Elements of Design with Roses
Combining Color Elements in the Garden
AbeDarbyTrim Phot

Here are some more design rules to consider in using color.

1) Create washes of color. Unless you design the structure of the garden to force someone to view the flowers from arms-length away, everything will be viewed from hundreds of feet away. Flowers can only make sense if they occur in high density over an area much larger than five feet across.

2) Light colors complement dark ones. It's good to have a good mix. Remember that green foliage usually counts as a dark one. If you plan to use only red flowers, the you need silver foliage or pale structures to offset the darkness.

3) Pure tones work well together or can be used with white or black. Choose any two from (red, blue, green, and yellow).

4) Mix saturated hot colors with bronze or silver foliage. Flowers in red, scarlet, gold, yellow, vermilion, and orange will usually work best with either silver or bronze foliage. Silver works best for yellow and red. Bronze works best well for orange and gold.

5) A collection of tints of a pure color can work well together. (pale apricot, apricot, orange, or pale pink, pink, rose, crimson, or buff, primrose, yellow, and chrome yellow).

6) Secondary colors, yellow, cyan, and magenta go best with color wheel neighbors and white : yellow with red and green, cyan and aqua with green and blue, and magenta and purple with red and blue.)

7) Tertiary colors (brown, russet, gold, and the dark and unsaturated tones of blue-green) have much more complicated color relationships. One such relationship is that they can look good with a pale tint of a secondary color: brown and buff, deep aqua and pink, russet and pale apricot, pale lime green and deep aquamarine. (Our language about blue-green and yellow-green tertiary colors seems less well developed than that for the warmer colors, perhaps because things we find most interesting and useful tend to come in those colors? (Maybe we are hard-wired to "see red.") Russsets and muddy magentas are found among rose blossoms, but otherwise, roses tend to produce relatively simple, clear colors.

7) Related colors work well together. Colors close together on a color wheel can work very well, especially if they produce similar visual effects. This is one case in which one can frequently get away with mixing cool and warm tones, because the warm ones are just soft enough that they don't steal the show.

8) Think carefully about how a rose goes with its foliage. Very dark roses may not show up well on roses with dark foliage; and some purplish colors do not work well with chartreuse leaves. In my own garden, Baronne Prevost's flowers clashed with its leaves and I had to pull it up. In many cases, dark purplish foliage can provide a perfect foil for vibrant reds and golds.

I have seen Cardinal Richelieu in full bloom at the local rose garden and I am always awed by its dark, chaliced, purple blooms. And I am impressed by the shape of the shrub. But the darkness of the flowers puts them in the realm of shadows, and makes them all but impossible to see. So I could not grow it as a garden plant. Who knows, perhaps the blossoms would make good cut flowers in tandem with Constance Spry. But this, I imagine, is a general problem with dark flowers. And I think it is possible that nature has conspired to make flowers reflective. Many of the purple flowers we find to be dark may glow a luminous violet in the eyes of pollinating insects that visit them. Our visiual system is hard wired to see light as subject and shadow as background. The Cardinal's shadowy nature makes it more difficult to entrust a corner of the garden to him.

Surprisingly, Highdowniensis does not seem to suffer from a shadowy problem, nor do Alexander Girault or Alexander McKenzie. The latter two are close to the middle of the brightness scale, but by rose standards they are dark. Still, with each of these three roses, the dark colors are set off best by lighter ones. I've seen Carefree Delight and Bonica planted in front of A. McKenzie and the effect is brilliant. I have seen Henry Kelsey, Fantin Latour, and Constance Spry planted in front of Highdowniensis to great effect. Ballerina looks good too. A great surprise is that this huge rose makes a perfect backdrop for other big shrubs like Westerland or Celsiana.

There exist a number of distinctive ways of approaching color in the garden. Each of these approaches creates a unique effect.

Color Option 1 Foliage Only: Green, bronze and silver foliage only. There are many absolutely beautiful gardens that can be made from this option, but none in its purest form admits roses. In such a garden a few old or species roses might be minor infractions. Most of the Albas would work since they are well foliated and bloom only in white; and Rosa Glauca would be a natural since its reddish-gray foliage is quite interesting.

Color Option 2 White Garden: The same as 1, but admitting white. This gives a space an austere, formal look; but one that can really sparkle. Well done, it can make a viewer not really even become aware of the fact that it is such a garden. Here, again Albas would be ideal plants. And many white roses such as Iceberg and its climbing sport will provide whitethrough the season.

Color Option 3 Accented White Garden: The same as 2 but admitting a single other color such as red or, if it is well separated from clashing bronzes, purple. When one plants red, yellow, or warm pink, in a sea of green and white, it instantly becomes the center of attention.

Color Option 4 Strictly Cool Colors: This is the white garden with some pinks, roses, lavenders, and violets. This kind of theme is ideal if one is planting a garden full of Old Garden Roses. Here we can find magenta, crimson, and cool pinks. A candy pink rose is risqué. A shell-pink rose is right out. If you have any doubts, this is all the colors of the Damasks, Gallicas, Albas and Portlands. Most Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals fall into this range, but there are a lot of Tea Roses do not. With good siting one might squeeze in some buff or primrose flowers.

Color Option 5 Glare-Free Palette: This is a garden that eschews only the most brilliant golds, chrome yellows, garish oranges, and saturated vermilion's. Here, dark pinks can be planted with pale yellows; unsaturated oranges can live with whites, and crimsons; Bright corals can be contrasted with pale salmons or yellows. In short, about 90% of the roses that are or should be in common circulation are fair play. Not every single color looks best with every other color, of course. A pale lavender may not do well next to any color with a measurable amount of yellow - scarlet, yellow, shell pink, orange or coral. Pure and crimson-shaded reds are almost required to provide counterpoint to the vast amount of pale color.

It is such a scheme that seems to be followed successfully at Rosaraie de l'Hay outside Paris. There, occasionally there is a large bed of pure orange flowers next to some reds and large washes of white. This can work really well.

Color Option 6 Hot Color Palette: Here, we use exactly the colors we eschewed above. We plant flowers with saturated golds, chrome yellows, vermilion's, oranges, corals, and scarlets. Some of the more saturated pinks or else some russets can be admitted. With all the bright color, dark foliage is a must. And silver foliage can often be used to advantage. We might plant with Crepe Myrtle, Bougainvillea, Cannas, Hibiscus, Noisette roses, and deeply colored Hybrid Tea roses. The effect would be very tropical. North of zone 7 or 8, the plan falls apart as we lose the hardiness of most of the plants.

In plan B we might build a bed with a dark purple smoke tree Cotinus coggygria "Purple Rain" or some such thing, place next to it the rose Ferdy. Maybe add some Artemesia or some Miscanthus sinensis. Then plant roses; one or two each of Sun Flare and Europeana, Accent with some orange Tiger Lilies. The lilies would bloom after the peak of the rose season, but the floribundas would still have some flowers to add to the show.

Sometimes cerise or purple can be put to good use in a hot-colored plan. Splashes of pale yellow and blue will help knit the bright colors into the fabric of the landscape. Lavender and pale pink look anemic and should be avoided



Roses for Every Garden