We are all drawn to different colors in a garden. Some of us like soft, pastel shades while others like strong, jewel tones. They are all great in my book. This year Pantone has chosen Magenta as the 2023 Color of the Year and it’s well represented in nature.
This year’s color is “inspired by the red of cochineal, one of the most precious dyes,” writes the Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute. Actually it’s the cochineal bug — oval-shaped scale insects — that are scraped off the pads of prickly pear and turned into natural dyes. They have been used to color food, textiles and cosmetics for centuries. And if you were curious as to how many bugs are needed to produce a fifth of a pound of bright magenta carbonic acid the answer is 70,000.
Back in the garden, the color magenta is a warm color and is more stimulating, dynamic and noticeable from afar than a cool hue which tends to be more calming and understated. Warm colors advance visually, cool ones recede. So to make a small garden appear larger use cool blues and lavenders in the back with just a touch of magenta or scarlet, orange or yellow up close for contrast. Do the opposite to make a large space more intimate — position warm colors at the back, cool colors in front.
Magenta is an easy color to include in the garden. Common blooming plants like zinnia, echinacea, digitalis, cistus purpureas, rhododendrons, azalea, osteospermum and some roses all have magenta varieties. The foliage and blossoms of several loropetalum like “Jazz Hands Pink” and “Purple Majesty” would all work to add magenta to your garden.
Garden colors aren’t static though. They vary with time of day, the season, the weather and the distance from which we view them. Also color perception varies among people and not all people with normal vision see color the same way. Since color and light are inseparable, white, yellow and pastels seem more vivid in low light. In overcast or fog, soft colors like pink, creamy yellow, pale blue and lavender come alive. As night approaches and the earth is bathed in blues and violets, those colors are the first to fade from view.
So don’t forget white, cream and silver flowers and foliage to brighten up the night garden. White combines nicely with both warm and cool colors so it’s easy to place. It’s an effective peacemaker between colors that would clash if placed side by side. In shady gardens, plants like white bleeding heart, wavy cream-edged hosta, white browallia, white hydrangea, lamium and white calla lily pop at night. Gardens in more sun can plant Holly’s White penstemon, silvery bush morning glory, dichondra Silver Falls, fragrant Iceberg roses white sweet alyssum and Whirling Butterflies gaura.
Plants grow and gardens change over time. Realize that you’re embarking on a journey that may take many years. Don’t be afraid to play with color even if you don’t get it right the first time. Just learn from your mistakes and make adjustments. And have fun getting there.
Have fun with color. Don’t be afraid to try new combinations.
Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California-certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at [email protected], or visit jannelsonlandscapedesign.com.