Tag Archives: garden colour schemes

The two colour garden (plus green)

Red and yellow flower board

Red and yellow tulips in a massed bedding display at Floriade in Canberra

When I put my thinking cap on about garden colours, it was clear that a two-colour garden is much more flexible than trying for the monochromatic look. Technically, a two colour garden is  three colours but we continue to regard green as colour neutral in a gardening situation. Truth be told, unless you are into massed bedding plants, the vast majority of gardens end up being predominantly green so whatever colours you add in – whether by way of flowers or coloured foliage – are highlights, not the dominant colour by mass.

Blue and yellow is a classic combination

A two-colour scheme gives so many more choices while allowing the streamlined look of restraint that some people favour. When I have played with flower boards, it is a lot more fun mixing and matching with two colours and the results are often more atmospheric. For a long time, I wanted to theme a garden on blue and yellow. It still remains one of my favourite colour combos and is one I have used on several occasions when it comes to interior decoration. It started when our eldest daughter chose a strong sunshine yellow for her bedroom and we teamed it with navy blue soft furnishings. In our current house, I chose a more subdued yellow – more like cornfield yellow teamed with French blue and I have never tired of that combination. In a garden, we can put together ALL the yellows and lemons with the whole range of blues. It is what I would call a classic combination.

Purple and orange for a tropical look

Purple and yellow with colour-toned visitors at Olympic Park in London

If you choose orange and purple, the look becomes very different – far more tropical and contemporary rather than the classic. It all comes down to personal colour preference in the end. I once contemplated the practicality of a garden in buff and pale blue – inspired by a gorgeous buff coloured rose. I wondered about using it with soft blues like the pretty nigella and the buff-brown grasses that seed down here. I realise in retrospect that my mental image did not incorporate green which would have altered the look entirely. Clearly the rose was already defoliated in my mind’s eye so that only the flowers were visible and I abandoned that idea altogether when I found that the rose was disease-prone and would need regular spraying to keep it looking anywhere near acceptable.

I recall a startling street scene in Rome, somewhere near the Vatican but I can’t find my photos of it. The buildings were all sandy gold in colour and the street trees were all burgundy (maybe copper beeches or one of the red-foliaged plum trees). It was very uniform – the buildings were all very similar and the trees were identical. There was no green. The combination of deep burgundy and sandy gold was strong and certainly had the wow factor.

Orange and bright pink on a traffic island in our local town of Waitara. Bedding plants give a massed display that are rarely seen in a home garden but can give ideas for colour combinations

Maybe look at bedding plant displays in public gardens and on traffic islands, not for the plants used, but to see the different colour combinations. Because if you are going to try the two-colour route, it is entirely personal taste as to which colours you like. There are no rules to this. Just pick a colour and move across the range of hues in that colour, rather than limiting yourself to just one shade of the colour. Gardens are never static so it is a more dynamic medium than interior design.

Hirst Cottage – the garden is a unified theme of white on green with red highlights (and black)

In New Plymouth, Judy Gopperth, opens her garden called Hirst Cottage for the annual garden festival at the beginning of November each year. Hers is one of the few places I have seen that has a totally disciplined approach to colour management in a smaller town garden. Basically, it is themed on red and white. Except it is more a case of theming on white and green (as she describes it herself) with red highlights and black as a background. The red appears mainly in small touches in the hard landscaping and the soft furnishing and it creates a bold contrast to the dominant white and green. It is a completely controlled use of colour which unites the outdoor space with the house (in her case, a very early historic cottage).

This style may appeal to people living in urban situations where outdoor space is very limited and is solely there as an extension of indoor living space. The designer look, I guess. It is unified, crisp and uncluttered. In theory, you could change the look relatively easily by swapping out all the red for another single colour.

Pink and yellow at Floriade in Canberra

The one colour combination that I personally dislike intensely is pink and yellow. I have seen it looking pretty in clear pastel pink and lemon in a tulip display in Eden Gardens in Auckland, but hideous in a display at Floriade in Canberra. It is so easy to get wrong. There are many murky shades of pink – pinks with brown or purple tones within them – which can look lovely in combination with other colours. But put them with hard yellows and I shudder. There are plenty of plants to choose from. I have seen many a murky pink with yellow variegated foliage which have managed to achieve the combination in a single plant. I am not at all keen the combination of a bright yellow kowhai and the cerise pink of a cercis that I drive by each spring in a nearby garden. Nor do I like bright yellow grasses combined with pale pink flowers. But that is entirely personal taste. If a carefully colour controlled garden is what you want and pink and yellow pleases your eye, go for it. Don’t let me put you off.

There are times in my life when I have tried using a hugely restricted colour palette but I always seem to add in another colour to give some visual oomph. Over time, it has become more a matter of deciding what colours to leave out – so a process of exclusion rather than starting with just a two or three colour palette. But that is a different approach altogether.

Blue and white at Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens

My final suggestion is that if you want to try a two-colour garden and you lack confidence, try any colour plus white. That is the safe option.

Pretty in pinks and white at Floriade

Tikorangi notes: Off to China!

A random tui nest found yesterday

A random tui nest found yesterday

We leave for China tomorrow. Well, a small part of China – the south eastern area. Foshan (near Guangzhou), Dali Old Town, Jinghong and Kunmimg. The draw card is the International Camellia Congress which will make travelling much easier than doing it on our own.

Many of the plants we grow originate from these areas of China. We are hoping to see the yellow camellias in flower. Five years on from when I wrote about C. chrysantha, the other yellow species we have here still have not bloomed. But we may also catch some of the deciduous magnolias, wild azaleas and michelias in bloom. With our closed borders in New Zealand, the new species of michelias that have been discovered in the wild are not in the country and may never be admitted so it will be interesting to see what we are missing.

Being old enough to remember when China was closed to most of the world, I am not totally surprised to find that they still have in place the electronic equivalent of the Great Wall or the more recent Berlin Wall. I may only be taking my tablet as a back-up for photos because I see my most-used sites are all blocked – Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and Google. It is likely that there will be on-line silence until we return at the end of the first week in March.

While on the subject of China, I checked back for the piece I wrote in 2010 about Rewi Alley. It gave me cause to ponder how quickly our modern print and electronic media both moved away from longer-form writing to snappy short pieces with photos. I can’t imagine a NZ newspaper publishing a piece of that length any longer. But there are some interesting quotes from a personal letter from Alley to my late mother-in-law.
IMG_7068The photos today are the start of a little exercise in colour combinations, which we have spent some time discussing as we plan our new summer garden plantings. I am a big fan of blue and yellow in interior colour schemes (our dining and TV rooms are indeed soft yellow and French blue). I have long wanted to try a blue and yellow border in the garden, but now think it will look too contrived for what we want.
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Yellow can be a difficult colour so I gathered a separate selection of cerise, magenta and orange blooms. Mark keeps pointing out to me the problems of adding yellow to this sort of colour mix – bright yellow at least. It is the one that can upset the apple cart of harmonious colour combinations. We may be quarantining our yellows to one area or at least using with extreme restraint.

Finally, as I was montying in the rockery, I was pondering how much modern gardening expectation has been shaped by two factors – the motor mower and glyphosate. Back in the days when grass was scythed and weeding was all done by hand, the current standards of the perfect lawn and the weed-free garden would have been inconceivable. It seems… unfortunate, shall I say… that the commonly held measuring stick for judging gardens today is predicated on two inventions, both of which are really bad for the environment.
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The perils of the monochromatic colour scheme in gardening

A random stranger in blue beside the blue and purple border at Sissinghurst

Back in the days when I first started writing this column and we were in the grip of seven day a week retail and mailorder plant supply, I used to despair at the numbers of well-heeled women in search of plants for their white garden. Mostly from Remmers, dear, and most had been to the ultimate white garden – designed and planted by Vita Sackville West at Sissinghurst in England. It was seen as the benchmark for restrained style and class and all wanted to emulate that standard. So all plants had to have white flowers and preferably be scented. Yellow stamens were permitted and cream was allowed but no other colour in the flowers. Fading out to white fell short and white flushed pink flowers were usually rejected as impure.

There were rules for foliage too. Green was fine, silver foliage even better. Variegations were acceptable as long as they were white and green with no yellow or red.

Apparently the secret of the white garden is revealed at night when all those pure flowers light up under moonlight to glow with ethereal beauty. Experienced gardeners realise instantly that this means it needs to be a summer garden because who wants to go out in winter or early spring to see the glowing white rhododendrons and camellias but not many white garden devotees of the early nineties were experienced. I recall reading a critique at the time that far too many of the white gardens were thrown together solely on the basis of colour. As long as it was white, it could be included. Gardens were criticised for the lack of thought given to planting combinations and inappropriate conditions for many of the plant subjects.

When we finally visited Sissinghurst, I was excited at the prospect of seeing the ultimate white garden put together with skill – where plant composition, shape and foliage combinations rule supreme, without the distraction of colours beyond white and green. Alas I was underwhelmed, disappointed. It rather looked to me like plants selected solely on flower and foliage colour bunged in together. So much for setting the standard. It may well have been different in the original days of Vita Sackville-West but in 2009 it didn’t quite cut the mustard.

Colour and flowers hide a multitude of sins. The purple border at Sissinghurst was far more successful on the day we were there and that in part could be attributed to the huge range of tones in blues and purples. There is not a lot of variation of hues of white and cream so it is harder to get visual oomph.

I suspect that monochromatic garden schemes are often the refuge of less experienced gardeners but in fact they require considerable knowledge and skill to get them looking good. They are not actually monochromatic because gardens have green as a base colour but that is generally treated as colour neutral. If you garden only with foliage or with foliage and only one additional colour, then form and texture are your tools and the plants you chose to complement each other and to fill the picture become critical. At its best, it is a restrained and disciplined approach to gardening which can be very restful to the eye. More often, alas, it is a hodgepodge – sometimes a pretentious hodgepodge – or downright dull.