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“Complement” your plants to create color harmony

Gardeners and landscapers can learn a lot from other artists and craftsmen. For instance, think of the people who work in the picture-framing business.

Take a picture to one of these experts and you can find that what might have seemed a no-brainer turns out to require a lot of thought to achieve the desired result. They’ll naturally spend some time selecting the ideal frame. But notice how much thought they put into finding the perfect mat.

The mat – that beveled piece of card that serves as a border between the picture and the frame – is essential to the optimum appreciation of the picture itself. The right mat will enhance perfectly the picture it surrounds, focusing the viewer’s eye on the art it borders.

On the other hand, a carelessly-chosen mat can be a major distraction, clashing with the colors of the art or dominating the viewer’s attention. Even a masterpiece can appear mediocre when poorly framed and matted.

The same can be true with the plants in your landscape.

A prize perennial can look breathtaking when surrounded by other plants carefully chosen to form the ideal “frame and mat” to bring out its color and texture. Conversely, that supreme specimen can almost disappear when set amidst the “wrong” plants.

As I have recommended before, a good start is a color wheel from a craft shop or downloaded from an online source, such as http://www.colormatters.com/colortheory.html You can quickly see a visual guide to analogous and complementary colors.

In a nutshell, analogous colors are the three colors that sit side by side on a twelve-part color wheel; for example the trio that pretty much go from yellow to orange to red. Complementary colors are any two colors that sit directly opposite each other on the wheel, such as red and green, or red-purple and yellow-green. (It’s easier to visualize this when you’re looking at a color wheel!)

Your objective with all this is to achieve harmony: an arrangement that is pleasing to the human eye.

If you need an idea to get you started, you could do worse than a fast-growing perennial named Salvia Blue Hill Sage (Salvia x sylvestris Blue Hill). Why? Because this useful plant seems to bring out the absolute best in other plants that it “frames” in your garden. If you’ve ever said, “That dress brings out the color of your eyes,” you’ll understand what I mean.

Blue Hill originated in Germany where it was (and is) valued for its summer-long blooming clear blue flowers and its sturdy compact stature. Cut it back and it will re-bloom in the early fall. They’re easy to grow and prefer full sun, reaching a maximum height of around two feet.

If you’re using the principals of complementary colors, the brilliant blue of that Salvia and its green foliage would greatly enhance the color of red-blooming plants that you group with it.

A delightful option could be the Dianthus Spotty. Blooming in May or June, the Spotty has bright red flowers festooned with brilliant white spots. Like Blue Hill, they do best in full sun and well drained soil. Spotty is a dwarf variety, reaching only about 5 inches tall and is perfect for rock gardens.

In England they are often described as crevice fillers because they can be planted between flagstones or around craggy rock features. A mass of Dianthus Spotty in full bloom looks like a red and white polka-dot dress. A fun addition to your garden and a fine “complement” to the Blue Hill.

Speaking of “red,” of course you can’t help but think of the aptly named Red Hot Poker.(Kniphofia uvaria Flamenco). Actually, this particular variety produces fiery red, vivid orange and soft yellow flower spikes, thus making it a one-man analogous color display! The brilliant flowers are on straight, 3-foot stalks and hummingbirds seem to go bonkers for them.

Create color harmony in your garden and you’ll see how the right “frames” bring your masterpieces to life.