Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Snippet of Floral Color Theory - Tints and Shades

I just finished one of my most challenging writing assignments since I started freelancing for a couple of local magazines. Santa Barbara Homeowner is a direct mail periodical with content and advertising that targets (can you guess from the name?) Santa Barbara homeowners!! How cool is that? With a week until deadline, all common sense jumped out my left earhole and I told James (the publisher) that I'd "knock out 1000 words on color theory." Something that would help the average homeowner create a more interesting garden.

Three days to go and I was paralyzed. It's such a complex topic that even getting the basic terminology across in that space seemed undoable. Anyway, I finally came to grips with a story line about a neighbor who has great design sense when it comes to interior design and clothing, but somehow turned to a drooling dolt once she stepped into the garden ('cept with nicer words).

So I'm still in "Billy Goodnick Demystifies Color Design Theory" mode and have grabbed a few photos of gardens I've designed to blog about...

Tints and Shades

Okay - check this out. The salmon colored plant on the right is Canna erebus - luscious subtropical that blends with lots of plants. The guy on the left with the small lavender flowers is Tulbaghia violacea (Society Garlic). My starting point for most "killer combos" - for which I'd argue these babies qualify - is to balance harmony and contrast.

In this case, the harmonious elements are the strong vertical lines and the fact that their flowers are the tint of the original hue - salmon is the result of white being added to orange, and lavender is violet lightened with white. That's what tints are - white added to the hue. The contrasts are what's really going on here - strong, broad leaves from the canna juxtaposed with the fine, grassy leaves of the Society Garlic. More contrast from the fact that the two floral colors are polar opposites on the color wheel (making them complementary). The leaves of the canna are a grayish green, the garlic more of a true green.

Harmony + contrast = visual interest.

Form and Texture

Here's a more subtle effect...Pink with pink is pretty harmonious, but wait! (You're supposed to wait; not keep reading.) The flowers in the background are from Armeria maritima (Pink Sea Thrift) and they are a very dark, saturated pink. The foreground flowers of Erodium chamaedryoides (Cranesbill) are soft pink. Both plants are fine textured and diminutive, hence more harmony.

Now for the contrasts: flower forms - cuplike vs. spherical; foliage - grassy vs. broadleaf; foliage color - dark green vs. gray-green; plant architecture - dense and vertical vs. lacy and mounding. Still an exercise in harmony and contrast, but scaled back and a bit more subtle. Perfect for up-closer viewing.

I think I'm tapped. Why do I do this? A. I like to hear myself think, because it reinforces my design theories for me; B. I like to share what I've learned and observed; C. My need for ego gratification is served by people writing comments saying things like "Cool, never thought of that. Thanks" So stroke my delicate ego and leave some comments. I promise I'll reciprocate.

Nuff for now...gotta go give a talk at a local horticulture class at the nearby junior college...

[important revelation - I just looked at a post from last year, and I had a similar discussion about the same photo. Yipes! I've repeated myself. But this one's better and has more poignancy and gravitas.]


Ewa said...

Billy, thats very nice.. hmm.. not emotional enough?, then: Great examples of lovely combos.
The first one bought a question: what not to use lavender instead of garlic? any particular reasons?

Garden Wise Guy said...

Ewa - why not lavender? Lots of reasons: Heavy soil at the site prevents lavender from doing well here, much shorter blooming period for lavender, needed something short in this location (it's around a decorative pool that needs to be seen from many vantage points), didn't want gray foliage, Society Garlic is absolutely trouble free.

Thanks for stopping by.

Mad Man Bamboo said...

GWG - Brilliant! Is the a good enough ego stroker or what : )! Really, though, enjoyed the post, we are struggling with this a bit in the backyard remodel, we want color, but harmony, its tougher than you think....


Sue Swift said...

I'd been wondering for ages what to put with my salmon pink pelargoniums and had decided a couple of weeks ago on some lavender-purply petunias. I'm glad to see that you bear me out!

Ewa said...

Hi Billy,
Thank you for a good advice about organic fertiliser for my lawn - I applied it same day.
Patches you see on my lawn come from 1/ light colored parts are made 5-6 years ago, dark 1 year ago 2/ as you said different types of grass.
Beacause I am on the stage of neglecting lawns as too much time and water consuming, I slowly get rid of it :)

Ross said...

Hey Billy, that's really great, practical colour theory summing up! I remember one of my first gardens that I did, I couldn't figure out why I didn't like it until I realised that I had plenty harmony, but no contrast.

Anonymous said...

I like the way the stones are arranged . . . very pretty with the flowers, it looks natural. Well of course it's natural

kate smudges said...

While reading your post, I thought my watercolour teacher was speaking. You both talk the same language - you growing the plants, she painting them. The same principles are at play.

I would love to grow Society Garlic, if only for the name. It is such an attractive plant though. I saw a photograph recently of it massed together and it was stunning.

queenie said...

Hi - stopping by via Ewa's place, who noted your talent for garden forms. . . . and I'm working on trying to put a garden together from scratch - yikes!

So I thought I'd pay you a visit, and I appreciated your thoughts on harmony/contrast, this will help! I will definitely keep it in mind. So here's one reader rather grateful that you "repeated" yourself. I didn't catch it the first time around.

Thanks - and see you soon.