Garden Designers Roundtable: Color

by Andrew Keys on March 23, 2010

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I am, shall we say, particular about color.

Remember how Sally ordered pie in When Harry Met Sally? That’s me with color. Example: my front garden is meant to be naturalistic and evoke cottage gardens, but it’s a far, FAR more controlled affair colorwise. Blues and purples are key in bloom and in leaf, as is silver foliage. Pink too, but it must be muted pink, never fuchsia. Same goes with yellow, but it MUST be pale yellow. Red foliage is great, as long as it’s dark red, NO red or orange flowers, and never gold or variegated foliage. Really, most of the colors should be pastels, except the blues, purples, and red/purple foliage.

Welcome to why designing in black and white FIRST is less distracting!

I think in many ways, color is the most obvious aspect of design, one of the first pieces of the puzzle — and sometimes the only piece — absolutely everyone grasps about a space, regardless of whether we as designers wish participants to respond first to color or not. Because of that, color, to me, can make or break a design aesthetic.


So. Remember my New Orleans garden plan? That one there? I promise not to write about the same border for every GDRT post, but this is gonna be a two-parter, because one component key to the New Orleans gestalt, in my mind, is a mix of odd color. Observe: (All photos clickable.)

There’s an element of funk to doing right by a palette like this that makes me swoon. To do it well, the non-accidental funk palette must necessarily be a sophisticated enterprise. And for our backyard? We want the funk. Take a look at the color version. (Still VERY MUCH a work in progress. Conceptually, I love this palette, and I’ve sorted it out mentally, but it’s tough to sort out via Photoshop.)

In Living Color

I think the enclosed, cultivated nature of a courtyard is the perfect setting to carefully play with foliage less naturalistic in color, as well as that most vociferous of secondaries, orange. Thus, besides green, foliage in this project is all kinds of gold and variegated, a little silver, and earthy warm tones: reds, browns, purples, eventually some orange. (Heuchera ‘Caramel,’ please!) Flower color will be orange, very dark or light pink — one of the best colors to bridge the gap between other, stronger colors, I think — with a stray gold or white here and there.

Did I mention my house is blue? Not a bright blue — a muted blue I love that goes with everything, because blue, like pink, is a linking color. And don’t forget the bluestone terrace, or the white of the fence in back. All are saturated fields of existing color, so I’ll add the other colors in smaller doses.

Altogether, these round out my funk color palette, and along with foliage it’s another means by which I intend this garden to be evocative of New Orleans, even though certain color aspects in and of themselves — house, fence, terrace — convey New England regionality and match my context. Carefully placed, these colors create rhythm, flow and cohesion in the way they interact with one another. They brighten shady spots, and they invite further investigation. They’re going to be fun to work with.

So whaddya think? Will we have some funky parties in my backyard this summer? You can count on it.

How about some lists? I compiled a few to spec this project. Plants I’m using, in this bed or elsewhere in the backyard, are starred:

Bold Golds, Yellows, and Chartreuse Plants For Shade/Part Shade

Linking Pinks for Part Sun/Part Shade

Earthy Oranges, Reds, Browns, Brown-Purples, Purples, and Blacks for Part Sun/Part Shade

Silvers, Whites, Blue-Whites and a few Powder Blues for Part Sun/Part Shade

And don’t forget to check out my fellow bloggers on the Garden Designers Roundtable this month!:

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip in the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Rochelle Greayer : Studio “G” : Boston, MA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »

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