Flower Arrangement: The Use of Colour

Try anything once. If you don’t, if, for instance, you say: ‘I don’t like red, or yellow, or orange’ and leave these colours out of your flower adventures, you are losing something and in the end are so much the poorer.

Remember that if you are trying to achieve a strong note of colour, of red or orange perhaps, the incidence of green will detract from the brilliance of the result. Green, a lovely colour in itself, has the effect of cooling down other colours.

Suppose that in a dull or cold room you choose to make a pool of golden marigolds; you will heighten the brilliance of the effect by the degree to which you dispense with their leaves, though you may strengthen the effect of colour and warmth by the addition of coloured leaves.


If you want to achieve a brilliant note of red in a room, perhaps on a cold day, or perhaps to pick up a note of red in a picture, it is possible to get brilliance without harshness by putting together many shades and tones of red, rose, vermilion, crimson, magenta and make a strong, warm effect.

The crashing together of reds may seem frightening at first. But the combination of, say, azalea flame, the orange of strelitzias and red and pink rhododendrons, can produce a glorious torch of colour. Red flowers look well against walls of pale grey, or egg-shell blue, and, of course, against white. Clear magenta flowers like the wild willowherb are beautiful against pale yellow, so are most mauve, purple and wine-coloured flowers.


This is not usually a colour that lights up well on its own—it tends to look grey. Blue, mauve and blue-pink or magenta together, however, light up well and, together with purple, look particularly fine in silver or pewter vases. When these colours occur in flowers like hydrangeas, Michaelmas daisies or petunias, they are helped by reflected light from a polished surface.


It sometimes comes that, after a feast of colour, one longs for the coolness of green. I confess I turn again and again to all-green groups.

The flowers of the common oak picked before the leaves unfold, and a branch of horse-chestnut—soft lime-green oak flowers, deeper green chestnut leaves and cream chestnut flowers, all in a pale, shining brass bowl—make a quiet-toned picture.

So do the green flowers of spring— lords and ladies, or wild arums, green hellebores and a lovely, grey-green, bell-shaped flower called ornithogalum, Star of Bethlehem, which is as easy to grow as a bluebell.

So often leaves are looked on as material of secondary importance, but they are lovely used by themselves. All through the winter I have vases of ivy in my room —lovely, shining, elegant leaves, unmixed with flowers, delighting the eye. Laurel is another fine evergreen for decoration used by itself, grandly, and not as a sort of stuffing for a few large chrysanthemums.


Rightly used and placed, white flowers are not cold, they are a high-light —delicately shot through with tinted light and reflecting the colour surrounding them.

If you feel prejudiced against white flowers, I would suggest that before shutting your mind to their appeal, you might set white tulips or poppies against a delicate wall where strong light falls on them—and look at white flowers with new and considering eyes.


One gets a better and less fussy effect by introducing different colours in broad strokes, rather than in spots. For example, in a bowl of mixed tulips or sweet peas, flowers of one colour, used in proximity, give a cleaner effect than if they are dotted about in ones and twos. And in the case of mixed flowers, two or three flowers of one kind against two or three of another may give a better effect than if they are put in in units.


Contrast of colour is, perhaps, more generally considered than contrast of mass. But on this point there is much to be learned from the still-life masterpieces of the old Dutch and Flemish painters. They grouped together massive fruit and flowers, delicate ears of corn, tendrils of vine, and fine grasses.

We can copy them, putting perhaps a delicate frond of fern against a bold leaf, and so making a contrast of mass and texture. Or we can use fruit, as they so often did, to give weight to the composition.

Never be afraid of being laughed at. I was once nearly deterred—for fear of ridicule—from using some particularly beautiful red cabbage leaves with red and grey eucalyptus. Fortunately, I took courage, and nobody laughed at the result.

16. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, Garden Management, Gardening Calendar | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Flower Arrangement: The Use of Colour


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