A strategic mix of colours, from purple and mauve to orange/yellow, livens up a garden, says Peter Dowdall
’VE travelled Ireland these last few weeks in different guises: as an ambassador for Bord Bia’s Gromor campaign, and also as a brand ambassador for other companies in the gardening trade.
But no matter who I am working with, it all comes back to spreading the word that gardening is fun.
It’s beneficial to our health, both mental and physical. The garden is a source of fresh fruit and vegetables, and it makes our home special.
One of the most important tips that I impart at each talk I give, or at each private garden that I visit, is that getting the best out of your planting in the garden all depends on having good partners.
You will get so much more from your plants if they are positioned correctly and with plants nearby that work with them.
To achieve this, you need to look at factors such as colour, texture, and structure. Colour, and our reactions to it, fascinate me, and not just in the garden.
Look at any supermarket aisle and your eyes will be accosted by hundreds of different products, but with one quick glance you can immediately see what’s on special offer, because of the clever use of specific colour texts on a particular background.
In the garden, colour can be used in one of two ways: either to create bold statements using contrasting colours, or a far softer effect by planting complementary colours near each other.
Neither is better than the other. It’s all about personal taste, as is so much in the home and garden. Which colours to go for, too, is an individual call. There is no right or wrong in this situation.
Personally, I love using purples, with blues and mauves, and then, sometimes, a strong yellow or orange within to liven up the combination.
I have a lovely planting of Heuchera Sugar Plum, mixed with some purple Campanula muralis underneath. Behind this, I have some Lavandula Munstead, which creates a lovely, airy foil to the Heuchera, and the blue flowers work with the purples.
Just behind the Lavender, I have planted the shockingly bright Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’ or Black Eyed Susan, to give it one of its common names.
Then, in another garden, I used some Euonymus Emerald Gaeity, mixed with a lovely, white Nemesia at the front, and behind these I have a mixture of the white Hydrangea ‘White Spirit’ with white Phlox, Carex ‘Amazon Mist’, and white Asiatic Lilies.
The effect is much more restful using just greens and whites, in this instance. Which approach to take depends entirely on the desired effect — and also your mood at the time of planting. Don’t be scared to chop and change, too.
If something isn’t working, or if you want a different style, then take some up and start again. Plants aren’t cast in concrete and the beauty of a garden is that it is ever-changing.
Apart from colour, one feature that is often not considered when devising a planting scheme is texture. It’s effect, though less obvious, is every bit as important as colour, and using the differing textures of various plants with each other will create stunning combinations.
Picture the dense evergreen, Buxus sempervirens, or Boxwood, cut into a ball or a pyramid, and then think of a nice, airy grass, such as Stipa Ponytails or Stipa gigantea, around it. The openness and levity of the grass act as the perfect accompaniments to the Buxus, which sits solidly like a punctuation mark.
Extend the combination further using some Hostas, and perhaps ferns. These will again contrast with the grasses and also with the Buxus.
Adding texture contrasts into a mix of already well-thought-out colour combinations creates an absolutely wonderful scheme.
It’s important to give these attributes some thought when planting, or, otherwise, the garden can just end up as a chaotic collection of individual plants not working with each other.
Another thing to remember — avoid that chaotic look with good structure. In this instance, I’m not so much talking about the structure of individual plants, but the balance and calmness that can be achieved by repeating a particular plant, or combination of plants, a few times in the one garden.
Your eye is immediately relaxed when it sees this balance, even if it’s so subtle as to be nearly subliminal.
Try it in your own space and see what I mean.
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