Colour Schemes for Italian Gardens
Ever wondered why a field of bright red poppies look so stunning against the light green grass of a Tuscan field in early summer, or why the deep blue flowers of the Florentine flag Iris look so spectacular set against their spiky, grey-green foliage, or why Lavender never fails to stun with its beauty? Well, believe it or not there is actually a scientific reason as to why certain plants attract the eye more than some others, or why some plants are labeled as being "beautiful" and others not- the reason lies in the intricate relationship between certain colors and their tonal ranges. Take the bright red geranium for example, whose image of stunning bright red flowers, cascading over the beautiful verandas and balconies of small Italian villages in summer, has in some way come to symbolize the image that most of us have of Italy.
The answer lies, as always, in nature as it is nature that has provided these complimentary or contrasting color combinations simply to attract one of the most important insects- the humble honey bee and butterflies as without the pollinating help of these industrious insects the plant kingdom would soon almost grind to a halt. Some colors compliment or contrast others and only by understanding which do which can we maximize the potential for creating beauty in our own gardens. Colors that find themselves opposite each other on the classic color wheel tend to contrast with one another, creating a slightly more shocking combination i.e. variations of red and yellow or blue and yellow.Nature has utilized these combinations perfectly using color combinations to catch the eye of any passing pollinating insect. However we humans are equally impressed as our brains find it hard to distinguish certain color contrasts, thus preventing the brain from being able to stop on either, which stimulates a sort of flashing between one color and the other- creating interest in the garden. However colors that are adjacent to one another on the wheel create an altogether more pleasing and harmonious color effect. Hot colors are known to have a stimulating effect on the brain, unlike the cooler colors that are known to have a more relaxing, tranquilizing effect on the human psyche.
Therefore when we aim to excite with plants, maybe near the entrance to a house or near a barbeque we can deploy the use of color contrasts, as in the case of the stunning Geranium. Alternatively, if we wish to create a relaxing area in the garden we can use harmonious color schemes, using colors that lie adjacent to each other on the color wheel such as pinks and blues, which can easily be seen when pink roses and lavender are combined for example.
The metallic grays that can be found in plants like sage, lavender and santolina, so typical of Italian herb gardens, act as a kind of launch pad and tend to propel certain colors into the hypothalamus. Therefore one needs to be aware of which color one plants amongst these metallic grays as hot colors such as reds, oranges etc can become fierce, whereas harmony can benefit from the addition of light grey as a backdrop, intensifying the sense of harmony.
Even certain leaves such as the those of the Iris contain a certain element of blue-green, metallic grey and even yellow which intensify the color of their dark blue flowers, so should be used intelligently and with care within a color scheme to avoid creating a confusing mess that may just be having a disturbing effect your mood and life quality for the time that you frequent the garden- a rather curious notion really as it may not be the neighbor that has been bothering you for all those years after all!!
By Jonathan Radford