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Gardening with color, forgetting the winter grays

Color! Oh how we yearn for it after months of winters' white and grays. Soon green grass will soothe our senses, the soft pastels of flowering trees will warm our hearts and brightly colored bulbs will excite us.

Color is such a powerful tool. It can be warm or cool, calm and restful, bright and lively or bold and assertive, even tiring. Color can create harmony, variety, rhythm and emphasis in the garden. It can also create discord. Color can give a feeling of abundance, by planting in drifts and in repetition. The more intense the color the smaller the drift need be and the less intense the larger the size of the drift needed.

Colors have an intrinsic warmness (yellows, oranges and reds) or coolness (blues, greens and purples). Warm colors advance, and cool colors recede in vision, thus giving an illusion of space. Light affects color in a garden. Morning light is cool and can benefit from a warm color palette on the east while on the west a cool palette is good in the hot afternoon sun. Light at noon can fade even bold colors, while dusk can swallow up color. White and pastels will remain visible longer in the evening. Shade reduces the brilliance of color. Color is associated with seasons in pastels in the spring, strong, pure colors in summer and rich, deep, warm colors in the fall.

We could study the color wheel and try to apply the theory of primary, secondary, analogous and complimentary colors, plus intensity, value, tint, shade and hue to our gardens. However, why worry, as we probably do not think about those things when we get dressed in the morning or decorate our house. Apply your own instinct in selecting colors for your garden.

Does one color predominate in your closet? Perhaps you would like a monochromatic scheme in your garden. They are the easiest to design and to live with because they are calming. Choose various shades of the same color and or use closely related colors from the color wheel. Avoid mixing warm based and cool based reds. Mix shapes and sizes with richly varied foliage. Tuck in a few white plants and a splash of some contrasting colors, which will act like a neck scarf or a piece of jewelry.

If shades of one color are too boring or you are attracted to dramatic color, a combination of two contrasting colors may be your choice. Trust your judgment and pick any two colors or note the colors of a favorite fabric. Complementary colors (opposites on the color wheel) such as blue and orange or purple and yellow are the most dramatic, but people easily tire of these combinations. Try colors a little off center like chartreuse and burgundy or peach and blue-violet. You can choose colors that are lighter or darker in one or both of the shades or opt for pastel colors. Use the colors in relatively equal amounts and you can always add a dash of a third color to enhance the effect. Foliage is also a part of the color scheme.

If you are more impulsive and likely to build your outfit or room around a paisley blouse or a plaid sofa, you can garden in the same way. Pick a multicolored leaf or flower as your starting point. Echo one of the colors in a second plant, for instance, the golden throat of a red daylily with yellow roses or play up the brown center of a purple coneflower by planting a bronze leafed plant next to it. Then keep going and you can end up with a bold garden or a mellow one.

Keeping your color scheme going through the changing seasons presents another challenge. You may decide to have a dominant theme in spring, another in summer and a third in fall, or you could segment your garden into separate areas that offer small groups of color harmonies through the year. Alternatively, you may opt to have one season shine with a spectacular affect, such as spring if you spend your summers at the lake, or summer if you spend a lot of time in your yard at that time. The other seasons would be mostly green foliage.

Keep in mind that all colors appear together in nature and they look just great, so plant what looks good to you.