August 12, 2010

Experimenting with color

I like pushing color palettes, especially with the newer colors available today in many plants. Searching for odd, out-of-the-ordinary combinations can be fun, and liberating. I was raised as a gardener with many rules to follow; Gertrude Jekyll's Pink, silver and blue palettes, the all white and silver combo of a moon garden, the bright, garish palettes of Christopher Lloyds borders which are so exciting. As a designer myself, I respect all of those rules, and I have probable tried all of them many times, in many garden situation, but I would hardly be a designer worth my muddy boots if I didn't push the edges and search for new motif's, new palettes and more original and inventive combinations.

Our color selection is broader today than ever before, so you would think that it would be easy. Brilliant coral's, tantalizing mustard's, chartreuse, lime, mango-orange and rusty browns are now all in-vogue, as are dark chocolate tinted foliage, merlot colored flowers and close-to-black buds that are being introduced every year. Above is a test arrangement, just selected from what is in bloom today in the garden. One challenge? How do I use the rusty brown plumes of the Celosia 'Hot Bisquits' that I grew this year......a suggestion from a fellow futurist who I work with at Hasbro, Jess? She quickly pulled a few stems of a peach colored Verbena and some tangerine colored Nemesia together, and I said 'Wow, really?" Then, I, glass of wine in hand, pulled out some clippers and snipped some miniature Chocolate colored calla lillies, and a few leaves of coleus, which I was trying to refrain from, since as a designer who prides himself on originality, I try very hard not to rely on cliche or what I have seen before, so my personal rules were to use no dark coleus, no sweet potato vines, not one green zinnia.

I like the result, it's odd, a little 60's, a little 70's influenced, yet modern and current. My plants early in the year to plant an all purple, all black vegetable garden never fleshed out, I needed the room for other things. Plans on paper rarely work out, but they are a start. The calla lilies ended up being too dwarf, and are lost in the garden under towering annuals that grew 3 feet taller than they should have, but it's hardly a disaster, for I can just cut the flowers and foliage and assemble the palettes this way. But there have bee surprising successes, like an amazing tutor of Bowea volubis, which alone is stunning as it curls and twists its strange twinning stems which look like lime colored coral, along the poles of the cone shaped trellis, but a pairing with the annual red morning glory relative, Cardinal Flower which now shares the space, is gilding the lily. More on that later, as it is just starting to bud.

Try new color palettes, push yourself, be inspired by anything, a dish cloth, a vintage dress, a carpet pattern - an select your own personal palette. Just remember that photos of plants are often misleading, plan on 90% green foliage backing up any color, what I call the canvas color - green. Start with your canvas color ( which in a painting will be a white ground, in plantings outdoors, the background color is generally a shade of green). Try other background 'canvas' colors. I've used various coleus, grey grasses or artemesia for silver, textures of grasses include their flowers, which often become a cloud of mauve or deerskin above the plant, consider tropicals that can be brought in, if you live in the north, such as Phormium ( the peach striped grassy foliage, above). The combos are not endless, but they are expandable once you cut any baggage you may have from reading the classics.


  1. Your bouquet inspire calm, grace and refinement. I like this combination of colors.

  2. This composition just keeps drawing me back to study it. It is beautiful!

  3. Fabulous. Dark and moody

  4. LOVE the color combo! Makes me really anxious for fall!


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