Color Sells

Is it the ailing economy, or the stress and cost of travel? Maybe it’s the nesting instinct, or perhaps it’s a combination of all three.

These days, more and more people aren’t heading to Honolulu or Paris or Istanbul for the big once-a-year getaway. Instead, they are doing what is known as the “staycation”— they are staying home, relaxing and kicking back in their own familiar surroundings.

In recent years, never has the phrase “home, sweet home” been hipper, or truer. And fueled by this wacky notion of staying home as if it were a vacation—necessity is the mother of invention—more and more people are calling landscape contractors and spending some of their disposable income on making their home into a much more interesting, entertaining, and more beautiful place to be.

Does the entryway lack invitation and pizzazz? Does the front yard seem blah and ho-hum? Is the backyard boring and forgettable? Well, one simple and quick way to transform the monochromatic backdrop of the green grass and green shrubs and evergreen trees surrounding the property is with the use of color.

“People are drawn to color,” says Alrie Meadowbrook of Meadowbrook Gardens, San Jose, California.

She has designed more than 400 landscapes and co-authored the book Designing California Native Gardens. “A lot of people like a riot of color in the spring and summer.”

Installing beautiful flowers is the fastest and easiest way to add seasonal variety and color accent to a humdrum landscape. Perhaps you’ve already gotten the call to action? Since springtime will be upon us shortly, once again it’s the time of year to start planting annuals in order to have a riot of color come summertime.

“The color trend for this year— and all years—is ‘high visibility,’” says Jeff Gibson of Ball Horticulture Company, Chicago, Illinois. “Or, the ‘55-mile-an-hour color’ (color you can see from the highway). This is still the rule.”

Some of your clients may want to go traditional. In these instances, you have quite a few choices of different varieties. For starters, think about using snapdragons. These Mediterranean natives produce dozens of blooms on long flower stalks, in single and bi-color shades of pink, red, purple, yellow, orange and white.

Periwinkles are another variety to consider. They display white or pinkpurple flowers. Sweet alyssums show dense clusters of tiny snowwhite flowers that bloom continuously throughout the growing season, and ageratums have a deep blue that colors its fuzzy leaves. Asters come in annuals and perennials, and some have petals painted in pale pink, as well as shades of blue, lavender, crimson, rose and peach.

{::PAGEBREAK::}Want to go with something new and also low maintenance? The wave petunia, which has purple flowers, with its slow-growing and spreading habit, is one great example, Gibson says.

Looking for a longer lasting pop of color? Try these low-maintenance beauties: the serena angelonia, a hot and dry-loving annual with seasonlong color, or the voltage yellow osteospermum, a super-bright yellow daisy flower. Both the wave and the voltage yellow can be used in ground plantings, containers and baskets. Another one to try is a long-season bloomer, like this one with the cute name—the buddleia flutterby tutti fruitti—also known as the butterfly bush.

“The buddleia flutterby tutti fruitti also fits the always-present need for year-round color,” Gibson says. “For hot and dry locations, mix color contrasters like alternanthera purple knight with the hot yellow of zinnia star gold. These varieties do well with a minimum of watering.”

If you want flowering in the summer, here is a list of the most popular and most commonly planted spring annuals: alyssum, bachelor buttons, begonias, impatiens, marigolds, periwinkle, petunias, salvia, verbena and zinnia.

Begonias and impatiens are among the most popular bedding plants grown.

Begonia colors range from white to pink to vivid red. Impatiens come in all colors, except blue. Salvia is also a garden staple, and in addition to the familiar red, comes in other colors, including cream, pink and violet purple.

In some parts of the country, there are certain species that should be planted in the fall. Popular flowers that are planted in the fall and blossom in the spring include calendula, flowering kale, larkspur, nasturtium, pansies, carnations, California poppies, Iceland poppies, snapdragons, and sweet peas.

Sweet peas are a vine plant—an annual climber—which is also nicely fragrant. Larkspur is great for masses of color. Pansies are a hardy plant that comes in a wide variety of colors.

“Here in Texas, the biggest springtime flowers are the annuals,” says Andrea Delong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “The showiest might be the sunflower or the standing cypress, which has a tall spike-y plant cluster of intense and very saturated orange flowers.”

{::PAGEBREAK::}To make your design stand out, consider using exotic annuals like spider flower, gazania, vinca or lisianthus. Or native annuals for a rich and vibrant palette of color, like the northern blazing star, orange milkweed or Indian paintbrush. Black-eyed Susan is one of the most- used native annuals, a wildflower found nearly everywhere, especially in the Midwest (also in Canada). And it happens to be the Maryland state flower.

Some landscape contractors are looking for low-maintenance annuals. “In using natives, there’s a whole palette that people haven’t tapped into yet,” Delong-Amaya says, “with interesting colors, forms and textures.”

Always keep in mind to select a well-adapted variety appropriate for the soil, shade conditions, and climate of the project’s geographical lo- cation, whether it is an exotic ornamental or native species. Soil, shade and climate conditions are the most critical elements for success with any seasonal color in a given land- scape. “If I want splashy color, if I want to create excitement, I’m going to put together opposites. Light and dark,” explained Kellee Adams of Dig-it Landscape, San Rafael, California. “I think in opposite colors. When I put red next to green, the green is greener and the red is redder. I’m looking for contrast when I want to make something exciting to the eye. If I want calm, I would put together colors that blend—greens, blues, blue-greens, greengrays. Those are relaxed, softer colors.”

If your customer likes a vivid color or complementary scheme, try marigolds, salvia, snapdragons or celosia. For subtler tones, select analogous colors, like the blues and violets of pansies, ageratums or lobelias, for a cooler more tranquil effect.

Think about shades of the same color. “I like all white gardens, all blue gardens. There’s no end to what you can do if you let your imagination spark all sorts of possibilities,” says Meadowbrook, who also keeps in mind the microclimate of each project, whether it is a meadow garden, a woodland garden or a chaparral garden.

“People want an artful garden,” Meadowbrook adds. “They want a beautiful garden that is taking care of Mother Earth, and is taking care of their quest for color. You can have both.”

{::PAGEBREAK::}When picking colors, it’s important to remember that annuals do much more than paint a landscape. Color creates mood. And different colors create different moods. Red is a dominant color and is said to stimulate the appetite, so try planting red flowers around outdoor eating and entertainment areas.

Sometimes , different shades of the same color can have opposite effects. Take pink, for example. Pink is a shade of red, but is considered relaxing. Try planting pink flowers around a gazebo or spa to create an environment where your client can kick back and feel totally relaxed. Pink flowers are often placed outside windows of office building, to be viewed by frazzled workers.

Violet flowers at an entryway or along a path leading to the home can suggest a feeling of luxury. Green can lower blood pressure and is considered restful, and it’s thought to suppress appetite.

Yellow is considered cheery— perfect for playgrounds or backyard play areas. It’s also the most visible of all the colors and the first color that the human eye notices. Use it to get attention, or distract people from things you don’t want them to see, like plumbing fixtures or air conditioning units or composting receptacles. Placing yellow flowers in a more pleasing location will draw attention away from an offending eyesore.

Of course, there’s no wrong or right when it comes to color. There’s only what is pleasing and important to your client. That’s why it’s important to find out what colors your client enjoys and what they envision for their landscape. Take a look around their home to see how color is used there. Listen to how they talk about the space they want to create. What is their style? Formal? Country? Do they like bright and bold colors? Do they like soft and subdued colors?

“Most customers are very open to suggestions because they don’t know the plants,” says Mark Starr of Texas Land Design, Whitesboro, Texas. “They rely on us. They trust us to put in a landscape that will be beautiful and easy for them. So, for color, I like to pick plants that give the most bang for the buck, like the aster. Asters are cool. Their blooms are a huge shock of purple. It’s really a showstopper.”

“Say, you had a view out your kitchen window—I’d give you something to look at,” says Adams. “I’d give you contrast to make your eye go there. The eye wants to be stimulated.”

When selecting annuals for your clients’ flower beds, the most interesting combinations come from mixing plant sizes and shapes. Texture is also important.

“Contrast of color, leaf shapes, leaf color, and the contrast of plant shapes are the things I look for. I look for crazy spikes, plants that are free flowing, or spiral-like plants, long and skinny, or round. I like to see the overall shape of a plant and also different colors,” says Starr, of his design aesthetic. “Nature does clusters and drifts, with pockets of plants. So I try to mimic what Nature does, taking my cue from her.”

“When I design a garden, it’s more important to me to know what it’s going to look like when it’s not flowering. It really needs to have good structure, good bones; it needs to hold up when its not at its showiest,” Meadowbrook says. “But there is also beauty in the garden when it’s not flowering. The flowers are a bonus.”

Nature’s little critters love flowers, too. More and more people are requesting flowers that attract bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, migrating birds and songbirds, experts say.

“Flowers were developed to please pollinators, not humans,” explained Meadowbrook. “The color pleases people, but it’s really there to please the pollinator.”

And making homes beautiful and entertaining—that’s what landscaping with color is all about.