Photo by Melody

The Color Red in Folklore and in the Garden

By Kelli Kallenborn (KelliJune 9, 2010

If nature has a favorite color, it would have to be red. It may not be the most common color, but you can find red just about anywhere, from the depths of the sea to the depths of space. It is found in fresh molten lava and ancient sandstone. It's all around outside us, and inside us too. Truly, literally, we can't live without red.

Gardening picture

Red is the color of fire and the color of blood, and thus has come to symbolize the things that make our blood boil, the things that make us "see red", and the things that make us burn with passion.  In western culture, it is the color of love and the color of war.  You have probably given or received a red Valentine's card, and red roses are a common token of love.  Many countries have red in their national flag and it often refers to the blood of heroes or martyrs.  Mars, the "Red Planet", is named after the Roman god of war.  It is significant in the Bible, where it stands for sacrifice or war, and thus physical death, or it stands for the the stain of sin, and thus spiritual death. 

 Apartments of Napoleon III

 Red elegance

Red is important outside of western culture, too.  In Japanese folklore, red is symbolic of driving out demons and sickness.  It is thought that the now-obsolete term "red man" came from Native Americans' use of red for body paint.  Body paint was used as a way of dressing up for important events like war and religious rituals.  You may have noticed that often Chinese restaurants are decorated with a lot of red.  That is because in the Chinese culture, red is symbolic of propserity and fertility and by extension is good luck.  In some African cultures, red is symbolic of life and in others it is a symbol of death.  Among Australian Aboriginal peoples, red can symbolize ancestral power, imminent change, or danger. 

 Grand Canyon

Red makes the Grand Canyon

even more grand

Though the symbolism is sometimes different and even contradicting from culture to culture, one thing is constant.  Red is associated with strong feelings.  Red may not be the most visible color, but there is something about red that seems to say, "Hey, pay attention!  This is important!"

However, red is not always so serious.  Red is one of the colors of fun holidays like Valentine's Day, Christmas, Chinese New Year, and the Fourth of July.  Many sports teams use red as a team color.  Red cars are fast and fun, or at least they look that way.  Then there is that picnic staple, the red-checked tablecloth.  You may have had a red party dress or a favorite pair of red shoes.  Red knows how to have a good time.

 Old Economy Village

 Red brick is


Red can even be peaceful.  To me, nothing signifies domestic security like a red brick house, though maybe it is because I grew up in one.  The red barn is a rural American icon and suggests wholesomeness, abundance, and good, honest work.  There is something a little bit reassuring about the red cross on the first aid kit.  Few things are as relaxing to watch as the development and fading of a red sunset. 

Red and green are complimentary colors, that is, they are opposite each other on the color wheel.  This means that no other color brings out the "redness" of red like green can.  Since green foliage is usually the backbone of a garden, red is the perfect color to choose for an attention-getting accent.  You might want to go beyond the accent and have an all-red garden, as described in this  Dave's Garden article - The Monochromatic Garden - Reds.  There are many shades of red, from almost orange to almost purple, from bright fire engine red to almost black. 

Red usually pairs well with other colors.  In my opinion, the only time it gets tricky is pairing red with pink, especially an orangish red with a pastel pink.  Otherwise, mix and match with abandon.  Red and white look festive and clean.  Red paired with the other warm colors, yellow or orange, looks fiery and tropical.  I think there is a certain tension to the paring of red with the cool colors, blue or purple.  With all of the colors and shades available, the matches are endless.  Read the Dave's Garden article - Picking a garden color scheme - for more information on mixing colors. 

Red is a color for all seasons.  At first thought, it may not seem like a color for spring, but red tulips are a springtime staple and some plants have new foliage that is red.  There are countless species and varieties of red summer flowers, from begonias to zinnias.  Red fall foliage is always a favorite.  Red berries and branches brighten winter. 

 A Red Sampler 

Image  Image Image Image Image

 Anomatheca laxa

 Virginia Creeper

Scarlet Flax

 Thanksgiving Cactus

Amaryllis "Red Pearl"

 Image Image Image Image Image

Salvia greggii

Daylily "Route Sixty-Six"

 Arum palaestinum

 Sedum x rubrotinctum

 Rose "Mister Lincoln"

Aside from green, red is probably the easiest color to incorporate into the garden.  A person might have to work harder to exclude it than to include it.  If flowers aren't your thing, consider red foliage.  Perhaps you prefer edibles, things like tomatoes, red peppers, chard, strawberries, rhubarb, apples, or cherries.  Maybe you want some animated red in your garden, like red-spotted koi or goldfish in the pond, or you attract cardinals, red-headed woodpeckers, or ruby-throated hummingbirds.  Don't forget the mineral kingdom.  Some red lava rock might look nice as mulch, or maybe you'd prefer a large red boulder as an accent.  Red brick seems to always be in good taste.  If your garden needs an accent, focal point, or any other livening, consider red.  Something red can be found for every taste and style. 

  About Kelli Kallenborn  
Kelli KallenbornKelli has lived in California for 25 years and really enjoys the climate and all of the varied natural ecosystems. You can also follow Kelli on Google.

  Helpful links  
Share on Facebook Share on Stumbleupon

[ Mail this article | Print this article ]

» Read articles about: Folklore And Legends, Color Theory, Garden Design And Landscaping

» Read more articles written by Kelli Kallenborn

« Check out our past articles!

Discussion about this article:

We recommend Firefox
Overwhelmed? There's a lot to see here. Try starting at our homepage.

[ Home | About | Advertise | Media Kit | Mission | Featured Companies | Submit an Article | Terms of Use | Tour | Rules | Privacy Policy | Contact Us ]

Back to the top

Copyright © 2000-2015 Dave's Garden, an Internet Brands company. All Rights Reserved.

Hope for America