Color in the garden is the first visual a visitor will notice. And in general terms, the way those colors bounce off each other should take precedence in garden planning over the types of plants the gardener places in any particular spot.
Color sets the tone. A bright red rose flowering beside drifts of deep purple delphiniums and orange tiger lilies will appear chaotic and busy – not restful. The colors in the flower border need to work together as a whole. Good color combinations are visually appealing and the plants themselves are more noticeable.
All gardeners who struggle with this balance, should own an artist’s color wheel. They are hand-held inexpensive card wheels that show the main colors on the color spectrum. In theory, the best color combinations are those found on opposite sides of the color wheel. This is a good basic tool to work with when ordering, purchasing and placing plants in the garden. The only drawback, however, is that in the world of flowers, there are numerous shades, and those flower shades can change depending on the soil culture and the amount of sun the flowers receive. Some plants listed as blue in the catalogs may become mauve, reds may become hot pinks and so on. With that in mind, follow color theory, but expect a lot of trial and error. Gardeners move plants around every year until they are happy with the balance of color as well as balance of form and structure.
A well-balanced garden offers not only texture and form, but a slow merging of colors and color hues. Early 20th century garden designer and writer, Gertrude Jekyll, was an expert at this, and many gardeners have since followed this gardening ideal. Gertrude designed gardens with drifts of plants in one color shade that progressed into drifts of plants in another shade. Those plants are grounded for balance with the addition of textured fauna in various shades of green and silvery gray. With this method, the fluidity of the design is increased, and it’s much easier on the eyes.
A well-balanced colorful garden can be achieved with a lot of tweaking from one growing season to the next. The garden is never really finished. It’s work in progress that can take a lifetime.