.

In addition to the beautifully contrasting colours, the fountain-like form of Hemerocallis contrasts nicely with the very upright growth habit of Delphinium.


Seasonal Fare

When choosing plant material, don’t forget to consider those many barren winter months. This twosome – Picea pungens var. glauca (Colorado blue spruce) and Prunus mackii (Amur cherry) – provides striking colour contrast throughout the off-season when little colour is present in our gardens and landscapes. The colour combo is effective because the blue-green of the spruce needles and the red-orange of the cherry bark are opposites, or complements.

Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii.

Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Light and Dark

Just as opposite colours create high contrast, so does the combination of light and dark. This dark wine-coloured Hemerocallis ‘Purple d’Oro’ is gorgeous next to bright white Leucanthemum superbum. The sunny yellow daisy centres pick up on the lemon yellow throat of the daylily offering some nice repetition too.

Leucanthemum  superbum and Hemerocallis ‘Purple d'Oro'

Leucanthemum superbum and Hemerocallis ‘Purple d’Oro’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sun and Stars

Heliopsis helianthoides and Liatris spicata.

Heliopsis helianthoides and Liatris spicata. Photo: See Gaviller

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and blazing star (Liatris spicata) make a dazzling duo.

Their successful partnership is due in part to the colour contrast, but also because of their textural differences – feathery spikes of mauve stars pair beautifully with the bright rays of sunny gold.

A casual pairing with real visual punch.


Take a Walk on the Wild Side

A Woodland Pair

Actaea rubra and Matteuccia struthiopteris

Actaea rubra and Matteuccia struthiopteris. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Using native plants in our garden compositions can create a setting that looks very natural, as if Mother Nature herself planned it.

In this woodland pairing, the rich red berries and dark green toothed foliage of Actaea rubra (red baneberry) look striking with the light green, lacy fronds of Matteuccia  struthiopteris (ostrich fern).

(Please note that all parts of Actaea are poisonous, especially the berries, hence the common name ‘baneberry’.)


Mother Knows Best

Sometimes Mother Nature does indeed put things together in the most charming way, as with this delightful duet – Aquilegia canadensis and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. Each of these wildflowers offers unique form that complements the other, and the very visible yellow stamens of the columbine nicely repeat the colour of the lady’s slipper. Couldn’t have done better myself!

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens and Aquilegia canadensis

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens and Aquilegia canadensis. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Threesome Anyone?

When I first espied this colourful combo from a block or so away, I noticed only the purple Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’ and the bright yellow-green Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ but as I approached, camera in hand, I realized that a pink peony had flopped down to join them. I wanted to push it out of the way but then decided I quite liked this little trio – the plump pink peony was a pretty addition to the spiky sage and creeping groundcover, and actually softened the intense colour contrast between the two.

Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ and Paeonia sp.

Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ and Paeonia sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Whenever I go clothes shopping, before I buy that must-have new sweater, I ask myself “what have I got to wear this with?” Remember this the next time you’re out plant shopping – before you buy that must-have new shrub or perennial, ask yourself “what have I got to pair this with?”

And be sure to check out Christina’s book.

Stay warm,
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.