Exploring How You See Color in Garden Design by Being Mindful

How we see color in garden design.

Mindfulness and the Perception of Color in Your Garden Design

Have you ever paid attention to how you see? In the suggestions below, you’ll find exercises that can help to heighten how you experience your garden using your senses in slow, deeply experiential ways. Using a mindfulness approach and intensely paying attention to what's happening right now can help you to relax, release stress and even minimize the effects of aging. 

You may have already become aware of how you use your sense of sight to discern shapes and forms of plants in the garden. In this post, you’ll explore color and how you see it in the context of garden design. 

The Mechanics of Sight

Do you know how you see? Here's a quick refresher of your high school science course about the eye and the rods and cones in the retina.

Simply put, the rods are the photo-receptors sensitive to light and dark and to shape and movement. They allow you to see in low light and dark conditions. The cones react to the different wavelengths of light – red, green and blue. Their reactions to these wavelengths send signals to the brain that are then translated into the colors that we see. The cones allow you to see in daylight.

To start learning about how your eyes perceive color, look at your garden in various types of light conditions – dawn and dusk, mid-morning and mid-afternoon on a sunny day and one that's cloudy. Notice how the color changes with the time of day. If you look at the green shrub next to the driveway at noon in intense sunlight, it might be pale green. By 3 pm with a shift in the angle of sunlight, it's a pure, solid green, and by 6 in the evening it's a deeper green that seems to have dark gray mixed in. Hmmm, what's going on here?

Daylight has a color "temperature" that varies throughout the day, from morning to midday to dusk. In fact, you might know about color temperature because of LED light bulbs. These bulbs can be purchased with a color temperature rating. You can see that the bulb's light can be blue-white or white or yellow, all due to its color temperature. Like light bulbs, the color temperature for daylight is simply a way to describe the appearance of the light. Unlike light bulbs, daylight changes its color temperature, which affects how you see the colors that daylight illuminates.

The Psychology of Color in Garden Design

You can't change daylight, but you can choose certain plant colors to influence your emotions throughout the day. Your color choices can create a garden that is nurturing, romantic, soothing, playful, tranquil or even exciting! The colors you choose for your garden start with plants that will thrive where you live, then builds on your memories of colors, cultural meanings of colors, and your immediate intuitive response when you see a color. You can plant and design your garden with your favorites.

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It's fun to use a color wheel to put names to colors and help you to understand what you're seeing. The color wheel is a visual representation of how colors connect with each other. If a flower doesn't look red to you in comparison with the color wheel, check whether the color you see is closer to the yellow side of the wheel - closer to orange - or to the blue side - closer to violet. The color wheel can also help you plan flower beds or containers. Colors that stay on one side of the wheel such as yellow, orange and red are called analogous colors, while those across from each other are considered complementary colors.

When designing your garden using color, here are some ways that color can influence your emotions. Read these descriptions of the three colors here, called the primary colors, then consider whether you would agree. Color is very personal. Your color choices for your garden are unique to you.

• Red – Red commands attention. It can punch up your garden landscape and dramatically define your space. Red can give your garden a dynamic attitude. If “pure” red is too intense, consider lighter or darker shades, such as a range from soft pinks to deep burgundy reds.  Using red to define your garden and complementing the space with blue, green and turquoise hues across the color wheel from red can create a beautiful, dramatic contrast.

• Yellow – Golden foliage can instantly brighten a small space and make it appear larger. Variations of yellow can range from warm amber hues to intense sunflower yellow. If you keep your color choices for an area of your garden in a narrow range like shades of yellow, you can create a tranquil demeanor there. Consider using blooms, berries, or bark in one key color like an all-golden border using darker or lighter tones. The perceived colors will change throughout the day giving your garden a subtle fluid motion. 

• Blue – Blue in the garden is calming and peaceful. Blue cools us down and relaxes us. Compared with reds and yellows, fewer flowers are blue and blue foliage leans toward gray or teal. Once you've given a particular flower or foliage a starring role in your landscape, consider enhancing its effects with painted structures, furniture, and decorative objects. 

Experiencing Colors with Mindfulness in Your Own Garden

Once you've studied the effects of color temperature throughout the day and how different colors affect you spiritually and emotionally in your own garden, begin to notice how colors appear from varying distances as you stroll through your landscape. Is the purple/blue of the verbena flower precisely the same to your eyes and your soul when you are five feet or 25 feet away from it? What might this tell you about location of plants if you spend most of your time indoors?

As you explore and experience color in your garden, you'll find that you become more aware of color differences and similarities. You'll notice how the blue shades in a nearby container call your attention to the blues in the salvia during its month-long bloom, or how the rusty hues of the crape myrtle's autumn leaves get along well with the golds in the teak bench. 

Immersing yourself in your garden's color with mindfulness can surround you with joy and delight. Don't wait to get started!

Ann Yakimovicz