Keep colors in mind as you paint your garden canvas

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Our homes and gardens are a combination of colors that work together to create an environment that is pleasing to us. Hopes are that these colors evoke a positive emotion for others as well. A range in quality, shades, and intensity are dependent on light and our perception of color. Understanding colors can be a great help when planning a garden.

Hues allow us to tell the difference from red, yellow, green, blue and violet. The Munsel System defines color as a continuous band, combining more than one color to form many different colors. A mixture of red and yellow makes orange. Then we have pumpkin, tuscan blue and turquoise which all are all blends of pure color, containing no white, gray or black.

Value lets us know the difference from a light color and a dark color. Colors that are dark are called shades while light colors are known as tints.

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In the late 1600’s, English scientist Sir Isaac Newton studied light and formed a wheel containing the seven colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The American scientist A. H. Munsell researched color in the 1800’s and created a color wheel based on equal changes in the visual spectrum. His color circle contained the five principal colors of red, yellow, green, blue and purple.

Since then a more simple color wheel has been created which is made of the three primary hues of red, yellow and blue. Secondary colors of orange, green and violet are developed from the overlapping of those basic hues.

Complementary colors are those that are diametrically opposite one another on the color wheel and have no common pigments. Yellow and violet, green and red, orange and blue are all complementary of one another.

Harmonizing colors share some of the same pigments such as blue with green and violet or red with orange and violet.

Individual colors are as unique as individual personalities. Developing a balance between contrasts and harmonies are what form pleasing home and garden surroundings

Mixed flower borders are comprised of a medley of diverse kinds of plants. In the month of March gardens are full of daffodils, pansies, snapdragons, dianthus and tulips. During the next couple of months argeranthemum, shasta daisies and iris bloom. Summer flower beds are full of hibiscus, angelonia, lantana and cosmos.

In addition, many gardens are planted with a mixture of shrubs, ground covers, roses and tropical foliage. All of these different plants create a potpourri of attractive colors and textures that change throughout the year.

Some gardens are devoted to a certain color theme such as red, white and blue or white, gray and silver. Combinations of golds and yellows or pink and red are also possible. Plants with variegated foliage combined with yellow and bold dark green foliage may be the choice.

As you plan your flower beds think of each plant as an individual color in your paint box. Immediate eye catchers may include a single colored theme with a touch of a harmonizing color to further enhance the chosen idea. For instance, a concentration of blue flowering plants may be improved with touch of yellow or orange.

Also keep in mind the differing textures and flower shapes when planning your flower borders. Individuality is the key in developing a combination that you enjoy.

Understanding colors and how they work together in the garden can be helpful. But, like the saying goes, rules are made to be broken. Some of the best gardens in the world obviously ignored the color wheel.

Most importantly, just have fun in the garden with different colors. The garden is your private space to be creative. If you like, break all of the rules. You are the artist and the critic. Remember, your garden is a canvass that you can paint forever, and never finish.

Don’t worry I haven’t seen any policemen carrying a color wheel lately!

Gardening Miss-Lou Style is a weekly column written by Traci Maier of Natchez. Please send your comments and questions to Gardening Miss-Lou Style, c/o The Natchez Democrat, 503 N. Canal St., Natchez, Miss., 39120 or by e-mail to