Color: Garden Navigator


In the newest Garden Bloggers Design Workshop, Gardening Gone Wild gave us a color challenge. Specifically, what color combinations do we have in the garden and how do we use them?

When I first began to garden, I only thought about harvesting vegetables and gathering armfuls of roses. I think I had visions of skipping through my garden, trug in hand, clipping blossoms. I couldn’t imagine the hard work it would take to achieve even a wisp of this dream.

Later, color itself became more important to me. I always thought of it in threes: yellow and blue with red or pink; silver with pink and white; purple with yellow and orange, the last one being a bright combination not appealing to everyone. I liked silver and pink for their softening effect, but I found that in my rural garden, they often appeared washed out and tired, instead of soothing.

One of Wanda’s Sunny Perennial BedsThen I met Wanda, one of the finest gardeners I’ve ever known. In her garden, shown above, she used repetition of yellows and blues to draw the eye around her substantial beds. Salvia ‘Victoria’ and several different types of Rudbeckia took the visitor by the hand and led them around the stately curves. Following her example, I tried to make my garden a place where color flowed from one bed to the other, but I’ve only partially succeeded. I’ve found it’s harder than it looks. This was taken in June , 2006. blog-garden2.JPGAlthough I worked to strategically repeat colors, the plants, other than the daylilies, were still young and didn’t have enough presence to make a statement in the garden. I’ve noticed it takes a good two years for a perennial to bulk up and fill in its space. Then, it needs to be divided after three or four years depending upon the plant.

Last summer, the gardens I toured during both the American Hemerocallis Society’s regional meeting and the GWA Symposium, furthered the idea that color, like a visual path, helps the visitor navigate garden
In the shade garden, instead of flowers, foliage is the star. Like Mr. McGregor’s Daughter, I really love chartreuse. Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’Recently, I read that chartreuse should be used sparingly because it stops the eye. I decided that even if it is true, I can’t live without its sunny disposition in the shade. Like my sun beds, I repeat it two or three times. I love chartreuse with dark purple foliage like that in ‘Black Magic’ or ‘Illustris’ Elephant Ears. This photo shows a purple foliaged plant, front and center (whose name escapes me,) along with an ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea and two hostas on either side. ‘Annabelle’ is one of the plants Wanda suggested I grow, and she gave me my first one. I love that this hydrangea has blooms with three stages of color. First, they are a light green. Then, they become a beautiful white and finally, they mature into a brownish green. I’ve grown lots of hydrangeas, but ‘Annabelle’ is hands down my favorite. It’s also more tolerant of Oklahoma heat than many of the other hydrangeas, including the Endless Summer collection.

I also use red for punch in the garden. Red is my exclamation point, and I have some areas that have a lot of red. Last summer, I planted two rows of Tightwad Red crape myrtles, which I hope will lead the visitor down a path and through an arbor. As soon as they bloom, I’ll take a photo and post it.

I heard birds singing today for the first time this year. Spring is soon coming, and in the meantime, we can dream in color of all that our gardens can be.


  1. deb says:

    I am in love with that blue and yellow boarder. So so pretty

    Yes, Deb, it was. I don’t know what it looks like now that she’s moved to Washington state.~~Dee

  2. Sandy says:

    I think you are doing great with your color planning! I am partial to blue, so the idea of blue and yellow goes well with me.
    During the summer, the color focus of my garden changes as different plants bloom. The last couple of years, I haven’t used many annuals so did not even have that constant color.

    Whatever you are doing, I think it’s working fine.

    Hi Sandy, thank you for your kind words. I keep plugging away at it. I think annuals really do provide that burst of continuous color. I’m working on an article about crapemyrtle, and they are plants which also provide consistent color for a long period of time in Oklahoma.~~Dee

  3. Maybe instead of putting the eye-stopping chartreuse in a negative category, its ability to make us stop and then look more closely should be viewed as a plus? We’re IN the garden, not driving past it ;-]
    I sure wouldn’t want to rush through your beautiful garden, Dee!

    I’m trying to repeat color, too in my own pokey way – dividing and redividing a favorite daylily, bit by bit, year by year. It may take some time to get a big sweep but the process is enjoyable.

    Annabelle hydrangea was an old favorite in Illinois – wonder if it would consider living in a shady part of my Texas garden? You’re giving me ideas.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose
    Thank you Annie. I’m looking forward to meeting you and seeing yours (maybe?) I think ‘Annabelle’ would love the shade in your garden. It doesn’t get any hotter there than it does here mid-summer.~~Dee

  4. carolyn says:

    Hi Dee,

    You’re lucky to have such a talented garden buddy. That sunny perennial bed is full of my favorite color combos -yellows, blues and a little pink .

    Your own color and plant combinations are great. One does need patience, or a lot of money, to get the desired effect.

    ‘Annabelle’ is a native hydrangea and gardeners start calling in early Summer to see if we stock it at the garden center. It and the paniculatas are my faves. I have the Limelight which blooms all summer long.

    Hi Carolyn, my garden buddy moved all the way to Anacortes, WA. I don’t get to see her anymore, and her garden is no longer the same. Sad, isn’t it? I’d say patience and a lot of money. I know I spend a lot. I don’t know if the paniculatas would grow here. I’m afraid it’s too hot. Limelight is so lovely. I looked up pictures of it.~~Dee

  5. mss @ Zanthan Gardens says:

    “When I first began to garden, I only thought about harvesting vegetables and gathering armfuls of roses. I think I had visions of skipping through my garden, trug in hand, clipping blossoms. I couldn’t imagine the hard work it would take to achieve even a wisp of this dream.”

    That sounds just like me! Despite living south where on any day I can find something in bloom, my garden almost never is in full bloom like one sees in garden magazines or in your picture of Wanda’s garden. Wow!

  6. Pam/Digging says:

    I like your use of chartreuse in the shade. It does really catch the eye where you can’t have many flowers. And I like it so much better than ubiquitous pink impatiens.

    That garden of your friend’s is incredible. What an inspiration.

    Thanks, Pam. Yes, her garden was really something.~~Dee

  7. Thanks for the link, fellow chartreuse lover! The rule about using chartreuse for focals points derives from the rule you read, that it “stops the eye.” I’m glad you also ignore the rules – your results are proof that you shouldn’t follow them slavishly. Your friend’s border is amazing! It definitely demonstrates the use of color to create flow in the garden. It’s great inspiration for us who are still struggling to achieve that harmony.

    You’re so welcome, MMD. About Wanda’s border, she was always thinking of ways to make it better, so I guess no matter how wonderful it is, the garden is never finished.~~Dee

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    That big flower bed looks like it runs as long as a football field. It is a lot to live up to but I think you are doing it. Hang in there girl. I am thankful I don’t have a friend that has that garden. Ha…very intimidating. Sometimes I think doing a big area is easier than a small area. If you are like me there is so many plants you want to try and so little space.

    I love chartrueuse in the garden. I think you did a good job with it. I want to try Annabelle too. I have told myself not to get any more hydrangeas but I continue to drag them home.

    Lisa, I have little garden rooms, so yes, I know about limited space. Bigger is sometimes easier, but also expensive. You should get ‘Annabelle.’ You’ll be glad you did and what’s one more?~~Dee

  9. Curtis says:

    I am a big shade garden lover. Though I do not have a lot of shady spots that aren’t taken up by silver maple tree roots. I like the idea of color flowing from bed to the next. Makes sense.

    No, Curtis, it looks like from your pictures you have lots of wonderful hot sun for your garden. I’m thinking salvias. :-)~~Dee

  10. Chic Girl says:

    I want so badly to have a beautiful garden, but our soil is so horrible and rocky here in south tulsa.

    Chic Girl, how about raised beds? Most of my garden is done in raised beds, and I love it because I can sit on the side and weed.~~Dee

  11. CurtissAnn says:

    I am struck by your comment about trying to make the color flow in your garden, “but I’ve only partially succeeded.” I think you succeed mightily simply by giving it a try. I have always wanted to just try, but my mind starts to freeze up when faced with the task. I throw up my hands before I even start.

    Those irises you gave me last year have grown like crazy. Maybe they can be encouragement for me.

    Thanks, girlfriend!

    I never thought about it that way. Thanks!!~~Dee

  12. jodi says:

    Wow, that garden of your friend’s is amazing…but yours is excellent too. I’m also of the ‘I love chartreuse’ club, and it goes so well with so many other colours. You’re right that it’s harder than it looks to create that sort of tied-together look–it’s beyond me, who is so curious about trying new plants all the time!

    Jodi, I have the problem of being a “plant collector” and sometimes, it messes up the theme of things. I always think of the landscape in threes. Wanda saw it as one big flowing river.~~Dee

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