Spinning the Color Wheel: An Experiment with AnnualsBy Lori Geistlinger (McGlory)
September 12, 2007
I couldn’t decide. Reds and yellows were fabulous, albeit obvious, choices, but I suspected they would be less striking going clear around the house. The colors would need to be broken up. A friend at work who was repainting her bathroom had color swatches from the local paint store. One look at the strip offering Strawberry Mist on one end and Electric Sunburn on the other gave me the idea to go around the house using the color wheel. Using only primary and secondary colors, one could move from one segment to the next in the harmony of the color wheel.
Not all good ideas work. No wise man or woman said that; I did. One of the immediate problems with the scheme was Concrete Acres, also known as a three-carwidth driveway. And then there was the patio, several cement truck’s worth on its own. While crabgrass grew wantonly in the cracks of Concrete Acres, it didn’t account for real color. And then there was the problem white. I love white flowers! The idea was abandoned quickly, but remained in the darkest crevices of my mind. My mind is a dangerous neighborhood.
Our house has a 32-foot porch with a sidewalk running parallel, the distance between them a mere 22 inches. We did manage to fit 354 red and yellow tulips in there, but when they withered at spring’s end, the bed was strangely empty with most of the growing season left. That first year saw ornamental peppers and buff-colored marigolds stuck in, but the needed impact wasn’t there. Then, like a bad penny, the darkest crevices of my mind released the lost idea.
I would move down the 32-foot bed using the color wheel as my guide. The plants had to be annuals, because I wasn’t about to give up the tulips, and if it looked bad, I’d only be committed for one growing season. The idea morphed into dividing the porch area into four 8-foot sections, using a different scheme for each section. The color wheel with its six primary and secondary colors would be broken, as six is not divisible by four or eight, but I’ve never been a huge fan of purple anyway. A Dave’s Garden co-op order of three Home Run roses whose bed wouldn’t be ready until fall could divide the sections with their temporary pots.
After fooling around with inserting colors into blocks in an Excel file, the scheme was developed. The first section would have blue in the back, green in the middle, yellow in front. Then the colors would move back in the second section, with blue eliminated and orange introduced. The third section would eliminate green, which was a problem anyway, and introduce red in front. The last segment would eliminate yellow, which had moved to the back in the third section, and introduce purple, a color we didn’t want emphasized anyway. Did someone say the best ideas are simple? I didn’t hear.
Plant selection was the fun part of the project, although the idea of rows that moved backward meant paying close attention to height. Lesson #1: Short purples can be difficult. Lesson #2: Green can be worse. The number of plants in each section was dictated by how large the plants were when I bought them. I was at the mercy of the nursery for projected growth, because I later discovered many varieties I bought were not in PlantFiles.
The first section was lovely. I will use any excuse for Black and Blue salvia, and this was the perfect one. Section I plants: Salvia guaranitica ‘Black & Blue,’ Mentha x genitilis ‘Variegata,’ and Tagetes patula ‘Little Hero Yellow’ Problems in this section were related to the mint, which I discovered was hardy to my zone after I got home. Once home and removed from the pot, the roots looked formidable. Lesson #3: Don’t plant mint of any variety in the tulip bed.
Close-up photo of salvia, mint, and marigolds in first section
The second section didn’t turn out as well. Though the snapdragons were lovely, the green didn’t like its spot. Section II plants: Cordyline australis ‘Spikes’ in back, Antirrhinum majus ‘Coronette Yellow’ in the middle, and Celosia argentea var. plumosa ‘Fresh Look Orange’ in front. Spikes didn’t grow as tall as it was supposed to. Lesson #4: Forget the green business next time. After all, every plant has green, so you're covered anyway.
Close-up of second section of spiky grass, snapdragons, and cockscomb
Section Three worked well, although the middle row of plants was too tall compared to the other two. Section III plants: Argyranthemum frutescens ‘Sunlight’ in the rear, Zinnia ‘Profusion Fire,’ in the center, and Petunia ‘Primetime Red’ in front. Lesson #5: Petunias will spill all over the sidewalk and get stepped on.
Left is close-up of Marguerite daisies, zinnias, and petunias
The fourth section was most troublesome, mainly because the plants I originally purchased were decimated by a strong wind and had to be replaced with something else. Section IV plants: Tagetes ‘Orange Lady’ in back, Celosia argentea var. plumosa ‘Castle Scarlet’ in between, and Gomphrena globosa ‘Buddy Purple’ in front. Lesson #6: Some sections are going to look bad no matter what you do.
Fourth section of marigolds, cockscomb, and globe amaranth
Next year I’ll try something different. But this year an experiment with annuals was a learning experience. Lesson #7: Sometimes the dark crevices of the mind hold some viable options, so don’t let anything stop you from creativity in your garden. Lesson #8: The most important lesson of all: Use caution when conducting experiments smackdab in the front of your property.