Katy Moss Warner May Just Have Taught Me to Do Color


Magazines are full of articles about color but with those wheels and rules, they haven’t exactly inspired or taught me to give color much of a try. Anyway, I’ve been telling myself I’m one of those sophisticated types who’s so OVER blooms and now I just see foliage.  (Or whatever might be even more sophisticated – conifers? Edibles? Who’s to say what’s really sophisticated, right?)

But I’m hoping that’s changed, now that I’ve heard the fun and not geeky at all expert/evangelist for gardening Katy Moss Warner tell us how it’s done. A featured speaker yesterday at Homestead’s Flower Show, her talk was full of great tips, and here’s my best summary in case you missed it.

Happy Plants

Her faves for conveying sheer happiness and why:

  • Hellebores, because they’re the first to bloom
  • Alyssum, because they fill the air with fragrance
  • Stepables like mint, thyme and oregano because around stepping stones they make walking smell good
  • Daffodils for just looking so darn happy themselves

Color in the Garden Around the World

This was interesting.  In Italy and Japan the most popular color in the garden is green, often all green.  In England the favorites are still those pastels we associate with English cottage gardens.   And in the U.S., we like our color bold, and Katy’s cool with that – bold announces the importance of plants. Yeah!

Color Trick #1 – One Color

If you’re a beginner or skittish at all, you can’t fail if you stick with one color you really like and use it a lot, especially if it’s a bold color.  Hanging baskets filled with just one color can look fabulous, or even just one plant, like pink ‘Wave’ petunia.  (And there’s another trick about those hanging baskets – they’re extra effective because they put plants and colors right at eye level.)

Color Trick #2 – Two Colors

You know those cute bicolor violas in purple and white? You could start with those and repeat those two colors throughout the garden. Or really, pick any two colors you like – and not just because if you love two colors singly and together you’ll love them in your garden.   Katy goes so far as to declare that two colors always go together.  It’s when we add the third, fourth and even more colors that it gets much harder to make it work.



Color Trick #3 – Natural Mixes
Plants like zinnias, impatiens, and gerberas come in five to 10 colors, so you could simply use the colors that one of them comes in as your palette.   (Wow, I wouldn’t have thought of that one. )

Color Trick #4 – All White
This sounds a lot like trick number  #1 – using all one color, a good trick for people who are skittish about color, but we know from the world-famous all-white Sissinghurst Garden in England that done in white, one color can be the height of sophistication.

Color Tricks for more Adventurous Mixing
For the most sophisticated in their use of color there’s the more challenging mix of many colors together in one garden.  Two simple rules help make it all work, though:

  • Intense colors go together; and softer, less intense or saturated colors go together.
  • Repetition is vital.  Choose the plants you want to use and repeat the grouping three or more times around the garden.

Final Tips and Encouragement
Have fun!  And don’t feel like there are rules, rules, rules that must be followed.  For inspiration and examples to try, go to flower shows, garden centers, and especially public gardens because that’s where we can see mature plantings.   (I have to pipe up here to add my own favorite way to get plant ideas – by visiting a public garden at exactly the time of year my own garden is most in need of more color.  That way I see only plants that bloom when I need them to bloom.)

Where and How to Learn More
Katy’s a huuuuge fan of the American Horticultural Society and urges us all to join and enjoy their excellent magazine, webinars, free passes to hundreds of gardens around the U.S., and more.  (I’m a member myself and can second that motion.)  And last but not least, she recommends garden blogs and the Web generally as places that teach and inspire.   (Well, I’m going to triple that motion.)