Use a Color Wheel for Selecting Plant Colors
The color wheel can work as a compass and help you create the perfect color combination for your personal style.
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If the overwhelming variety of plant colors has you feeling lost, use the color wheel as a compass.
Surprisingly, it's not hard to create a harmonious color scheme when you have the right tool a color wheel (figure A). Although the color wheel is pretty limited when compared to all the colors found in nature, it's also extremely simplistic, which can be a really good thing, especially for people who don't understand color relationships all that well.
Analogous color schemes combine a cluster of three or four adjacent colors along the color wheel as with the various hues of yellows, blues and greens in master gardener Paul James' evergreen bed. The golden arborvitae blends with green junipers and a blue cedar, and grasses in similar shades help bring it all together.
Analogous colors are also known as harmonious colors, especially when the colors used have a shared hue like green, blue-green and blue (figure C).
Complementary color schemes utilize colors opposite each other on the color wheel like yellow and purple (figure D), orange and blue, red and green or in the case of this next planting red-violet and lime green. The purple millet (Pennisetum glaucum) works well with the complementary purple and chartreuse sweet potato vine.
"As for red and green, well, that's always been one of my favorite color combinations," Paul says. "You can combine color with foliage as well as with flowers, like a splash of red with these caladiums in an otherwise sea of green (figure F)."
A triadic color scheme involves the creation of a color triangle such as red, blue and yellow (figure G), or green, violet and orange. "Triadic color schemes can give you a big blast of color but in a harmonious way," says Paul. "The color shifts aren't so abrupt that it causes your eyes to re-focus." Triadic color gardens are especially pleasing to people who enjoy lots of color.
The trickiest of all color schemes is the polychromatic, which is basically a hodgepodge of colors all thrown together. James describes this scheme as a complete riot of color. "And frankly, though it's not my style, I have seen this approach work a number of times."
Paul's favorite color scheme happens to be one he considers the easiest to accomplish: a monochromatic color scheme involves the use of one color, and the color of choice for Paul is green (figure H). "What I like most about monochromatic schemes is that they're the least distracting, they force your eye to examine more than just color. Instead, they emphasize structure, texture, rhythm, form and balance, which for me are really more important elements of design than color alone." Of course, Paul has always adhered to the philosophy that less is more, and a monochromatic planting exemplifies that philosophy perfectly.
If you're still not sure about your skills at combining colors, there's a simple way to practice and play around a bit to find out what works best for you. Pot up several (or many) flowering and foliage plants on the patio. Mix and match them until you hit on a color combination that you really like. You never know what you'll discover in the way of clever color schemes.
A gardening couple shares their top performers for fall color in the garden.