Color Harmonies -- What Are You Thinking, M.N.?

OK, I admit it, I'm a bit of a color snob. Or maybe a color fanatic. I have shoes in lime green and turquoise and a pair of orange cowboy boots. Then, a while ago, a thread at the venerable Gardenweb posed the question:"What is the worst color combination you've ever seen in someone's garden?" it really got me thinking.

First, of course, I was a bit puzzled by the "You would not believe it but this lady had a X next to a Y" emails that resulted. While I don't always follow the "...if you don't have something nice to say" rule, I try to reserve my sneering for worthy topics such as SUVs. And then I looked at my own garden, just a tad worried.

But on my recent trip to Tassajara, I really wondered what Mother Nature is thinking. I mean, look at the tomato-red Castilleja (Indian paintbrush) with the purple Salvia spatacea (hummingbird sage). And all that combined with -- green?

I'm not even sure the second photo, purple Salvia with blue and white Lupine would make it into a book of color recommendations. And isn't the yellow with the tomato red a bit garish?

Not to mention Castilleja together with Collinsia heterophylla. A bright with a pastel? Red with lavender? Tsk tsk.

What a relief to finally encounter a familiar color choice: Black and white. Here, the charred remains of the chaparral and the first white flowers of Gnaphalium californicum (pearly everlasting).

Postscript: In my own garden, I do prefer to group colors by region. And maybe I'll do a post about that some time. But I'm delighted by any color combination other gardeners come up with -- especially Mother Nature.


I reckon in nature anything goes color wise. I love a riot of color an the more colors the better - your photos prove that beautiful color combinations that we don't usually for look can be great together. Maybe not what I'd choose for painting the kitchen but it's about the splashed of color that blossoms bring to the great outdoors.
I used to be so fearful of color, everything in my garden was white or pastel pink. I was afraid of clashing colors in the garden. Truth is I think, at least in a wild landscape, you can make most color combinations work. I still might not plan for something pink to be next to a vibrant orange, but if it grows there of it's own accord, so be it. Who am I to argue with Nature?
biobabbler said…
I agree: I love the lack of restraint re: color (shade, intensity, combinations) in nature. It's great. I can pretty much bet you major $$ I will NEVER spend money on a white flower. I feel it's a lost opportunity (total opinion here, and I do love native white-flowering plants). I like intense red and orange poppies, red zinnias, deep purple irises, giant sunflower yellow petals with dark centers, etc.
Christine said…
Well here I go, too. I don't think there's such a thing as a bad color or combo, just a bad setting/design. Incorporating larger flowers of one color with a smaller flowered clashing color can be really stunning. And I have to say that the red/lavender combo is one of my favorites right now! I'm also clashing reds and pinks, too. I think these unexpected companions can really make a garden unique (yet still visually pleasing!).
I know what you mean. I always rip out the soft red castilleja next to orange or yellow anything when I'm out on a hike--It's soooooo tacky I can't stand it. OK, OK--just kidding! But I guess that's one of the differences between nature and a garden.
Elephant's Eye said…
Your PS lost me. Group colours by regions? Native plants from the same region? I truly can't imagine any clashing colours in nature. With all the blue sky, and mostly greenish foliage, however clashing the colours might have been in theory, in nature they sparkle.
Brad said…
Well from my own experience, don't plant red, white and blue together. I had paprika yarrow, black and blue salvia and snow-in-summer. They were all blooming at the same time in summer. It felt like the 4th of July had vomited all over my yard. But that's just me.

I think in a small garden especially you could have colors that clash or at least don't look great together. Your eyes will always be resting in the same spots. But as always beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you like it enjoy. In nature or larger gardens I feel it's not a problem.
Country Mouse said…
This is great - I am hopeless with color. I recognize things I like, but I don't have any sense of what to put together to make a pleasing effect. A fun - and colorful - post!
wiseacre said…
I'm of the opinion that flower colors never clash. I just leave those that do to argue with Mother Nature.
David Perry said…
Kudos to you for calling a spade a spade. So much criticism of the efforts of others rings sad to my ears. That implication of superiority by making fun of someone else's garden. I am sometimes blown away by the beauty of two or three types of plants growing/blooming in proximity to one another and my admiration for the mind that saw them together and then planted them that way . . . It is sincere. But I also admire the farmer that labors to put rows of seed in the ground and tend them to maturity. A field of grain is a beautiful garden too. So for me, it follows that anyone putting flowers in the ground rather that just sitting around complaining, or piling junk or willfully destroying is worlds ahead and it is my loss if I cannot see the magic they attempt, in addition to the magic they may only marginally achieve. Let the colors run in your watercolor.