Fun with colour

Sunday, 04 April 2010

Salvia Wendys Wish with Senecio species

The Easter break is often a good opportunity for some pottering in the garden and planning or putting into effect some new planting schemes. Colour is an important part of gardening to me, but it is such a personal topic and the colours that appeal to some leave others cold. Gardening is a wonderful opportunity to play with colour, as long as we don't take it too seriously. The classic 'colour wheel' gives some idea of how hues work together but most of my favourite colour combinations have come to me by observing them in other people's gardens over the years. The good thing about colour pairings is that we don't have to have the same plants to copy the effect: we can use plants that grow well for us to replicate appealing colour schemes.

Boltonia asteroides with Salvia Wendys Wish and cerise Canna

One of my favourites is cerise with pale blue or mauve: which I originally saw in a cottage-style garden, with a tall pale blue Campanula growing near cerise Lychnis coronaria - which I copied for a while until I started to develop a more semi-tropical style of garden. Now that same colour scheme can be seen in my garden at the moment where a cerise Canna and cerise Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' grow nearby a tall pale blue/mauve Boltonia asteroides, or where cerise Iresine herbstii grows nearby powder-blue Salvia 'African Sky'.

Odotonema strictum near a dark form of Amaranthus caudatus

Another combination I like is deep purple-black with bright scarlet red, which I first encountered in the Red Garden at Hidcote Manor in England twenty years ago. It made such an impression on me, because of the sultry effect. My interpretation uses warm-climate plants, such as glossy red-spiked Odontonema strictum, in bloom now, with the dusky leaves of an Amaranthus caudatus seedling, or a brilliant red Dahlia grown nearby a dark-leaved Canna. I also love orange flowers grown against the same dramatic background.

Salvia Omaha Gold with Acanthus Hollards Gold

I like lime or golden leaves grown near clear blue flowers: an easy grouping to achieve using the many bright blue Salvia cultivars there are these days, all flowering well at the moment, such as Salvia guaranitica Large Form, Salvia 'Costa Rican Blue', Salvia 'Omaha Gold' or Salvia 'Indigo Spires'. There are many warm-climate shrubs and perennials with gold or lime leaves: Duranta 'Sheena's Gold', golden heliotrope, golden Lysimachia, golden Acanthus and gold-leaved zonal Pelargonium cultivars. I also love blue flowers combined with yellow or lime-coloured blooms. This partnership has such a refreshing zing about it that I never tire of it!

Colocasia Black Magic with Salvia elegans Golden Delicious at the former Belrose Nursery

I also like the associaton of lime or gold leaves with very dark purple or black foliage or flowers. This is a very vivid combination, but to me it works. The leaves of Colocasia 'Black Magic' against the golden foliage of Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious', which is in flower now, or purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') with lime-gold Sedum mexicanum 'Gold Mound' are just two examples of this idea which I have seen and enjoyed.

Salvia African Sky, foreground, with Nicotiana mutabilis

As well as these more confronting colour schemes, I also love quieter ones, such as baby pink and blue together - such as soft pink Plectranthus ecklonii with the powdery blue of Plectranthus barbatus, or long-flowering Salvia 'African Sky' with clouds of the lovely pink and white Nicotiana mutabilis; all these are in bloom at the moment.

I also love silver foliage with white flowers: such as Plectranthus argentatus with Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum); and I also find the combination of silver foliage with cerise blooms irresistible, as in silvery Artemisia 'Powys Castle' or Senecio species with Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'. Silver leaves next to deep purple to black foliage or flowers is another favourite of mine!

There is no end to such dabbling with colour and one way to help you deciding what to plant with what is to pick a flower of a particular colour and walk around your garden holding it against other plants to gauge the effects. This tip comes from no less august gardener than Vita Sackville-West, of Sissinghurst fame. Creating colour combinations is a perfectly harmless pastime, and provides lots of enjoyment when a planting scheme works!