Cre­ate gar­den color the artist's way

The Progress-Index - At Home - - Front Page - JENNIFER FORKER

Long a com­pan­ion for artists, the color wheel can also be a handy tool for gar­den­ers.

Gar­den­ing author Syd­ney Ed­di­son cre­ated a wheel that has 252 col­ors in­stead of the usual 12. That’s be­cause na­ture doesn’t work with a limited palette, she says.

“In na­ture you have al­ready been dealt this hand. You only have to learn how to play it,” she says.

Even all of the tints, shades and tones in Ed­di­son’s “The Gar­dener’s Color Wheel” don’t cap­ture the di­ver­sity of what’s re­ally grow­ing out there. But she says it’s a good way to start see­ing col­ors in the gar­den and how they re­late to each other.

“The color wheel trains your eye to look, to re­ally look,” says Ed­di­son, author of six books in­clud­ing “The Gar­dener’s Palette” (Con­tem­po­rary Books, 2003). “You be­gin to un­der­stand why cer­tain things work, or why you like a Christ­mas wreath that’s red and green and why you’re happy to see pur­ple and yel­low cro­cuses to­gether.”

In both ex­am­ples, the two col­ors are com­ple­men­tary — op­po­site each other on the color wheel — and in color the­ory, op­po­sites at­tract.

In gar­den plan­ning, col­ors are used to cre­ate ei­ther con­trast or har­mony, says Ed­di­son, who has tended 2½ acres in New­town, Conn., for half a cen­tury.

“Con­trast calls at­ten­tion to it­self. It gives a jolt,” says Ed­di­son, 81. “Whereas har­mony is a sigh of re­lief.”

Col­ors ad­ja­cent on the color wheel, such as the warm shades of red and or­ange or the cool tones of blue and green, cre­ate har­mony to­gether.

Take a color wheel into the yard to parse out par­tic­u­lar col­ors. Take it to the gar­den cen­ter to help pick out plants for the sum­mer.

Then play in the soil.

Ed­di­son rec­om­mends ex­per­i­ment­ing with color in pots on the ter­race.

“Don’t force a color theme on the gar­den,” she warns. “It has dif­fer­ent col­ors at dif­fer­ent times of the year.”

Color also changes through­out the day, de­pend­ing on the light.

Ed­di­son changes her pa­tio pots ev­ery year, and paints her gar­den fur­ni­ture to co­or­di­nate.

“Some­times my color schemes are a lit­tle wild I had a Cray­ola color scheme one year,” she says. “Peo­ple were blinded by it, but I loved it.”

“The year that I did yel­low, white and yel- low-green, that was ter­rific,” Ed­di­son says. “And I painted the fur­ni­ture yel­low.”

Look to fab­rics or fa­mous art­work (Monet’s paint­ings, for ex­am­ple) for color in­spi­ra­tion, she sug­gests.

Or sim­ply trust na­ture, which turns out com­ple­men­tary color com­bi­na­tions all its own, says Betina Fink, an oil painter who teaches color the­ory in Tuc­son, Ariz.

“There are th­ese beau­ti­ful, nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring com­ple­men­tary col­ors,” she says. Dur­ing spring in the South­west, for ex­am­ple, prickly pear cacti sport buds and blooms rang­ing from yel­lows to pur­ples.

Jeni Web­ber, a Berke­ley, Calif., land­scape ar­chi­tect and Ed­di­son’s niece, also sug­gests tak­ing na­ture’s lead. Pur­ple, yel­low, white and soft pink con­sti­tute na­ture’s palette in Cal­i­for­nia fields, she says, and they look great to­gether.

“Na­ture doesn’t worry about things match- ing,” says Web­ber. “But usu­ally it does.”

When plan­ning a gar­den, re­mem­ber that cool col­ors, such as blues and vi­o­lets, re­cede, says Fink. Warm col­ors — reds, or­anges and yel­lows — want to take cen­ter stage. Green — na­ture’s most abun­dant color in many places — is “the great peace­maker,” says Ed­di­son.

“Green doesn’t call at­ten­tion to it­self or van­ish,” Ed­di­son says. “It helps har­mo­nize all of the color schemes.”

An in­com­pat­i­ble color scheme can be soft­ened by in­cor­po­rat­ing more sooth­ing green fo­liage. In par­tic­u­lar, gray and gray-green fo­liage helps blend col­ors.

Mean­while, a lit­tle white goes a long way in the gar­den, warns Ed­di­son.

“It is the light­est and bright­est and most eye-catch­ing color in the gar­den,” she says. “It re­quires spe­cial han­dling.”

White works well with in­di­vid­ual col­ors or com­bined with pas­tels. Low-grow­ing white flow­ers, such as the tick­seed plant “Star Clus­ter” Core­op­sis, when spread through­out a gar­den can help the eye scan its sur­round­ings.

Flow­ers come and go, but fo­liage of­ten re­mains year-round, so plan it care­fully, says Web­ber. She likes or­ange fo­liage, a rel­a­tive new­comer, and men­tions the peren­nial Heuchera Mar­malade, a va­ri­ety of coral bells.

In­stead of hard and fast rules, Web­ber trusts her eyes to know when two plant col­ors clash: A bad com­bi­na­tion hurts. “If I’m cheat­ing and putting col­ors to­gether that don’t go well to­gether, I’ll see how my eyes are feel­ing,” she says.

Over decades of ex­per­i­ment­ing with color, Ed­di­son also has found that rules can only get a gar­dener so far.

“As much as fol­low­ing the rules works, ditch them to fol­low your heart and soul,” she says.

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