Tip of the Week: Placing Color According to Light

Light changes according to the time of day, the season and the climate; in the process, it alters our perception of color. Knowledgeable and creative gardeners take the variable nature of light into account when planning their plantings and make use of this phenomenon to make their gardens more beautiful and atmospheric.

Sunrise and Sunset
In the early morning and evening, the sun is at its lowest point in the sky, so its light passes through the atmosphere at a low angle. As this happens, dust particles diffuse the light and emphasize the warm end of the spectrum, making the light appear red. Make use of this by:

  • planting reds, oranges and yellows in places where they will pick up the morning and evening sun
  • omitting blues, violets and whites from those places, because these colors look dark and lifeless when the sun is rising and setting

Evening
After the sun has set, everything changes. The light ceases to have a reddish glow and becomes bluer. As the light fades, warm hues are lost and the only colors discernable are blue and white. Exploit this by:

  • choosing blue and white flowers for terraces, patios and other areas used for evening entertaining. For instance, plant some pots with white petunias and others with blue agapanthus.

Midday
A walk around the garden at midday reveals that the light appears to be colorless. Sunlight has a yellow tinge, but this is not apparent because the blue of the sky cancels it out. The sky’s ability to reflect blue light is most powerful in shade. Make use of this by:

  • planting reds, oranges and yellows in full sun; they will catch and reflect the yellow of the sun
  • planting blues, whites, and purples in areas that receive no midday sun, because these colors make their best impression in blue light

Adapted from the Horticulture Gardener’s Guide to Planting for Color by Susan Chivers. Learn more about this book.

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