Quick Tips to Coloring

In this issue of Today’s Garden we are offering a variety of quick tips for using color, and a brief interview with a color expert – information we think you will be able to use in many different ways.

  1. When planning a garden, think of it as a three-dimensional painting, and the colorful annuals for beds and containers as colors on an artist’s palette. Some colors will dominate and be spread with broad brush strokes here, while other colors will give depth and dimension with small dabs here and there. Try to envision the whole panorama of your garden as you want it to look when it is at its best, and plan accordingly.
  2. To brighten shady areas use light-colored annuals such as white, light pink or palest blues. Dark colors tend to get “lost” in shady areas. You can still use deep colors in a shady area, but be sure to use lighter colors around or behind them to provide contrast so that they can stand out and be seen. Burgundy impatiens surrounded by pale green coleus or coral impatiens, for example, will stand out due to the contrast.
  3. For maximum effect, think about how the colors of plants will blend or contrast with their surroundings. For example, deep red geraniums or red salvia planted against a red brick or redwood fence will not stand out as well as white or pink geraniums. And white geraniums will not stand out dramatically against a white fence or white siding. Think of using a more dramatic color scheme such as purple or magenta against a white or light-color background, and something lighter, such as peach or pink against darker surfaces.
  4. Just as each room should have a focal point, so should each area of your garden. If there isn’t a natural focal point such as a pool of water or garden statuary, color can create one. Instead of long, uninterrupted rows of flowers, create a focal point by planting a mass of one color in the center of a bed and then surround it with flowers or plants that contrast in color, texture or height. If there is something unsightly in your garden that you can’t get rid of and really can’t hide (like a telephone pole or a fire hydrant), create a colorful focal point away from the object to draw attention in that direction and lessen the effect of a “problem” area.
  5. Colors affect our emotions. Bright colors such as red and yellow excite us and can make us feel warm (that’s why they are often called “hot” or “warm” colors). Colors such as blue, lavender, green, pink and peach are considered cooler and calmer. For the entrance to a home, you may want to create a feeling of warmth and excitement, and could choose stronger, more exciting colors such as yellow marigolds and scarlet dianthus. In the backyard garden or for patio containers, you may want to create a more relaxing and serene mood by choosing cooler or softer colors such as pansy rose shades with blue violas.
  6. Just as interior decorators use three or four colors as a theme throughout a home, “exterior decorators” can do the same. Theme colors used with repetition will unify different garden areas just as they unify the rooms of a house. For example, bordering all your garden plots with a row of yellow marigolds or creamy petunias can tie different garden areas together for a unified look. Repeating the same colors but in different plant types can create the same effect. If white and blue are your colors, for example, plant different types of flowers such as lavender, blue petunias and blue salvia, and for white use white geraniums, white impatiens, white petunias, etc. to carry the theme but vary the look.
  7. Dramatic color combinations can give your garden beds a distinctive look. Instead of something as ordinary as red and white, consider orange and blue (direct complements on the color wheel), or light pink and green. For new color trends and combination ideas, see the sidebar.

Many of today’s annuals are available in more colors, tones and shades than ever before. Impatiens, for instance, now come in 24 separate designer colors or blends. Creating a colorful fresh new look is easier than ever.


What are the “fashionable” colors trends for garden and home this year? National Garden Bureau asked color expert Ken Charbonnau, Director of Color Marketing at Benjamin Moore Paint Company, Montvale, New Jersey, to give us an update.

“The biggest thing affecting color over the last five years has been the economy,” said Ken. “People want more value for their money, so we are seeing a return to more classic colors and color combinations. Colors will be less trendy and more long-lasting.”

What’s the big news in color? Purple and blue-violet, said Ken. “But in small doses. Purple and blue-violet bring out the rest of the palette.” An avid gardener himself, Ken noted that purples and blues tend to fade away in the garden. They need lots of sun to highlight them, be massed to be seen, or combined with white or yellow to really show off. (Home gardeners can bring little doses of purple to their gardens with plants like petunias and a wide choice of other annuals.)

Next on his list of important colors was coral. “What was peach is now turning to coral,” he said. In his yard he has masses of coral and peach colored flowers against a weathered gray fence. “People are just amazed when they see it.

“We are also seeing color being used to link new things with things from the past,” he said, calling them bridging colors. “For example, people tend to think of salvia splendens as coming only in red. Well, have I got news for them – it comes in 12 decorator colors today.” Salvia, a long time favorite, is now fresh and new with its new colors. The past is linked to the new. Ken gave another example from his garden and talked about some traffic stopping window boxes at the front of his brownstone home in New York. “I combined purple salvia, blue ageratum and magenta geraniums. People would stop and take pictures!” Ken mentioned that those colors are the same colors in the slip covers for their summer room. “I took our interior colors to the outside,” he said.

Magenta is another important color. “What was pink is now moving into magenta. It is replacing the rose/mauve story.” Mauve is rapidly declining – “It was so trendy and so everywhere that we got tired of it.” Ken said he found the mauves, burgundies and deep greens rather “maudlin.” Now, he says, we are moving on to “happy colors.”

Yellow is returning to the color palette after a long absence, said Ken. “It’s been missing for years and now it’s coming back. Right now it’s very new and at the high end.” He talked about combinations such as yellow and white and periwinkle, or yellow and white and purple, pointing out the use of purple in small doses to bring out the other colors.

Gold and yellow-greens are returning. “It’s new to the younger generation who didn’t grow up with avocado green shag rugs and harvest gold appliances,” he pointed out. Some of the older generation may resist it, but the yellow-greens have a very fresh look, he said. “It’s a brighter, cleaner look” than the old yellow-greens.

“Reds are still doing well, but in the classic shades such as wine and burgundy. Bright but not too orange.”

Generally speaking of color trends Ken said that colors will tend to be brighter and stronger than pastels, but still softer and what he calls “relaxed.” Over the long term he thinks that this relaxed feeling will extend to our gardens, and we will see garden design and floral arrangements that are less formal or structured. “People will experiment more with color combinations and not worry so much about what goes together perfectly.”