As we emerge from this lockdown mode, is your landscape this season going to celebrate with a brilliant display of colors or show appreciation of freedom with quiet peacefulness? Either pathway will be more appealing by following a few general guidelines.
Whether you have a cluster of containers on your patio or a large landscape with a myriad of shrubs, flowers and trees, the same general principles apply.
When we think about how Mother Nature presents so many of her blooms, she follows the general rule of one major color, with a touch of a complementary one — the color on the opposite side of a color wheel. Think of a purple pansy with a small yellow center.
On the other hand, a monochromatic blend of colors (colors closely related) are the most foolproof. For example, a mass of red, purple and lavender petunias or geraniums fits this plan.
For a more interesting arrangement, add a small area of yellow marigolds or calibrachoas to accentuate this color group; this is using the opposite color on the color wheel. Those yellows will add some pizzazz to those otherwise quite comfortable reds and purples.
If both yellows and reds are used in equal amounts, the grouping is nice but loses focus and impact.
Another decision for you to make: whether to select bright colors, or on the other hand, the more subtle, softening effects of muted colors. A wonderful array of plant selections enables us to go with what appeals, and luckily we have our personal likes and dislikes and don’t have to all march to the same drummer.
Colors can get further complicated by values of light and dark. Bright, clear colors next to soft pastels will drown out the lighter, more subtle ones.
Another option is planting one group of multi-colored flowers, whether zinnias, marigolds, petunias or other annuals. Planting several mixed color groupings makes for a busy-looking arrangement, so best to stick to no more than one in each area of your landscape.
Soft gray or green foliage and some blue flowered plants are effective softeners near a mass of brightly colored ones. Dusty miller is a popular, gray-foliaged annual offering nice, lacy foliage. Petite blue lobelia, either trailing or upright, are among my favorite annuals for softening nearby bright colors.
Whites are a nice accent, especially noticeable in the evening. I prefer a bit of white, but not overpowering those beautiful rainbow colors elsewhere.
Textures are an important element to consider. I like the spiky appearance of grasses — big, impressive Calmagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ for background or the opposite, tiny grass mats at border’s edge of armeria. I consider armeria’s pink flowers a bonus in addition to that grassy mat. A clump of Pennisetum ‘Little Bunny’ is a nice in-between sized clumping perennial, about 1 ½ feet high. All of these can be divided in late fall or winter for multiplying them or passing on to friends. For slicing those larger clumps, I find a dull-bladed sawzall divides like magic.
Lastly, leaf colors and sizes make a difference. Variegated leaves (white edges around green or green with a streak of white) provide further interest. Beautiful lime green hostas brighten a shady area. So many geraniums, coral bells and other popular plants are coming out with eye-catching combinations of dramatic leaf colorations.
For leaf sizes, those big, rounded leaves of Bergenia or pointy sweet potato vine provide contrast to dainty, finely divided leaves such as ferns and columbine.
We are blessed with many choices of color and textures in our gardens. There is something sure to please our individual tastes.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Mary Fran McClure is one of four columnists featured. To learn more, visit wwrld.us/cdmg or call (509) 667-6540.