Is it just me or has it been one seriously long Winter? On my morning walk today, the sun broke through the clouds and I was delighted to actually feel some warmth in its rays. It’s safe to say we are more than ready for some Spring sunshine! Thankfully the longer days and brighter conditions also mean it’s finally that time of the year again when garden centres are boasting swathes of colour. After many months of endless evergreens and structural fillers, wanders through the flower aisle are once again reminiscent of an artists palette. What better time than now to start thinking about bringing colour onto balconies and patios?
I love bringing mixes of colour into my own patio both in planters and in hanging baskets. At this time of the year we have many annual choices to plant but we should not limit ourselves to just these. While many annals such as trailing Geraniums, Begonias, Fuchsias, Petunias, Verbena, Lobelia etc are incredibly handy for creating immediate interest I love to mix them up with some pretty perennials and even a few evergreens so that the display stays looking well for a longer time.
The first thing I do is find a colour concept. The designer in me needs to have a coherent approach to any design, even the idea of a hanging basket or small patio container. The reason for this becomes apparent when you combine plants. Too many varieties and colours create a sense of confusion and messiness while a clear and well thought out colour palette based on your garden style and colours will work in your favour. You want to create a sense of harmony and balance without losing the element of surprise.
For this the colour wheel is an incredibly important tool and this shows you how to combine colours effectively. You’re be surprised how many schemes ignore the rules of colour coordination but this will truly make the difference between a discordant and fussy scheme and one that is seriously pleasing to look at. There are plenty of ways to combine colours using the colour wheel. The idea of complementary colours-colours opposite each other on the colour when such as blue and orange, or green and red can be a very exciting way to combine colour and each colour off-setts the opposite to great effect.
In analogous colour selections, where colours which are next to each other on the colour wheel are planted together, the result is many varying shades and hues of colours which are next to each other and this creates great harmony in the garden. Think for example of shades of blues to lilacs through to pinks.
We also have some more complex combinations which include the triad of colour idea which takes colours which are equally apart from each other on the colour wheel- for example orange, red and purple. This is definitely one that needs to be judges more carefully with the exact hues of each plant having to be perfect so they don’t fight with each other in an unpleasant way. Double complements is another more complex way of combining colour and this takes two adjacent colours and combines them with two adjacent colours directly opposite them. For example-red and yellow combined with green and purple. Again, this is one that takes care to get right and best left to larger areas of the garden.
For hanging baskets and patio planters I am personally a big fan of using analogous colours. Hues of pinks bleeding into blues and lilacs are wonderfully ambient and calming combinations especially when grounded by the green of the foliage in the plants.
Combining plants for a well considered colour display
Whether combining colour for a hanging basket or a pretty container I like to consider the planting carefully. Much like on a larger scale in the garden, when combining plants we want to ensure that the scheme has some flowers which create some height, others which fill the central middle of the planter, some which dot around the base of the container and last a few that cascade down below the scheme. This helps to create a very natural looking scheme and emulates how nature arranges plants.
Harmony in different heights
When choosing plants I generally start off with a base plant which I like to be evergreen and in this case is also my cascading plant. The Vinca minor, or periwinkle is one such plant and it is a wonderful evergreen creeping plant which also does incredibly well draping out of a hanging basket and container. While most periwinkles are lilac and blue in hue this variety called ‘Bowles’s mauve’ has a profusion of small mauve flowers which are double filled and have a pretty white centre. The glossy, evergreen lanceolate leaves drape down on pretty arching stems which can grow well below the hanging basket or container top.
Next come the top level plants for height. For this I like to choose floaty, almost ethereal plants that are not too dominant but give good fluffy texture to the higher area of the scheme. Spires of wallflower-or Erysium are very valuable here as well as the pincushion shapes of the Scabiosa. The colours of the Erysium are very pretty with the deeper mauve shade of the Vinca and funnily the variety is also called ‘Bowles’s mauve’ like the Vinca above. These work very well with the analogous colour scheme in mind. The lighter lilac Scabious is another hue lighter again but yet remains firmly in the same colour group.
The higher middle ground role in this scheme is performed by the wonderful Ranunculus or persian buttercup. I mentioned earlier in the article that it’s important not to lose the sense of surprise and this plant colour choice is a good example. Instead of going for more purples and pinks I decided to go with a pop of brightness in the form of white and salmon Ranunuclus. This brings a bit of light and variety to the higher middle ground of the composition and avoids the scheme becoming too expected.
The lower middle ground then returns again to the more pastel pinks and light mauves in the Primrose varieties which echo the top level plant colours and bring the eye down to the final cascading colours of the Vinca.