Contrasting hues pack a punch and can be used to create a spirited mood in a paradise full of flowers
Colour is one of the ultimate tools for creating interest in a garden, especially in late spring and early summer when many plants are at their most, vibrant and bathed in colourful blooms.
While colour is visually appealing, it can also be used to create a particular mood or ambience in the garden.
Strategically placed colour, whether from flowering plants, foliage or other landscaping material, can be used to attract or distract. It can also be used to create depth, with a bright foreground and darker tones receding towards the background. Lighter shades and neutrals can be used in transition areas in the garden.
Choose with purpose
Colour in the garden isn’t just for the pleasure of human visitors, it also plays an important role for nature too. Bees are attracted to shades of blue, mauve and violet with touches of yellow and see white flowers as blue-green.
Pretty stripes or spots on the petals of some flowers are guides which lead the bees to the nectar inside.
Butterflies are often seen fluttering around the most brightly coloured and fragrant flowers in the garden. They are also more attracted to beds with flowers in the same colour range than to an area with many different hues.
Birds have excellent vision and have additional photoreceptors in their retinas, leading scientists to believe they see colours we don’t see. Red and orange flowering plants attract sunbirds, while neutral tones attract birds for shelter and camouflage.
For birds, colour is an important survival tool. Brightly coloured flowers usually have an abundance of nectar and colourful fruit indicates ripeness.
Bold plumage in males is a sign of a good mate or can indicate breeding time in some species.
Gardening author Jenny Simpson says while contrasting colours create instant impact, you need to be careful with the combinations you choose. “One really needs to be an artist when working with colour.”
The most stimulating contrasts are created by the colours that lie opposite one another on the colour wheel, the complementary colours. Four common combinations are red and green, orange and blue, purple and yellow or pink and a lighter shade of green.
Another striking combination can be brought into the mix with a colour triad – three colours at equal distances apart on the colour wheel. On a wheel of six main colours, a triadic colour scheme would be red, yellow and blue or orange, purple and green. While vibrant and even a little busy, it is pleasing to the eye and can be used with dramatic effect in the garden.
Many of the 14 spectacular gardens on show in the Elgin and Bot River districts this weekend and next, feature breathtaking combinations of colour. While the winter rains have filled many of the smaller dams, with its heavier and wetter soil, the region seems to have survived the drought remarkably well. Gardeners have also adapted their plantings for a drier future.
At the farm garden Auldearn in the Elgin Valley, Simpson uses a bold combination of blue and yellow to brighten a darker area.
“It’s also important to take into account the conditions of the area.
“Consider the soil and the amount of sun, then decide on the correct plants and colour combinations to use there.”
Jessie Walton of Keurbos Nursery, Elgin, says the boldest contrast in her show garden is a red and white combination bed which features a camellia collection, coupled with red salvia and white irises, and edged in white cuphea and red and white dianthus.
“I also have a long bed where I wanted to plant my heritage rose collection.”
“The problem was the colours ranged from red and pink to purple, yellow and white. I made little colour blocks and tried various combinations. In the end, I found that the two colours that matched all others were strangely, purple and apricot. I then repeated these colours intermittently through the length of the bed.”