I think there can be very few objections to using Blue in a garden. Surveys show that the colour is associated with harmony and confidence. It is the colour of the sky and the sea and in polls in the US and Europe, it is by far the most popular colour. It does have some negative connotations – “feeling blue”, “blue with cold”, and in some cultures it is the colour of mourning. But it does have many other happier associations – blue chip companies, bluestockings, blue blood, true blue and so on. The colour range is fairly wide – it can be a pale, cool Blue or a deep, warmer Blue.
Cool, calm and serene – Blue with greys, lavenders and whites. Blue is a primary colour, but unlike the other showy primaries, Yellow and Red, it has a recessive, calmer quality in the garden. It is often placed towards the end of a border to increase the impression of distance. It has a soothing quality, especially when placed amongst lots of green foliage .. perhaps next to a contemplative pond or quiet seating area. An all- blue garden may sound tempting, but Gertrude Jekyll, the Edwardian gardening guru, wisely warned against it in her ‘Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden’ : ” A blue garden, for beauty’s sake, may be hungering for a group of white lilies … any experienced colourist knows that the blues will be more telling – more purely blue – by the juxtaposition of rightly placed complementary colour.” Try combining blue with lavender or grey , such as Stachys or Santolina with Delphiniums and Veronica, for subtle, restful combinations and to create depth in the border. When using a narrow range of colours, the trick is to go for contrasting heights, shapes and textures – the spikes of foxgloves or lupins with irises, Eryngiums or Echinops.
Blue is often used in combination with white in tasteful Show gardens, creating a serene, elegant look. At Chelsea and at Bloom this year, blues, mauves and purples were some of the predominant colours. I never tire of these kind of gardens but sometimes just a little more drama is required.
Creating drama – Blue with its complementary colour orange. Colour plays a leading role in Van Gogh’s later paintings. He studied Charles Blanc’s colour theory in “Grammaire des Arts du Dessin” with its emphasis on primary colours, Red, Yellow and Blue and the strong impressions created when combined with their complementary colours Green, Purple and Orange.
Notice how Van Gogh created impact by using Blue with its complement Orange in this painting. A predominantly blue border may look bland. But look how it pops with the addition of orange as an accent colour. Or another warm colour, Yellow, to add a touch of vibrancy. In fact blue is a really good mixer – with yellow, orange, pink and lime-green.
In Spring, blue forget-me-nots or muscari have a stabilising effect when mixed with the vivid appearance of tulips or daffodils. There are hyacinths, bluebells and wood anemones too. Then we await the appearance of irises and delphiniums in Summer, with Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ or ‘Rozanne’, Polemoniums, Salvias , Veronica and Anchusa azurea.
And to take you into Autumn are Asters, Cerastostigma and Aconitum. And of course there are the climbing plants such as Clematis or the glaucous foliage of Melianthus major or Hosta sieboldiana, the deep blue of the shrub Ceonothus, Vincas, crocuses and so on…
- is a primary colour
- is a colour associated with harmony and confidence
- has a cool recessive quality
- appears elegant and serene with white and pastel shades
- is calming in a scheme
- is enlivened when mixed with its complementary Orange
- creates a feeling of distance when placed at the end of a border
- has a stabilising effect when used with “hot” or bright colours
Blue will also add a little romance to your garden. How you capitalise on that is up to you.