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Aspects of Design : Combining Colours

Simple combinations of a few colours are easiest and, because of their simplicity, can be very powerful. Certain colours- white, green, brown, and grey go with everything. These colours vary quite a bit; for example, ‘white’ might be slightly blue (ice-white), yellow (creamy white), pink (warm white), brown (off-white), or green (soft white). Brown is a mixture of all three primary colours: red, blue and yellow. The shade of brown depends on the proportions of the mix.

Colours that are made of two colours are harmonious with their ‘parents’: purple with red and blue: green with yellow and blue: orange with yellow and red. Colours combine well with their opposites, yellow with blue, red with green.

Examples of successful colour combinations include the following: white, pink, grey; white, blue, grey; pink, blue, grey; yellow, white, blue; yellow, pink, grey; yellow, pink, white; yellow, orange, white; red, purple, white; purple, yellow, bluish-pink. Green will always be present as well.

There are countless combinations of the tints and shades of the primary colours. For example, on a yellow theme – palest yellow, canary yellow and lime-green with white, and lilac for contrast.

Successful colour combinations can be worked out by trial and error, moving plants around until they fit. Nice associations in other gardens, or books, can be copied. Another way to work out good colour combinations is to look closely at the parts of the flowers. Surprising combinations can be discovered and then copied using other flowers to contribute each colour.

For example, the flowers of the regal lily are principally white, but closer observation reveals a flush of dark pink-purple on the back of the petals, bright yellow on their insides, golden yellow of the pollen sacs and bright lime-green of the stamens and the deepest part of the flower. An interesting scheme of purple and green foliage plants with white, yellow and lime-green flowers might be made of that.

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