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Color my Garden Confused

Color My Garden Confused

By Carol Wallace

Interior designers offer what seems to be a great piece of advice about how to decide on the color scheme for your home. Go look in your closet. Their theory is that if you like it well enough to wear it (and we do all tend to buy things in certain color groupings) then you’ll like it well enough to live in it. Luckily we’d already painted all 17 rooms when I read this, and I didn’t have the energy to start over, because when it came time to design my first garden the first thing I did was follow their advice and head to the closet to peek.

It was a bit like peering into a convent laundry room. My mom always told me that black was slimming.

So much for the closet theory — at least in garden design. So — what theory does work when it comes to planning and planting that brand new garden?


You could start with the house. If your garden is anywhere near it, you will want plants that harmonize with it instead of screaming competitively. For instance, I am planting a new garden this spring next to my barn. I had considered going for high street drama — the kind that will have cars screeching to a halt in awe at my bold reds and deep purple foliage. But the barn is pearly gray with soft peach trim. So I decided instead on a silver garden with accents of misty lavender and peach. I will undoubtedly throw in some bright coral and electric blues to wake it up — but I let the barn determine the basic scheme.

Or you can start with favorite flowers. If you’re lucky, the ones you love only come in one or two colors, thus determining the groundwork for your basic color theme. If you’re insane for sunflowers, you know you’ll be planting in earth tones. But if you think daylilies are divine, you have a problem, since they come in almost every color but blue and pure white.

In that case, why not start with your interior? When we were scraping and painting our new/old house I noticed that most of the walls had been originally painted some variation of pink, from deep, deep mauve to pale. I also noticed that the view from every window looked out on flowering shrubs and plants of the same colors. Someone had obviously been really big on color coordination.

It makes sense. Cut a bouquet to bring in and it will be tailor-made for your interior. Gaze out a window from inside the room and you get a perfect picture.

But perhaps you want something bolder in the garden than you have dared in your more permanent paint and papering schemes. Deeper colors than your interior light permits. Something brighter than your neighbors would tolerate in a house color. In that case, there are a few good ways to narrow down a color scheme.

One is the time-honored way of going through magazines and cutting out pictures of gardens that appeal to you. Don’t worry about narrowing things down to specific colors. Cut out the ones you really like. When you have a good stack of these, go through them. Do you find that certain color themes predominate? These are clearly the flower colors you are drawn to — so go with them!

Or go with mood. Close your eyes. Think of ”garden.” Not any particular garden but the idea of garden. Do you see a tranquil place for sitting and relaxing? Do you see it as a social setting for fun and hilarity? Do you see it as a bright place? Sophisticated? What does the idea of garden mean to you? Color has a way of creating the mood for any setting — so you will want to choose garden colors to match the mood that means ”garden” to you. I will talk more about color and mood in the garden in another article, but this is one of the best ways I know to create a garden that feels good to you when you enter it.

Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you are planting plants that you like, that grow well in your conditions. But make sure those plants are colors you love to look at. Believe me, it will have a big impact on whether you truly enjoy your garden, and whether you have created a garden that is truly your own, or merely an expression of the latest designer colors.

About the Author:
I’m a college professor – but I am first and foremost a garden writer. I’ve been turning out a weekly gardening column for Suite 101 for over 4 years now, as well as managing a stable of over 50 other garden and home writers. I’m also a ghostwriter for an online garden catalog, writing web content in the name of the owner.

I live, eat, sleep and breathe gardening – thank heavens my husband loves the gardens I make and is able to tolerate my obsession!

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