Thursday, February 7, 2008

Hue -- and Cry!

This month's Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop, hosted by Gardening Gone Wild, is about Colour in the Garden. That's the Hue. The Cry part is from me. Where can I go to learn about and apply this stuff?

I remember the colour wheel from Year 7 Art. You use the three primaries to make the three secondaries. Except that it didn't work properly. A dob of red and a dob of yellow made a weird red, not orange; you get orange from a lot of yellow and very little red. That is, it didn't tell you anything about how to make the colours you actually wanted. The colour wheel seemed to be one of those odd little things you were supposed to learn, but which never connected to anything.

I was looking up information about colour schemes a few weeks ago on the Web. Simple descriptions of the most commonly-used schemes are here. But this is where my understanding stops, and my questions begin. First one: Where do black, grey, white and brown fit in?

I can't seem to relate colour theory to the world I live in. Take my Plectranthus argentatus, for example. Is it grey, or green? What about the rhubarb-pink flower-stems?

Steve Silk has given us a beautiful picture and a great explanation of what is going on in it. Yet I am still not sure what to think. Is it still complementary when the yellow is actually a yellow-green, and the purple a very clear pinkish-purple? Are you supposed to reduce whatever lovely colour you have to the nearest primary or secondary to work out a colour scheme? I have a funny feeling that an underplanting of sulphur-yellow marigolds wouldn't have the same effect as the plants used in the picture. How does knowing complementary colours help with plant selection, then?

And why is it counted as a complementary scheme when another colour, green, actually fills most of the picture? Doesn't green count?

Don't mind my whingeing too much. Instead, just look at all those fantastic photos in blog posts, like this one at Digging. It's a wonderful topic, even if I Don't Know How They Do It!


Anonymous said...

Hi Chookie! I guess everyone comes up with their own way of figuring out color schemes. Personally, I don't fuss with a color wheel or try to figure out if something is analogous or complementary or whatever. One trick I use is to choose two or three main colors of equal intensity for each bed or border. So in one area, I have bright red, bright orange, and bright purple, for instance; in another, I have soft pinks, lavender-purples, and pale yellow. And when I place individual plants, I try to pair them with another plant that shares some of the color. With the plectranthus, for instance, I'd look for a companion that had flowers or foliage with the same pink color as the stems. Then I'd probably toss in some dark purple foliage to add a bit of intensity to the pink and silver. Once you start thinking in groups of a few plants, you can begin linking the combinations to create a larger garden. I hope that makes sense!

Anonymous said...

Hey Chookie-Thought I'd weigh in on green, which can really complicate color schemes in the garden. It's the great leveler, the reason why some incredible color plan you may work up doesn't look like you think it should-all that green dilutes the purity of the original color vision. So I often just think of green-provided it's a good deep green without hints of chartreuse, burgundy or cream-- it as a background against which the other colors are displayed.
So, I still think of that color scheme as complementary because the tibouchina is really purple-it does seem to pick up a pinkish cast on the monitor--and the yellow of the grass has just a hint of chartreuse. So I think of it as complementary...against a green background.
An easy guide to color making is looking for echoes, as Nan suggested, like using the pinkish cast of your plectranthis stem as a cue for picking a companion color. And you can almopsty bever go wrwroung tossing in abuit of dep burgundy hues foliage to enrich a combination. There are lots of theories out there, but the surest guide is to go with looks good for you. The best gardens always break the "rules."
-Steve Silk

Anonymous said...

Don't be disheartened. You really can't make a mistake. Think of your greens as a neutral and choose flower colors you like. You are the only one that has to live with your garden, it should match your aesthetic.

And there's enough browns & grays in the winter time, don't stress about incorporating them in your summertime garden.

Chookie said...

Nan, thanks so much for your tip about combining intensities and starting with combinations of colour. I am looking forward to a few things now!

Steve, thank you for explaining why green is a 'neutral' in the photo you discussed. Burgundy again, I note... As a matter of fact, the 'neutral' green in my garden won't be a deep green, but a grey-green, because many of my plants come from dry sclerophyll forest.

Jim, you are another of the colour-starved, aren't you? I probably shouldn't tell you our winter gardens are often quite colourful as the weather is too mild for most herbaceous perennials to die down. Deciduous trees do drop their leaves, but there are plenty of green plants left and many that flower in winter. Thank you for your encouragement; I was starting to doubt myself there!

Anonymous said...

Chookie, thanks for linking to my post on color. I just wanted to add that experimentation is the best way to learn about color combinations that work---and that don't.

I make plenty of whopping mistakes in my own garden's color scheme. Like planting a pomegranate with hot, orangey-red flowers in my mostly pink front garden (the leading photo in the post you linked to). What was I thinking? After cringing over the color clash all spring, I pulled out the offending pomegranate and transplanted it to the back garden.

The most beautiful color combinations can be purely accidental. Just keep trying different plants together and have fun!

Chookie said...

Pam, the colour of pomegranate flowers IS difficult -- almost a fluorescent orange, isn't it? Only really hot pinks would cope near it. , or very strong purples. For hot-orange hot-pink wow-factor, there is a stunning Western Australian native called Chorizema cordatum. I reckon it would dominate even pomegranate flowers, but it's a fusspot. Try googling an image of it!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

The color wheel is useful because it groups together warm colors & cool colors, which generally combine well with their own kind. The complementary color thing is to make each color more intense by pairing with its opposite. Easy if you are working with primary color paint chips, not so easy with plants whose colors mutate with time & level & quality of light.
One of the rules of thumb is to keep the color values balanced with the color intensity. For example, a pale yellow looks great with a dark purple. The converse, a strong sodium yellow with a pale lavender looks positively nauseating. That same yellow with a dark purple also looks good & the pale yellow with the pale lavender looks OK too (just not my taste).
Another trap for the unwary is the combining of pinks. I find unpleasing the combination of yellow-pinks (apricot, salmon) with blue pinks (lavender, fushcia). Some people can combine them to great effect, but I'm not one of them.
Ultimately, you must find combinations that please you. As others have noted, color echoes are a great way to combine colors. A totally unscientific way is to go to a nursery & grab plants that are in bloom. Put them next to each other & foliage plants. If you like how they look, buy them & plant them together.
Another source of color inspiration is the colors you use in your home & your wardrobe. I hope this helps.