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Color Considerations - Choosing and Combining Plants - Successful Container Gardens - University of Illinois Extension

Choosing and Combining Plants

Color Considerations

Choosing a color theme will give your container garden a "pulled together" look. To choose a theme, consider:

  • Colors complementing the background where your container will be placed
  • Colors you have chosen for the inside of your home
  • Leaf colors of a particular plant you like
  • Colors of nature from the region you live in
  • Colors and styles that reflect a place you love to visit or would like to re-create such as the lakeshore, the tropics, or the north woods.
  • Your favorite colors

Think about the particular setting when picking out your plants and containers. The background might be other plants, patio-paving steps, fences, balcony rails, architectural siding, trim, or foundation materials. Photographing the background location of your container garden may help you when picking out coordinating containers and plants. Regardless of background, plants add a refreshing touch.

In the plant world, your palette of neutral colors broaden to include green, and brown, as well as the typically designated neutrals such as gray, black and white. These "neutrals" include both plants and architectural materials. Sometimes the background is red brick or blue siding. Take this into consideration when choosing a color scheme.

Different background colors affect how the same color looks. For example, gray, purples or greens looks different against gray siding than they do against red brick. They look different still against tan limestone or white vinyl.

Color Wheel

A color wheel helps us to think about how colors work together. Look at the color wheel to see how combinations of colors interplay. Your living floral arrangement will have a pulled together look if you choose one of the following popular combinations:

  • Monochromatic
    • All one color hue such as pure blue, purple, red or yellow.
    • Tints (hue plus white), shades (hue plus black), or tones (hue plus gray)
    • Monochromatic color schemes tend to be soothing and elegant.
  • Analogous
    • Side by side colors from the color wheel
    • Analogous colors tend to be comfortably calm.
  • Complementary Colors
    • Opposite each other on the color wheel
    • Complementary colors tend to create excitement and drama and often work best when used sparingly.
  • Explore more complex color schemes in other color theory references.

Color Wheel Families: Warm or cool exaggerate distance.

  • Warm colors include red, orange, tangerine, apricot, yellow, terra cotta. Warm colors appear closer in distance visually. They show up well even when viewed from afar since they appear to advance in space.
  • Cool colors include blue, purple, fuchsia, orchid, magenta (and shades of pink). Cool colors increase the illusion of distance. They work well near a patio or sidewalk, or a doorstep where they can be appreciated up close. They tend to blend with the foliage when viewed from a distance.
  • Neutral garden colors include green, brown, tan, cream, white, grays, black. While green would normally be considered cool and brown warm, they play such a large role in the landscape that they often take on the role of neutrals.

Many books and references go into detail about effects of colors and color combinations in the garden and are useful to explore as you think about color.

Lighting affects color perception

Lighting affects how your living floral arrangement is perceived and enjoyed. Often people who work during the day take pleasure in white edged leaves and white or pastels flowers for their evening impact. The white "pops" at night. These same pale colors may appear washed out in bright light. However, in the dim light of the morning or evening, whites and pastels really show up. Deep colors are lost in darkness. When you are out and about, notice how light patterns in sun or shade affects how warm and dark colors look.

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