How to choose the right landscape hue just for you

Posted: Friday, October 31, 2003

EDITOR'S NOTE Dean Fosdick retired in May 2001 after 23 years with The Associated Press, 15 of those as Alaska bureau chief. He has covered the Exxon Valdez oil spill, volcanoes, galloping glaciers and harvesting Alaska-grown 100-pound-plus cabbages. He can be reached at: deanfosdick(at)

NEW MARKET, Va. (AP) When Martin McGann sends his Penn State landscaping students out to work with clients, he tells them to carry a few paint chip cards along. That helps them when they go about picking plant colors for particular sites.

For many gardeners, color is everything.

Some like it hot. That might mean energetic masses of red: roses, Oriental poppies or geraniums.

Others want their flowerbeds done in moody monochromatic all white or green-on-green. That could mean choosing variegated hostas for areas of dappled shade, or weaving in some white alongside an inviting entry petunias, for example, flowering begonias or clumps of candytuft (Iberis).

Interior decorators often recommend blue for its calming, meditative qualities. Landscape designers believe patches of blue can cool us, at least spiritually, on hot summer days. Consider grouping petunias, asters or spiderwort (tradescantia).

But which tone of blue works best against a brick background? Or what hue of green best brings out the quiet personality of weathered wood?

That's where the color wheels come in. They can be used at garden stores for approximating which natural colors are desirable for landscaping projects.

''When it comes time to pick a foliage, you can match it (with client properties),'' says McGann, an assistant professor of landscape contracting at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Gardens should be at their best when you use them the most, he said.

''Plant a colorful garden, but consider when you'll be around,'' McGann said. ''Your garden could be an attention-getter under the bright midday sun, but you may be away at work and won't get a chance to see it.

''Some colors fade toward evening. Red turns to black. Blue recedes into the background. If you enjoy your garden most at 8 p.m., you may want to consider lighter flowers. White is a good choice.''

Many people underestimate the value of green in a garden, horticulturists at Iowa State University contend.

''Green is restful to the eyes and is an important color combination with cream, pink, red and even other shades of green,'' an Iowa State garden bulletin says. ''Green does not vie for attention or dominance yet it provides stability through the seasons.''

Cool colors also can be used to make things look larger.

''Blues tend to expand spaces,'' McGann said. ''Warm colors, on the other hand, make spaces look smaller, more intimate.''

If you decide to decorate using flowers in multiple colors, it's best not to concentrate on anything bright. ''They can be overwhelming,'' McCann said.

Consider other design elements along with colors. In landscaping, that means sizing, texture, form and lines, among other things.

Place taller plants toward the rear, says Leonard Perry, an extension professor with the University of Vermont.

Vertical plants suggest strength while horizontal plants tend to be soothing, he says.

Plants having smaller leaves appear to recede, giving the effect of distance. Plants with larger or coarser leaves can be used for emphasis.

''The fine texture of small baby's breath flowers (may be) planted among Asiatic lilies with coarse texture from larger leaves, flowers and brighter colors,'' Perry suggests.

Pursue the proper proportion between landscape and plants. Rock gardens are often done to smaller scale. Alpine plants with tiny blooms are especially effective when planted around cracks and crevices.

Simplicity, repetition and emphasis are effective qualities when choosing colors for garden layouts, Perry says.

''Bright color in one area might be balanced with similar color, or less bright but more color in other areas,'' he says.

Avoid making any glaring errors with the look of your yard by matching rather than mixing your flowers. That gives your plan some unity.

All it takes to make garden tints work is a colorful imagination and a little research.

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