Many resources advise on how to achieve the most attractive color design in the garden. Nearly every article or book on the topic advises use of a color wheel to guide plant color combinations. I have never used a color wheel, but here are a few things I consider.

Red, orange and yellow are “warm” colors. Bright, cheerful and energizing, warm colors are easily seen from a distance and will tend to draw attention. For that reason, it’s best not to locate warm color plants next to the utility box or near that ugly pipe you can’t get rid of.

Cool colors – green, purple, blue – are much less intense. You might even call them mellow. Plants in those colors are not as easily seen from a distance.

If your garden is right outside the window, cool color plants work well. On the other hand, if your garden is toward the back of the property, you might want warm color plants so you can see them.

Plants with cool colors interspersed with red, orange and/or yellow plants make a lovely combination. The cool colors create a softer look and lessen the intensity of those hot colors.

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Another option is a monochromatic color scheme, focusing on tints and shades of just one color. I often create monochromatic displays with container pots.

And, let’s not forget white. When dusk arrives, white blossoms really pop while other colors all but disappear. I love looking out on my moonlit deck to see blooms of white Impatiens and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ in container pots.

Foliage has color, too! Leaves come in many shades of green, as well as blue, yellow and burgundy. I am particularly fond of the foliage of various cultivars of Heuchera and Ligularia. Dark, burgundy tones in Ligularia ‘The Rocket,’ for example, provide dramatic contrast paired with a bright-colored plant such as Heuchera ‘Key Lime Pie.’

Now is a good time to review how color combinations looked in the garden this summer so you can plan (and perhaps plant) for next year. There are many colors and combinations to choose from. Plant whatever color combo pleases you.

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Mari Lane Gewecke is a Master Gardener volunteer, affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus program, and a self-employed consultant.


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