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Experimenting with color can turn ordinary into extraordinary

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 | 3:00 p.m. CDT; updated 12:38 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Color is an important but ever-changing thing in the garden. For me, color is one of the finest draws to my hobbies of quilting and gardening. Color can change a mood. Color can make us smarter. Color can even increase or diminish lighting. Painting a northern, shady wall a bright white can actually reflect and give the plants that live there more light. Painting a dark entryway a bright color can both show visitors where to enter and say, “Welcome.”

We can hide flaws or undesirable things by the judicious use of color. With color we can highlight the unusual and direct the eye toward what we want to be seen.

The kind of light an area gets can determine how we perceive the color. In the bright sun of an August afternoon, white may glare, look faded and unattractive. But in a shady spot it can brighten and give a warm glow.

Blues generally recede from the eye, making an area look larger.

Warm colors like yellow and red “pop” into our vision and draw the area they occupy forward. If you want the eye to stop and stay, cluster yellow. If you want the eye to keep moving forward, intersperse yellow throughout the garden so that the eye is drawn throughout the area.

As I drive down my cul-de-sac, I keep trying to decide what color to paint the front door. My whole house is brick with dark-chocolate trim. My fence is painted dark-chocolate so that it ties into the house and doesn’t compete with the ever-changing color of the garden. But my front door is also dark, and my porch is set into the house so that it recedes too much from the eye. I imagine my front door says to my visitors, “See if you can find me.” That doesn’t seem too welcoming.

On the other hand, anything too bright might not look like it belongs with a rather traditional brick ranch. I don’t want to be known as the crazy lady with the Chartreuse door. For eight years I’ve been trying to decide what color to paint my front door. It remains chocolate-brown, but I’m gearing up to change it. It’s an important decision, one not to be rushed. It won’t be Chartreuse, but I do love color, especially in the fall.

There is a way to insert bright, wonderful colors into your garden inexpensively and nonpermanently. All you need is a can of spray paint and dried seed heads. Take the seed heads of the rather alien-looking allium globes, put a paper plate behind them and paint them something bright and charming. Some plants like the allium, black-eyed Susan and coneflower will have sturdy stalks well into autumn. You can spray paint the seed heads in place or remove them, paint and then insert a sturdy wire and “replant” them in clusters wherever.

Collecting seed pods is a fun activity with children, and I remember doing this with my mom when I was a child. We collected grasses with seed heads, sweet gum “stars,” sumac seed clusters and all sorts of pine cones. In the 1960s we painted them silver or gold. We had these arrangements in our house all winter. The paint helps the seed heads to stay in place.

Think about how showstopping a lime-green cluster of painted seed heads might look in your yard or in a vase on the dining room table. Recycle, reuse, reinvent. Go green.

The mums you’ve just planted in an urn on your front porch will eventually dry right up. May I suggest spray painting them silver (protecting your urn with an old towel as you paint), tying a bright red ribbon around it and declaring it a Christmas decoration? Experiment and play with color this easy way. It may just be the thing to help you decide what color to paint your front door.

Tammy Bush has been a Master Gardener for four years. She has been a pediatric nurse and educator, but now works from home as chauffeur to her two teenage sons. Two cats and a husband round out her life. When she isn’t driving she runs a quilting business, putters in her gardens and likes do-it-yourself yard and home projects. Shade gardening, recycling and Japanese gardens are a few of her favorite things. She can be reached at bushboys3@centurytel.net.


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