"Colour inspirations"

Chance encounters with colour combinations can influence our garden plantings.
Sunday, 30 January 2022     

Hemerocallis Victorian Violet, used in colour scheme inspired by a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW

Some ten years ago, a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW to see a wonderful Picasso exhibition had the unexpected result of inspiring a new plant composition for my garden. It was the use of peach and salmon colours combined with teal greens, blues and purples that sparked off an idea for a group of plants I had yet to find a home for. I had always struggled to use peach and salmon flowers in my garden, as they can clash so horribly with many other hues, but in the paintings I gazed at that day, they looked simply stunning. I came home all fired up to plant out some daylilies (including 'Victorian Violet', pictured) and Canna that I had had in pots literally for years in a grouping based on this combination.

I suppose it is not surprising to be influenced by artists in this way, as they, above most others, have a profound understanding of colour principles. I often buy postcard-sized prints from the Art Gallery of paintings that have caught my eye, even if it is years later that I finally put some aspect of the colour schemes into practice. A still-life painting by Margaret Preston in a retrospective exhibition of her work a few years ago taught me that a small dash of red can look simply brilliant with a larger mass of blue flowers, for example.

Other experiences have resulted in similar garden inspiration. A stay in a holiday apartment many years ago that had a black, grey and white-schemed bathroom led directly to the creation of my 'black' (in reality very dark purple-black colours), silver and white garden border, one of my more successful creations. Natural landscapes can also give amazing ideas: my daughter's photos of the burnt-orange sand of the Simpson Desert against a cobalt winter sky many years ago showed the vibrancy of that particular colour combination, one of my favourites. Some beautiful floral bouquets I have been given over the years have also sparked ideas for plantings in my garden.

Visits to other gardens naturally also give wonderful ideas for colour combinations and I confess to having 'borrowed' many of my favourites schemes from clever gardeners. A trip to England 35 years ago when we visited a number of famous gardens had its most long-lasting impact on me via several colour groupings - even though the plants used there themselves were not suitable for my Sydney gardens, as I eventually realised! A visit to Hidcote's 'Red Garden', with its use of dark plum-coloured foliage in combination with red flowers was probably the first time I had ever seen this done and it took my breath away. Barnsley House, at that time the home of gardening writer Rosemary Verey, had many combinations of lime-green foliage and flowers with blues and purples, which have remained some of my most favourite pairings of all time, and they still give me a frisson of delight, all these years later. The sunset hues in one of the garden rooms at Sissingurst also had a big impact on me, even though it was 20 years before I used those colours together in a garden bed of my own.

Closer to home, it was the pairing of a milky-blue Adenophora species (similar to Campanula rapunculus) with cerise Lychnis coronaria in my friend Beverley Jenkins's garden more than 30 years ago that particularly thrilled me. I have used that mixture over and over again since then, with a variety of plants of those two colours, such as the juxtaposition of red Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima' with pastel blue Eranthemum pulchellum (pictured) an idea found in another friend's garden in a shady corner.

Even clothes and fabrics can give ideas for gardens! I have absorbed inspiration from some wonderfully artistic quilts made by talented friends. And a hot pink and orange tennis outfit once worn by a friend has remained in my mind for years, and one day I hope to put that into a garden scheme. In a book by Sydney Eddison called The Gardener's Palette (which I can really recommend for people interested in colour in the garden), a whole chapter explains how the author recreated colour schemes in her garden from pieces of fabric. Due to an increased interest in sewing over the past few years, I have collected lots of fabric scraps that hold potential ideas for my garden, such as the vintage pieces shown above. For those whose gardens are already completely established, the author suggests trying out these colour schemes in large pots, which I thought was a great idea.

Blog originally posted on 29 January 2012. Updated 30 January 2022.

 Reader Comments

1/11  Jill - 3941 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 30 January 2012

Thank you once again for the inspirational colour ideas. I have always loved Monet"s Giverny colours, but you have given me new fields for thought. Jill Thanks. Jill. There are so many colour combinations to explore! Deirdre

2/11  Rae - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2012

Great post, thank you! Thanks, Rae. Hope all going well for your garden. Deirdre

3/11  Dominic wong - 2575 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 30 January 2012

Over the years opening my garden to visitors,I discovered that women tends to use pastel colours in their plantings and tends to stay away from oranges and reds,whereas men loves strong colours.For me,I love all colours.It is how one uses colour to create,calm,restful,uplifting,cheerful combinations. Thanks, Dominic. I love all the colour combinations you have used in your garden. Deirdre

4/11  Robin - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2012

Inspired by your blog on colour in the garden, Deirdre. I believe in God"s Creation there are no colour clashes and am fine with pink and orange together! Dominic,love your garden. I am a woman who uses hot colours. They are more suited to the Australian sunlight, catch the eye and lift the spirit. Thanks, Robin. I love hot colours too and have more of these now in my garden than the pastels I first started out with. Deirdre

5/11  Gillian - 2073 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 01 February 2012

It has always amazed me how frightened so many people are of strong colour. My garden is about to reach it"s peak for the year with a mass of dahlias, cannas, crocosmia and iresine. It thrills me every time I look out the window and sure beats Sydney"s wet and gray summer! Thanks, Gillian. I totally agree. I love my hot-coloured garden the best of all my garden areas! Deirdre

6/11  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 07 February 2012

love hot colours in the garden, but find salmon anything a difficult colour to like, let alone place. However, your words have persuaded me to try again - thank you, Deirdre. Thanks, Margaret. I know what you mean re the salmon colour but I am determined to try to make it work in a garden bed! Deirdre

7/11  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 January 2022

Sooo good to start off a lovely sunny Monday

8/11  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 January 2022

Such a colour filled blog to start off a lovely Sydney sunny morning. Have been using red and green Iresine quite a lot in recent years so can vouch for how they blend with with all colours. Thanks, Maureen. Yes those Iresine plants are so useful in our gardens. Deirdre

9/11  Margaret - 2113 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 January 2022

My front garden has only colours that complement the colours of the house -- cream and blue/grey so only flowers that are blue, purple, mauve, pink, and white and cream. My lovely reds, oranges and yellows are in the back garden. Your garden sounds delightful, Margaret! Deirdre

10/11  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 02 February 2022

Thanks, Deirdre, a thought-provoking blog, as always. I have a mixture of colours in my garden, hopefully complimenting each other. However, am still not fond of salmon. but maybe should obtain a 'salmon mix'! Your garden always looks gorgeous, Margaret! I do think salmon is a tricky colour! Deirdre

11/11  Ron - 2110 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Saturday, 05 February 2022

Modern gardens are designed and the design runs your life. What if you want a rose bush and have the ideal spot for it so that you can have some cut flowers at home and it doesn't fit the design? Why does a garden have to come from the drawing board and be so rigid? My garden is a bit of a mess but makes a nice picture and is a lot of fun. I know what you mean. Gardens can be too perfect and planned. I prefer a more rough and tumble look, growing what you want to grow. It is just for our joy, in the end. Deirdre

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