A complementary color scheme in the garden from late winter to very early spring can be just the jolt you need to get you out of the cold-weather doldrums. I was visiting Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., where everyone, me included, was admiring and photographing fiery hot orange and yellow tulips partnered with blue pansies and white ornamental kale.
The look was so stunning you simply could not take your eyes off the beds. The complementary color scheme is accentuated when you are coming out of winter.
Contrast is what a complementary color scheme is all about. One color comes from the hot side of the wheel and the other is its direct opposite from the cool side. Examples are red and green, orange and blue, yellow and violet.
An exciting variation is a split complementary color scheme. After the dominant color is chosen, colors next to the direct opposite are selected. This scheme gives you an extra color while still having high contrast.
Using orange this season really warms up the landscape. And it was the giant orange tulips that created the photo frenzy at Callaway Gardens. Orange is a color that cannot be overlooked in the garden. It just reaches out and grabs you. As for the stunning partnership with blue pansies, viewers should appreciate the planning that took place.
Pansies are planted in the fall, usually when they are in bloom. Tulips, on the other hand, are planted as bulbs, about 6 inches deep, and are never noticed during the time they are developing roots beneath the soil. The garden designers created this bed to be like a spring crescendo or the finale to a dazzling fireworks display: You might have enjoyed the blue pansies and kale for months, but the best was yet to come.
On a color wheel, orange is between yellow and red and is the hallmark color of the hot side of the wheel. If you have only a small area for planting, this could be the color for you, as no other color would be showier for a pocket-type planting. Callaway Gardens demonstrated this as well in using the same combination in containers next to teak benches.
Next winter you can do the same. Create a spring crescendo in your garden, and let it energize you in your design for the long summer gardening season that lies ahead. Keep in mind that a complementary color scheme can be thrilling.