"Colour echoes"

The concept of colour echoes can be used to create harmony and cohesion in planting schemes.
Sunday, 01 November 2020     

Viola tricolor echoed by Marguerite daisies

One of the gardening books that has had a huge influence on my planting style is Colour Echoes by Pamela J. Harper (1994). In this book, the author explores the different ways to create colour harmony and cohesion in the garden, using a variety of methods, which all have the idea of putting two plants together that share a colour but have some other difference.

One way to do this is to repeat the flower colour of one plant with a nearby plant that has foliage (rather than a flower) of a similar hue. Or pair a flower of a certain colour with a similarly hued bloom with a contrasting shape. Other techniques are to match the colour of a flower's bracts, calyces or central 'eyes' to a nearby petal or leaf, or to place a flower nearby a garden sculpture, ornament or piece of furniture of the same colour. Pamela Harper even encourages her fluffy white cat to sit amongst some white daisies to create a transient picture!

Coloured foliage, whether plain or variegated with stripes, spots or other markings, offers a great source of plants for this sort of matching. Yellow, lime or gold-leafed plants can easily be partnered with flowers, such as Duranta 'Sheena's Lime Glow' with the petite trumpets of lime Nicotiana langsdorffii. The same Duranta can offer an echo to the variegated green and gold/lime foliage of Euonymus japonicus 'Aureus'. Canna 'Striata', with its yellow veins, looks good growing nearby yellow flowers, such as Aquilegia chrysantha or with autumn-blooming Salvia madrensis.

Red, crimson and burgundy leaves can also provide ideas for colour echoes. I love the beetroot-veined leaves of foliage plant Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima', and have it dotted throughout my garden with comrades ranging from Canna to Salvia, including Salvia microphylla 'San Carlos Festival', to accentuate its leaves. Sultry-flowered Salvia 'Desley' nestles between the burgundy heart-shaped leaves of the shrub Euphorbia cotinifolia and the burgundy, silver and green leaves of perennial Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon', and it gives me a thrill every time I see this partnering of flower and foliage colour, which lasts for months on end.

Some leaves are purplish-brown, even verging on black, and can resonate with some of the very darkest blooms in the garden. Ajuga 'Black Scallop' is a groundcover with very dark leaves and I sometimes have cute little Viola tricolor 'Bowles' Black' growing amongst it. A very beautiful dark-leaved form of Iresine herbstii is a good mate for Salvia 'Waverly', reflecting the dark tints and tones of this plant's complex flowers (as shown earlier in the blog).

White-variegated leaves also provide opportunities for creating satisfying partnerships with plants with white flowers. At the moment the crisp white and green striped grassy leaves of Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus' are arching above the pretty little ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), an excellent low-growing groundcover with a profusion of bright white flowers in late spring. A few weeks ago, the grass was an apt chum for my white may bush (Spiraea cantoniensis).

In autumn, the oranges and yellows leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs can be matched with nearby flowers or berries; other plants have orange veins which can be highlighted by a floral partner, such as Canna 'Tropicanna' fronted by orange-red hybrid of Fuchsia triphylla. Flowers which have bi-coloured petals offer potential for echoes, by partnering them with plain-hued blooms or leaves which match one of these, such as putting yellow and purple heartsease (Viola tricolor) with a plain yellow Marguerite daisy, as shown at the start of the blog.

I am still not quite sure why, but to me these colour echoes create very satisfying planting combinations. I am sure many gardeners do it instinctively, rather than having to read about it in a book as I did! It is all harmless fun and adds a challenge to our gardening activities. Once you get hooked on it, you start to see potential colour echoes everywhere. The scope is infinite, and finding the right partner for a plant can be very rewarding! I have also written more about colour echoes in these blogs: here, here and here.

Blog originally posted on 8 November 2009; updated 1 November 2020.

 Reader Comments

1/4  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 12 November 2009

Loved your colour echoes blog, and admire those who follow these principles, but I just plant!

Thanks, Margaret. I think you naturally know how to combine them! Deirdre

2/4  Harold - 2025 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Saturday, 14 November 2009

I have the same problem, no system - the clash of colours like a bad spray paint advertisment. Same with my fruit trees, avocardos, mangoes, bananas, citrus of all sorts, macadamias, coffee, loquat, and figs. All different in every way. It works for me; but an expert descibed it as overgrown!

Hi Harold - whatever you enjoy in your garden is the most important thing! I never try to garden for anyone else, though once upon a time I did. Deirdre

3/4  Bren - 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 02 November 2020

Interesting. When I plant stuff I tend to pay more attention to contrasting and complimentary shapes and sizes of plants rather than color, though I dont totally ignore color. I have always wanted to have a really long Salvia bed where at one end the flowers are intense blue and at the other end the flowers are intense red, with a smooth gradation of blue, purple and red hues between. Shape and size are so important too. I love your idea of the long salvia bed with the colour gradation! Deirdre

4/4  Pamela - 2158 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 04 November 2020

I love these colour blogs Deirdre. The most exciting part of gardening is the combination of plants and when we get it right its thrilling. When we dont its annoying. I planted some Lilliums in my back purple border thinking they were a pale pink, but the pink is more coral and now I need to bring burgundy into the scheme to tie it together, always a challenge getting it right but I could read your blog over and over, just love your creativity. Thanks so much, Pamela! I like your idea of putting burgundy with coral pink. Coral pink is such a tricky colour - I usually put it with blue or purple but burgundy is a great idea. I just love to tinker with colour! Deirdre

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