I love color and write about it frequently both here and at Designers on Design. I’ve explored single hues for inspiration such as grey, turquoise and even white, but color in the garden should actually be more of a complex conversation than a single statement.
In my mind there are two common mistakes when using color in gardens–first we let the bloom be the talkers and relegate other elements to the background and second we don’t consider the how the color of an inanimate object of is going to affect the whole. For my purposes today I’m ignoring the bloom issues. Planting design is another topic entirely.
One of the great modern masters of color, the artist Josef Albers, spent much of his career exploring and teaching how colors ‘talk’ to each other in context. If you look at the paintings below, you will see that each carefully considered hue stands on its own yet also works as part of the whole. These hues are like wonderful conversationalists at a dinner party–each speaks eloquently on its own but listens to the one next to it.
This first example has no green in it so it might be difficult to imagine it as a garden. So look at the next.
Now visualize this painting as a simple garden design. (Actually it could be a really cool contemporary garden design…but back to the idea of color conversations.) Most people will think in the context of plants–perhaps hedging on the outside and other plants in each nested square. What happens when other garden elements are added to the plants? All too often that’s when the trouble starts and we start to loose the thread of the conversation. It’s like being distracted in a group when a new member arrives, some side conversations start, and when the introductions are done the subject has completely changed from what it was before.
In the garden above by James Doyle Design Associates, color has been as carefully considered as the geometry and the scale. Each element is an equal player in the whole composition. It is formal, traditional and deceiving in its simplicity–just like Albers’ squares inside of squares.
Now consider this more challenging garden by Topher Delaney. The blue wall is the only color in a sea of neutrals. There are almost no plants. Even though there is a huge contrast in the colors used, there is a unified statement with each carefully chosen and placed element working together creating a single visual statement–a conversation between equals if you will.
Unless you are trying to make an exclamatory statement, the trick is to think about the whole instead of each individual part when trying to start a color conversation in the garden. Next time you come home from the garden center with that lemon yellow or vivid orange pot – if it screams its name then take it back or create a visual conversation around it–let it talk to its neighbors.
See what the other Roundtable designers are saying in their conversations about color by clicking on any of the links below.
Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip in the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Rochelle Greayer : Studio “G” : Boston, MA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »