Choose cool-season color scheme carefully

Pansies are a popular cool-season flower. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Pansies are a popular cool-season flower. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

By Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter horticulturist

October is a transitional month in Louisiana flower gardens. Many warm-season annuals finish up this month, and gardeners’ thoughts begin to turn to cool-season bedding plants for fall, winter and spring color.

When you decide it’s time to replant flower beds and containers, lots of wonderful cool-season bedding plants are available. Excellent choices include pansy, viola, dianthus, sweet alyssum, calendula, snapdragon, petunia, forget-me-not, sweet William, nicotiana, hollyhock, poppies, annual phlox, stock, statice, ornamental kale and cabbage and dusty miller.

The colors available in these cool-season bedding plants are virtually unlimited. Now, here’s the hard part – don’t plant your garden with every color you can get your hands on. I know it is hard to resist, but what you will end up with is chaos that is not as effective as a well-thought-out color scheme.

I think most people have the ability to effectively use color in their surroundings, and they typically apply this ability when choosing colors for interior décor. The average individual is perfectly capable of deciding on which colors they like and how to combine them when decorating interior spaces, like a living room, bedroom or kitchen, for instance. Once they decide on colors, people carefully coordinate the color of the curtains with the color of the carpets with the color of the walls with the color of the furniture and so on.

Gardeners should do exactly the same thing when it comes to choosing colors for their gardens and landscape. Combining colorful flowers in a flower bed is not that much different from coordinating the colors in interior spaces.

Color is an extremely important factor in how we perceive and appreciate our landscapes. I’m not going to tell you what colors to plant or how to combine them; that is mostly a matter of taste. But you should think about your color scheme and what you are trying to accomplish with color in your landscape. Here are some quick tips on color to get you started.

  • Mix colors together or warm colors together for reliably harmonious results. The colors within each group naturally combine well and look good together. Cool colors include reds with a blue tint, burgundy, rose, pink, magenta, purple, violet, lavender, blue, navy and any variations of those colors. Warm colors include reds with an orange tint, orange, gold, yellow, rust, peach and any variations on these colors. White combines equally well with either group, and true blue flowers also look good with just about any other color.
  • Use color where you want to focus attention. The human eye is instantly drawn to color. Never use color to “beautify” an unattractive feature in your landscape such as a fire hydrant, storage shed or trash can area. You will simply make sure everyone notices it, and the color will not make it look any better.
  • Use color where you can enjoy it. Many gardeners lavish their attention and garden budget on their front gardens, and this is a wonderful gift they provide to their neighborhood. But when little or nothing is done in the back area where the family spends most of their time, I think that is a pity. Don’t forget to include plantings of colorful cool-season bedding plants in beds, containers and hanging baskets around the patio and other outdoor living areas. Fragrant plants such as alyssum, stock and nicotiana are especially nice.
  • Generally, reduce the number of colors you use for best results. In other words, use the colors you like in combinations that you like, but don’t use every color you like at the same time in the same bed.
  • It is also important to plant individual colors in masses or groups, especially if the bed will be viewed from a distance – as in a front bed being viewed from the street. If, for instance, you decide to use red, pink and white petunias, it is more effective to plant groups – three or more plants – of red, groups of pink and groups of white in the bed. This allows each color to be noticed. A scattered planting of individual red, pink and white petunias, for example, would give the overall appearance of pink when viewed from a distance.
  • Use pastel colors in areas that will be viewed primarily in the evening. Paler colors show up better in low light. This is also an important consideration when planting shady areas. Also, pastel colors make a space look larger and more open. If you have a courtyard that seems a little cramped, a pastel color scheme would be quite appropriate. Cool, pastel colors also tend to create a serene, restful mood.
  • Vibrant, rich colors energize the landscape and can help make a larger area seem smaller and more intimate. Combine colors that are complementary on the color wheel, such as blue with orange, purple with yellow or red with green, which is particularly energetic. Combining white with the primary colors red, blue and yellow is also cheerful and lively. A patriotic red, white and blue color scheme is sure to brighten an area as well.

Creating an attractive, colorful look is easier than ever. But do a little thinking and planning before you go to the nursery, and you’ll generally be more pleased with the results. Above all, have fun. After all, if the color scheme isn’t as great as you thought it would be, it’s only there for a season. You can always try something different next time.

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