The color wheel is essentially the colors of the rainbow arranged in a circular sequence based on their relationship to one another. The primary colors– red, yellow and blue– alternate with the secondary or blends of the primaries– orange, green and purple. White added to a color creates a tint, commonly referred to as a pastel. Black added to a color creates a shade. Tertiary colors result from mixing a primary and secondary color.
The strategic and deliberate use of color in the garden has great power to create mood, inspire activity or, conversely, promote relaxation. Warm or “hot” colors– reds, oranges and yellows– generally produce excitement and evoke passion, warmth, and security. They tend to advance visually and foreshorten space. Strong, hot colors can be used very effectively to manipulate the eye to move to a particular area or focal point. Conversely, cool and soft colors– greens, blues, purples, and pastels– produce the opposite feelings and generate a scene that is calm and serene. Cool colors and fine textures tend to recede and add the illusion of depth and distance.
Many gardens contain both warm and cool colors, and they can be effectively used together so long as the warm colors are used in a much smaller percentage of the total color mix. Otherwise, warmer hues can overwhelm the scene. The backdrop of most garden scenes, your landscape design canvas so to speak, is essentially a cool scheme consisting of the sky, foliage and lawns, and mulch, trunks and branches– blues, greens, neutral browns and grays.
Color schemes and combinations are limited only by the imagination, but can be categorized based on how colors play off one another. For instance, complementary colors (opposites on the color wheel) enhance, enliven, and intensify each other, producing vibrant and stunning combinations. Such schemes should be used sparingly and carefully because they are so powerful. Analogous colors (adjacent on the color wheel) can result in subtle, tranquil scenes. A monochromatic scheme can be very effective in producing a sophisticated and striking appeal, such as an enchanting all-white moon garden. Green is a color too, and the subtle shades can bring interest and texture to your overall composition.
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