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.
The allure of the orchid cactus
24 Oct 21
This intriguing epiphytic plant is in bloom now.
Ageing and gardening
17 Oct 21
As one gets older, there is the need to rethink aspects of one's garden.
Painting with coleus
10 Oct 21
Coleus can make wonderful pictures in the garden.
03 Oct 21
Tough and undemanding plants from my parents' garden are favourites in my own.
The value of green spaces
26 Sep 21
Earlier this year, I visited Callan Park in Sydney's inner west.