Colour Your Garden World with Perennials

Notes from the Old Ottawa South Garden Club

Nancy McDonald is a life-long gardener and the current Executive Director of the Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton. Her presentation drew on her gardening experience and reading, and offered many tips and suggestions on colour with perennials, along with photos of colourful blooms.

Nancy suggested several ways for people to assess the perennials in their gardens with the intent of having plants that live up to their expectations.

Keep a journal

It is helpful to look at combinations of plants and how various colours and textures might match or complement other plants. Using garden journals or calendars to record information, such as blooming times, colours, textures or gaps in blooms, helps with research, and making plans and adjustments in the garden. Visiting public gardens can also provide information and inspiration for the gardener.

Add Variety

To provide the colour and blooms which people seek in the garden, Nancy recommended using several varieties of plants which are reliable performers. She highlighted tips to get the best from perennials, such as: planting perennials in the right location for their needs; improving the soil with organic matter; being attentive to the watering needs of plants as they are settling in and when they are established; and deadheading flowers to encourage blooms later in the season.

Use a Color Wheel

Using a colour wheel, Nancy talked about colour design with perennials. She showed examples of gardens using various combinations of colours, namely: primary colours; complementary colours; analogous colours which are next to each other on the wheel, such as gardens with yellow, orange and red flowers; tone-on-tone colours such as in white gardens or pink gardens. Some of the different effects of colour combinations or colour intensities were discussed, like the calming effect of cool colours or monotones. She suggested that gardeners should create drifts of colours rather than sprinkles of various colours here and there. While the backdrop colours of buildings and fences should be considered, Nancy stressed that gardeners should choose colour combinations which please them.

Use Plant Selection Tools

Tools such as GardeningCalendar’s Plant Selection tool can save a lot of time.

Lists of perennials, along with photos, offered suggestions for colourful plants in shady or sunny areas as well as plants for the midsummer Ottawa garden. Nancy reminded people of the various shades of green and different textures which can provide interest and drama in the garden. White is a colour which can capture the eye, particularly at certain times of the day and evening, though Nancy advised not to overuse it in very sunny areas to avoid a “washed out” effect. She showed examples of pops of colour and suggested that people repeat a favourite colour in various seasons as well as use combinations of plants to echo or repeat colours. Some other suggestions included: placing small, interesting blooms close to walkways where they can best be appreciated; using tall perennials, such as Aruncus dioicus (Goat’s Beard), to help hide or draw attention away from certain areas of the garden.

Consider Pollinators

Nancy concluded her talk by discussing the use of perennial plant colours to attract pollinators. For example, bees are attracted by blues and purples while red is particularly attractive to hummingbirds. A diversity of blooms throughout the season is important to attract various beneficial insects and butterflies to the garden.

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