Garden talk: Colorful garden starts with a highlighted plant

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerMay 22, 2011 

Planning the scheme for a garden, or even just a flowerbed, calls on all of the same techniques as planning the décor for a room.

As a rule, when decorating you choose a fabric, or a sample of wallpaper, or a rug and pull all of the colors for the decorating scheme from that one source. When working up a flowerbed, it makes sense to use the colors of a chosen plant as a springboard for your companion plants.

Of course, just as when decorating you sometimes have to work around pieces of furniture that won’t get re-covered, in a flowerbed you sometimes have to consider returning perennials that you certainly intend to keep. You can’t ignore them in the overall scheme.

In early spring, when I am planning my garden’s colors for the growing season, I love to visit a nursery, grab one of those long carts, and then start with one spectacular plant and drag the cart around finding plants with colors that will work well with the predominant one.

Last year the highlighted plant was a gaillardia with tones of red, orange, and yellow in its blossoms. To pick up these colors I added “Happy Returns” yellow daylilies, red-orange kalanchoe, clear yellow zinnias, orange celosia, golden marguerite daisies, yellow lantanas, and some incredible sun coleus that were reddish with yellow edges.

Also in that bed was a pair of “Color Guard” yuccas, some basil, and some purple fountain grass. In the fall I added yellow fall mums, some blue veronica, and a couple of miniature yellow roses to freshen things up a bit. All of these plants worked well together and provided lots of color throughout the season.

But this year I decided to use a palette of bright pastels and based the scheme on a new lantana with deep pink and bright yellow blooms. I had to remember that the returning perennials would be the yellow daylilies, the yuccas, and the veronica, which would all work with the new colors.

I had great fun putting together the companion plants for this flowerbed. I did the cart trick at the nursery -- I loaded up my lantanas and went in search of color matches. I found hot pink petunias, yellow dwarf zinnias, pale pink vincas with deep pink eyes, yellow African daisies, pink dianthus, and yellow loosestrife. At another nursery I picked up some silver foliage plants called “Powis Castle” artemisia and a trio of reddish-pink fountain grasses. As the plants begin to fill out, the flowerbed looks great and I am hoping for another good gardening year.

Color echoes

The ideas that I have espoused in the previous paragraphs are by no means new ones. In fact, in 1994 a well-known American garden writer, Pamela Harper, wrote an entire book called “Color Echoes” based on these premises. The photographs in this book will make you want to rip out your entire garden and start over again. The author has whole sections based on shades of pink to crimson, blues to purple, and orange to yellow and cream, and she uses complementary colors on the color wheel, such as red and green or yellow and blue-purple to choose companion plants for a flowerbed.

Pamela (I have met her and can call her by name) says in the book that “a color echo is the repetition of color as a means of creating unity, serenity, interest, and charm in a garden.” She states that coordinated color makes a garden more romantic, and that the color echoes concept proves the easiest way to begin. Indeed, the best way to utilize a plant’s full potential is to combine it with other plants that will highlight its beauty.

Green-eyed monster

This week I was driving along on my way to visit a friend when all of a sudden I was struck by the green-eyed monster of envy over the most beautiful clematis vine I had ever seen. It was gently climbing the side of a mailbox and it looked so fresh and perfect that it was all I could do to restrain myself from just digging it up and taking it home.

Luckily, I had my camera with me and had stopped for a photo when the homeowner walked out and I had to explain to him what I was doing. Hoping to find out more about the lovely vine, I congratulated him on his choice of such a beautiful clematis and he said, “What did you call that vine?” Obviously, I was not going to get any answers from him.

Deep green foliage provides the perfect backdrop for this climber’s six-petaled, lavender-blue blossoms, and cream-colored stamens give the flowers extra grace. Since clematis vines like to have their faces in the sun and their feet cool, this one seems very happy facing the sun and covered with a good mulch of pine straw. I plan to do some research to find out its exact name so I can order one -- I have to have it!

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