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Strong colour contrast

Catherine Stewart

Catherine Stewart

February 25, 2013

Using strong colour contrasts in the garden is not for the faint-hearted. Most new and beginner gardeners resile from any kind of strong colour, especially the idea of combining them with something as equally vibrant on the other side of the colour wheel. But I would argue that’s EXACTLY what you should be doing if you live in lower latitudes.

Tulips at Great Dixter

Tulips at Great Dixter

Strong sunlight bleaches out pale colour – both literally and figuratively. The high sun angle on gardens in lower latitudes (by which I mean anything less than 40 degrees north or south) reflects strongly off whites and pastels, making them appear quite colourless. While many gardeners lust after the soft, gentle prettiness of a garden in the style of a pale English rose, inevitably after a few years their colour choices become bolder, more vibrant and, ultimately, more successful and satisfying.

Acalypha, bonfire salvia and teucrium hedge NSW Parliament rooftop garden

Acalypha, bonfire salvia and teucrium hedge NSW Parliament rooftop garden

This photo gallery shows how to put together plants (or associated hardscape elements) with opposite colour contrasts – yellow with purple, blue with orange, red with green, and also colour ‘clashes’ like pink with red, or rich orange with mauve. Individual plants with highly saturated colours, like the fire-engine red of bonfire salvia can do it on their own or, if the colour is not as strong, you can use blocks of plants for the right effect. Or, what the hell, really stick your neck out and use a block of bonfire salvia as they did on the rooftop of NSW Parliament House.

Red is such a dominant, drama queen ‘look at me, look at me!’ colour in the garden that I think the best way to work it in is either by combining it with an equally demanding co-star, like saturated purple or orange, or giving it a stage set with loads of rich green so it can really shine. Come to think of it, perhaps I should devote a whole gallery to using red?

Click on any photo to see a larger image slideshow. You can also click the photos in the slideshow (top right corner) to see a full-size version.

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