Tag Archives: color combinations

almost spring

The view from the front sidewalk, with yellow deerweed, violet gilia, pink arctotis, red aloe.
The view from the front sidewalk, with yellow deerweed, violet gilia, pink arctotis, red aloe.

With several days above 80 degrees this week, it’s feeling like spring. And surveying the garden, it’s looking like spring too.

With rain come the weeds. Everywhere.
With rain come the weeds. Everywhere.
Lest any of you in the lands of blizzards and crazy snowfall think I’m gloating, let me show you one of the many weed patches around the garden. Yes we have lots of spring flowers already. But we also have lots of zones around that look like this. But enough of this unpleasantness. On to some flowers!

Agave attenuata bloom spike that landed on the aloe
Agave attenuata bloom spike that landed on the aloe

The first things anyone walking up to the house will notice are the two ginormous flowering spikes of the Agave attenuata. They’re a pretty common plant around town, but their seven or eight foot flowering spikes from November to February or March cannot fail to impress. If the blooms were coral pink or violet you almost might call the plant gaudy, but they’re a quiet icy greenish-white. Gaudy, but in a subtle way.

Closer view of the end of one of the agave bloom spikes.
Closer view of the end of one of the agave bloom spikes.

An apricot-gold selection of chuparosa, a plant that's usually scarlet red
An apricot-gold selection of chuparosa, a plant that’s usually scarlet red
The number of California native plants in the garden keeps growing. Their two most common spring flower colors seem to be bright yellow and lavender, a combination that can stand my teeth on edge, so I tried to tone down the clashes with some plants with in-between shades of bloom. Apricot is a great peace-maker color, and I’ve used a golden chuparosa, Justicia californica ‘Tecate Gold’ and apricot mallow, Abutilon palmeri.
Mellow apricot-yellow tones of desert mallow  coexist with lavender-flowered plants, like Salvia 'Bee's Bliss' here in the background
Mellow apricot-yellow tones of desert mallow coexist with lavender-flowered plants, like Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’ here in the background

But still, there’s lots of yellow around: Bladderpod (Peritoma/Isomeris/Cleome arborea), our local coastal coreopsis (Leptosyne maritima), plus aeoniums from the Azores or Africa.

Leptosyne (Coreopsis) maritima
Leptosyne (Coreopsis) maritima
Peritoma arborea
Peritoma arborea
Aeonium from the Azores, also representing yellow
Aeonium from the eastern Atlantic, also representing yellow

And there’s plenty in the lavender category: the very first (and really early) flower of Salvia ‘Winifred Gilman’, the prolific prostrate black sage (Salvia mellifera repens), “blue” dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) that reseeds itself at the edge of the veggie garden.

First blooms on Salvia winifred Gilman
First blooms on Salvia winifred Gilman
The rambunctious black sage
The rambunctious black sage
Blue dicks, looking pretty lavender to me
Blue dicks, looking pretty lavender to me
Blue-eyed grass, really more lavender than blue in this form, looking great next to chard
Blue-eyed grass, really more lavender than blue in this form, looking great next to chard

And a few others:

Carpenteria californica
Carpenteria californica

The flowers of miner's lettuce
The flowers of miner’s lettuce

Ceanothus 'South Coast Blue'
Ceanothus ‘South Coast Blue’

Baja fairy duster
Baja fairy duster

Hummingbird sage
Hummingbird sage
Crassula multicava, from somewhere other than California
Crassula multicava, from somewhere other than California

Galvezia juncea 'Gran Canon' from Baja
Galvezia juncea ‘Gran Canon’ from Baja

Galvezia speciosa 'Firecracker', from California's Channel Islands
Galvezia speciosa ‘Firecracker’, from California’s Channel Islands

Monkey flower (mimulus)
Monkey flower (mimulus)

Flowering, but it's a weed, buttonweed, Cotula australis
Flowering, but it’s a weed, buttonweed, Cotula australis–you can’t escape them this time of year!

This is my first contribution in many many months to the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day meme hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens. Thanks for hosting, Carol. Check out what’s flowering around the garden blog world [here] !

walk on by

Yellow, white, blue, lavender, pink…The front garden is crazy strident right now and I like it. The floral chaos is concentrated along the sidewalk in front of the house, where the plants present themselves at eye-level for anyone walking by.

If you were to check passports on the plants you’d find a number of California origin mixed in with others from Mediterranean climates. Here’s the gloriously sprawley Nuttall’s milkvetch, Astragalus nuttallii, from the California Central Coast, with a South African arctotis hybrid.

The deep violet chia, Salvia columbarae, hails from around here. The bright yellow Jerusalem sage, Phlomis monocephala, from Turkey. The chia is annual but reseeds itself efficiently. After the plant dies back, its seed heads stay attractive for several months. The phlomis starts to drop its leaves in summer’s drought but never goes entire bare. As it does that, the leaves turn more and yellowish- grayish-green in color.

To help control the floral chaos, I’ve planted incorporated a lot of each of these two plants, along with several of the milkvetch above.

The locally common bulb, blue dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum, with the salmon colored South African bulb, Homeria collina behind it.

A yellow crassula picks up on the yellow theme as you walk by.

A couple years ago I broadcast some seed of Southern California’s Phacelia parryi but never saw any make it to maturity. Just a week ago I noticed this, one of the last flowers on a small plant that has come up from that old broadcast. I probably would have missed it if it weren’t up at eye-level.

I tried shooting a walk-by encounter of the front garden using my cellphone’s camcorder feature. Unfortunately the result looks like it was shot with a, well, cellphone, and I’m too embarrassed to share it. Too bad. Gardens are best explored in time and space and not in still photos. Videos could give you a sense of exploration still photos can’t. Well, I love a project, and getting a decent walk-by sequence will be another item on my ever-growing punchlist.

more december colors

Red and green seem to be the predominant colors these days. Instead, how about a shot of hot magenta-pink against green? Of all my pitcher plants this season Sarracenia Daina’s Delight is probably looking the best of any of them.

Vivid colors aren’t the rule this late in the season, with brown being the increasingly prevalent shade. With fewer things like color to distract you it’s a good time of year to concentrate on the amazing shapes these pitchers assume. In their brown state it’s easier to see the little hairs on the leaves that direct the insects down into digestive juices.

For you color addicts there’s still a bit of color left. This species is Sarracenia rubra var. wherryi (a.k.a. S. alabamensis var. wherryi.)

And for you color addicts who like a more traditional red and green combo, could you do any better than this? It’s a cross nicknamed ‘W.C.’ by Jerry Addington after Karen Oudean’s Willow Creek Nursery, in honor of Karen bestowing on him this clone of the hybrid of S. (psittacina x rubra) x leucophylla.

Hmmm…how about a cross between Daina’s Delight and W.C. for gorgeous late season color and awesome patterning? If they both bloom next spring I just might have to make that cross and find out…

well endowed landscaping

Here’s a little weekend quiz: Any guesses as to where I took this picture?

Does this second photo help?

Clue #1: It’s in Los Angeles.

Clue #2: It’s a university campus.

Clue #3: The school colors are echoed in the flower colors of the landscaping.

If you’re not into universities and their colors the answer is USC, the University of Southern California, where the planting color scheme features the campus colors of cardinal and gold. If you were to ask me for my opinion I’d offer that they’re probably fine colors for football uniforms but a little strident for most garden situations if they were the only colors you used. But the entire campus was vibrating with new plantings of red salvias and yellow-orange marigolds, with a few leftover winter plantings of pansies in similar colors.

I mentioned the plantings to one of the campus regulars I was up there to meet with. Apparently USC has an endowment (by what was probably an enthusiastic alumnus) to supply bedding plants in the school colors.

From the themed seasonal color, to the lawns, to the hedges, to the fanatically clipped creeping fig around the Romanesque windows, to the trees planted in regimented rows, it’s so not my philosophy of gardening.

Trees (and campus buildings) providing cooling shade
A flowering canopy, dozens of feet overhead

But for an urban campus set where the warm season is just that, the tall trees provide welcome shade and the many benches set in the plantings make for opportunities to sit and hold conversations. And the style of the landscape seems to come straight out of a tradition of how a campus should look: neat, orderly, with a sense that many things of worth come from Europe.

My parents met on this campus way back when. Looking at the comfortable but formal plantings, I think I that can understand them a little better, the attitudes where they came from. Lifting my gaze to take in the tall sycamores, the mature magnolias, I know that many of these trees were here when my parents attended the campus.

But as far as the team-themed bedding plants–Were they here then? I’m not so sure. I’ll have to ask my father about them, though it’s not the sort of detail he’s likely to remember.

A few plantings flaunted colors other than the official school ones. The trees and lawns featured green, of course, and here and there you’d find a non-conforming cluster of plants. I end with a couple final shots of those.

Another renegade planting that didn't get the cardinal and gold memo...

Acanthus mollis, not a sign of cardinal or gold

blue and orange (gbbd)

The color combination of blue and orange reminds me of noisy kiddie toys, of hard molded plastic waiting room chairs, of harshly lit 1970s fast-food restaurants trying unsuccessfully to look modern and friendly, or of jerseys for some high school football team. With two colors screaming at each other from opposite sides of a color wheel, it’s not a combination that brings me a lot of joy or peace.

But spring is here, and part of the far back yard has been blooming away. Its main colors are–you guessed it–blue and orange, mainly hot orange California poppies and sky blue flowers of nemophilia, baby blue eyes.

As much as I generally don’t love these colors together, it’s hard for me not to like this little zone of perky chaos.

Even the blue flowers against the brick hardscape reinforces the blue and orange (or blue and orange-red) colors.

But in a garden you hardly every have two strong flower colors alone. The varieties of leaf green serve as peacemakers, separating the warring colors and injecting their own shades into the garden color palette. Other secondary leaf or flower colors help the enrich the palette and keep the peace.

From some angles a softer blue-gray provides a background to the hot orange flowers. Here the foliage is the now-common chalk fingers, Senecio mandraliscae. It’s still a blue and orange theme, but the blue is less emphatic and the orange is permitted to dominate.

Little pockets of cool-colored plants provide areas of visual rest. Here’s baby blue eyes and chalk fingers with a dark purple-black aeonium. Pretend I cut back the dying narcissus foliage…

Some viewpoints let the cool colors predominate, with just a few punctuation marks of poppy orange. New into this photo are whitish-violet flowered black sage (Salvia mellifera), magenta freeway daisy (Osteospermum), with a softer orange-red desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) in the upper left corner.

I’ll have to rethink what the combination of blue and orange means to me, at least in the garden. These flowers may be gone in a couple of months. Maybe this a combination that I should embrace and associate with “spring.”

Spring is bringing lots of other colors combinations and other flowers to gardens around the world. Check them out at May Dreams Gardens, where Carol is hosting yet another Garden Boggers Bloom Day. Thank you, Carol!

one wall to go

The house projects continue. We’ve worked around my little studio building and are now on the final stretch, 22 feet of wall that backs a raised planter. There’s only one window to worry about on this wall, but all the plants are making it a delicate demolition operation.

Mashed Heucherias

Some of the greenery is looking a little trodden on. This is a row of island coral bells, Heuchera maxima, that hasn’t escaped the occasional stomping on by a random foot. But for the most part these should look okay in a couple months after the rains perk them up.

Pruned green rose

I pruned this plant out of the way. It’s my only rose, the green rose that I’ve been growing since my early teens. September and October aren’t prime rose pruning seasons, but I’m hoping the plant doesn’t mind too much.

Bonbero pepper

This plant, a Bonbero hot pepper, so far has escaped being stepped on or having pieces of old siding dropped on it. It’s nearing the end of its short period of productivity, so I won’t stay up nights worrying about it. Still, now that the hot peppers are coloring up red against the leaves, I’d miss having it in the garden.

We’re still undecided about what color to paint the siding once we get it up. I was thinking dark and dramatic, and only somewhat kidding suggested to John that we “paint it black.” When we got down to the final layer of old tarpaper it was a chance to preview what a dark color would look like behind the plants.

Black and white walls

Here’s the black of the tarpaper with the new white Tyvek house wrap for contrast. The white looks awfully harsh against the plants in the foreground. White is a good to accentuate some sinewy branches or the architectural contours of a dramatic plant. But the contrast between the white and the plants is really extreme, and we probably won’t be going with light colors. The dark colors recede nicely behind the plants, a feature that might be nice in this narrow garden space. The leaf colors contrast against it gently, but I worry that the plants might get a little lost.

One of the really popular tinted stucco colors being used in the neighborhood right now is a dull dark green color, which to me seems like the worst color possible for setting off green plants. Silver-leaved meditteranean and native plants can stand a chance of contrasting against it, but it’s pretty deadly for leaf-green plants. So we definitely won’t be doing dark green.

But a dark urban gray? I even thought of a dark red, but the house came with what seems like ten acres of brickwork, so I think that’d be too much as well.

We still have a week or two before we commit to a color. What would be hip, soothing and flattering for plants all at the same time? I’m one of those people who could spend hours looking at paint swatches, but that’s easier to do than the hard construction work that I need to get out of the way before getting to paint colors.

That said, I’m still a big believer in the power of color, and it could be more important decision in the long run than where we decide to move a wall outlet. Decisions, decisions…

controlled chaos

I often have trouble mixing ornamentals and vegetables together in a garden bed that’s supposed to be “for company,” a bed that’s meant to be attractive as well as containing tasty-looking plants that you’d like to take to the dinner table.



Some parts of the garden where I’ve snuck veggies in with the other plants look a little chaotic, but here’s a patch that I really like the looks of. Earlier I showed part of this corner that the bedroom window overlooks. But new things are starting to bloom, and the colors are starting to really click for me.

When I was putting this bed together, I set myself the main rule of “nothing yellow.” In deciding what veggies to place there, I just stuck to that organizing principle. (Okay, can you tell that I work in libraries and organize information during the week?)

This bed features several edibles: red-stemmed chard, orange-stemmed chard, Red Winter red Russian kale, red beets, plus catmint for tea (and for the cat). The ornamentals include scarlet geum, purple heliotrope, violet blue-eyed grass, the salmon-colored bulb Homeria collina, two blue sages (Salvia sagittata and Salvia cacaliaefolia) plus a few other things not in bloom.

For sure, there’s a lot of red and blue and purple going on here. But several variations on green in the background green do wonders to pull together what might otherwise be chaos.

I’m going to hate cutting any of these veggies for dinner…

dramatic wall colors and plants

I still haven’t gotten around to doing something about the color of the my little detached studio behind the house. Colors of residential neighborhoods and garden walls usually tend towards pretty neutral shades. Here are a couple combinations of walls with plants that I thought were pretty dramatic while still being flattering to the landscaping. They could be interesting choices for garden walls or even–if you’re truly brave–walls of your house.


This first one is the freeway side of the Tustin Marketplace in Orange County, as see from Interstate 5 on my way up to LA last week. The fairly dark burnt red-to-salmon wall coloration mixes dramatically with the green bougainvillea foliage and reddish magenta flowers in the foreground. And the silver trunks and bright green foliage of the trees in the background stand out dramatically against the wall.

purple-wallThe second is another retail situation, the plantings by the parking lot at the Mission Valley Mall here in town. The violet wall, as the preceding reddish one, once again plays against the silver trunks of the trees and the bright green leaves.

The first combination to me feels warming and energetic without being too hyper, with the red being a color that isn’t so far removed from the Mediterranean themed housing that continues to be popular in Southern California. The second is definitely cooler, more restrained–and maybe a little more urban and adventurous.

We’ll see how brave I am when I finally have time to address residing the studio and rebuilding the attached patio cover. But I’m definitely feeling like doing something other than white or beige this time…

nothing yellow

Last fall’s big planting effort was a big raised bed of perennials, shrubs, bulbs, a tree fern and a tangerine tree, most of which went into the ground over the course of two months. While I don’t strive for total order in everything in my life, I was worried that assembling a bed of so many different kinds of plants all at once might quickly lead to total chaos, something on the order of those “color bowls” that they sell at nurseries and home stores.

(Okay, yes, some color bowls are well done and actually quite nice, but the worst are tossed-together plant combinations that provide work for the color-blind and are the garden equivalent of making yourself a cafeteria plate of spaghetti, frozen yogurt, fried chicken, and creamed corn, all mixed together and doused with ketchup and caramel sauce.)

To help tame the potential disorder I set myself one basic organizing principle: Nothing yellow (and only small doses of orange).

I have nothing against the color yellow, and in fact I have yellow all over the garden. But I wanted to create a quiet zone with soothing colors that would harmonize with each other. Also, one of my least favorite garden color combinations is the mix of yellow flowers with gray foliage. Banishing yellow would let me feature plants with interesting gray foliage. Still, even after ditching yellow and most oranges, it still leaves reds and purples and whites and pinks and blues–and of course the all-important green!

But once a year, for a couple weeks, the color scheme will fall apart as a cluster of kahili ginger break into bloom with spectacular and amazingly fragrant spikes of yellow flowers. There’ll be nothing else yellow in that part of the garden, and your eye will go right to the lewdly sensuous rulebreakers. Once that quick philander off the color wheel passes, though, the garden will return to its former order. Only now it’ll be enriched by heady memories of its brief indiscretion. (Hmmm, sounds like a few plot lines I’ve encountered…)

Speaking of organizing something around the absence of certain colors–and things with plot lines, John and I were watching some of the bonus features on the DVD of The Hours. In one of them the costume and production designers were talking about how they arrived at a rule to help pull together the look of the film: Nothing red, and nothing blue. Partly as a result of that organizing principle the film sustains its earth-bound moodiness as the plot hops decades and moves back and forth from England to New York to California.

So…whether you’re planning a garden or shooting a movie, remember: Pay attention to the power of color!

april plant combinations

The garden is always changing. As plants mature and others come into bloom, I’m always seeing combinations of plants and interesting relationships between them. Here are a couple plant combinations in the yard that I’m particularly happy with.

This is Homeria collina, a South African bulb, with an unidentified rosette-forming succulent–quite likely a graptopetalum, possibly G. ‘Point Dexter’s’ or G. paraguayense–blooming in the foreground and cascading over a retaining wall. It’s right on the sidewalk in front of the house, and it’s extra-nice that you see the combination at eye-level.

I like how the purple-gray tones in the succulent complement the color of the block wall, and how its orangey tones work well with the homeria.

In the back yard there’s a different group of things converging, a bromeliad going out of bloom, some red Russian kale that’s just about ready to pick, plain white landscaping pansies that are nearing the end of their lifespans, and a Penstemon with its first flowers of the season. (The kale was much more purple just two weeks ago, before the weather started to warm up.)

In a couple of weeks these combinations will be gone, and there’ll be new ones that I’ve never seen before. All these joys of gardening!