Hartley Magazine

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Garden with Color Confidence

OK, I confess—I don’t know much about color design in my garden. I’m just pleased when my plants thrive. However, on visits to other gardens, I appreciate the bright (or subtle) combinations. How does that happen?

Recently, I walked through Rebecca Sweet’s elegantly designed backyard in Northern California—a symphony of greens and blues, with accents like bright magenta Loropetalum ‘Razzleberry’. Rebecca’s the owner of the landscape design firm, Harmony in the Garden and also co-author of Garden Up—Smart vertical gardening for small and large spaces. In September, her next book comes out—Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture & Form. She’s the perfect person to help me raise my color consciousness.

Start with what’s familiar. Rebecca laughs when she tells me: “I used to say—‘If you can dress yourself, you can figure out garden color.’ But then I realized that was terrible advice when I looked around and saw how badly some people dress.”

Wardrobe disasters aside, she advises me to notice which colors I prefer to wear or use in my home—especially accessories like throw pillows. “Is it bold primaries, jewel tones, or earth shades?”

Now, Rebecca says, I have a choice. I can find plants—both flowers and foliage—that reflect what I already like. Or, I can be oppositional. If I favor neutrals in clothing, she suggests, “Have the courage to pair up purple and orange in the garden. Experiment and go temporarily crazy—you can always tear the plants out. They’re easy to get rid of.”

Shop early and often. “Make sure you have a mix of seasonal colors,” Rebecca says. “Plants have different bloom times. Don’t just buy from the annual aisle in spring.”

Instead, plan several nursery trips throughout the year, always adding to the favored color mix. And when shopping, she tells me, “Think beyond the flowers to foliage, stems, and berries for year-round interest.” Good advice for both garden and greenhouse.
Create one-color combos. For guaranteed success, mix and match a single color. Here’s Rebecca’s recipe for break-out orange.

Plant in a two-foot diameter container:

  • Lantana Luscious® Berry Blend™ —pale peach to orange-red blooms
  • Heuchera ‘Peach Flambe’—rounded orange foliage
  • Calendula officinalis—bright orange cool-season flowers
  • Carex testacea—brown-orange sedge grass

-An orange glass ball—a bit of non-living bling

I can’t wait to change up my garden’s wardrobe.