W4W – Harmony with Color

Gerbera Daisy in my garden.


harmony [ˈhɑːmənɪ]
n pl -nies

  1. Agreement in action, opinion, feeling, etc.; accord
  2. Order or congruity of parts to their whole or to one another
  3. A pleasing combination of elements in a whole

So what does it mean to design? Is the definition and reference to music  worth exploration? Sure is… but you have to extrapolate a bit.

a. The study of the structure, progression, and relation of chords.
b. Simultaneous combination of notes in a chord.
c. The structure of a work or passage as considered from the point of view of its chordal characteristics and relationships.
d. A combination of sounds considered pleasing to the ear.

By definition, harmony of design creates a sudden positive response in us, where we respond favorably when certain objects or colors are joined or blended. Do you break out in a smile when certain colors adjoin? I bet you do! Certain color combinations evoke mood and when they play well with one another, they play well with you too!

Dahlia in my garden.

Art and architecture teaches us that an underlying premise of harmony is a sense of connection, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, a sense of order where the elements combine in a very pleasing way.  Music patterns us to lines, progressions, repetition and rhythms. Family is a form of harmony in the best possible way of connection and relationship; the whole being the primary focus.

Simply, you cannot throw just any random elements together and expect to get harmony. Harmony generally has inherent design, a purposeful combination of elements, just like architecture, music and art.

This post is not necessarily about harmonious color theory or references to other creative disciplines. It is more a design exercise that makes one aware, simply, of the transition, like planting partners in the garden as it relates to those of us gardening. It is an exercise that makes you notice and ‘see’ in greater awareness in photography as well. The exercise is one that helps you instinctively start to relate to color. See a relationship below? They mingle pretty well.

The color juxtaposition in this post are what would be found on any computer if color picking is set to grid, rather than wheel. The photos are in just about any garden, although, most are in mine. The images below were shot only a few weeks ago.

Harmony is a co-existence of elements where none are prominent or the sole focus of the composition. It is an arrangement of similar elements where the elements provide a sense of unity. Using principles of design, like pattern, lines, rhythm, textures, and shapes, you can create a harmony.  There can be spacial harmony as well, like the use of negative space. This can calm a space and give it repose. It can be color harmony in design like shown in this post.

Find these colors in your garden and see if they harmonize. I bet they do. The color wheel is great to find harmonious colors, but this is a deeper and more profound harmony relationship, because other design criteria weighs in.

My garden above, Caryopteris and Cleome Senorita Rosalita.

The softness in texture of neighboring plants can be used to create harmony. The colors are approximately the same depth of hue (pureness of color), yet one is cool and one is warm. See how straight color theory using a color wheel can limit?

Chanticleer potted Foxgloves, see the gradual change of tint? I had to add these even though this was a scheduled post. Seems fitting since you might want some big garden shots.

This exercise is based on a photography assignment that I had in college. We were each handed an envelope which held a 4” x 4” paint chip and were instructed to go out and photograph objects of that color. It made us aware of how light affected the color of the object, and how accurate we were in attaining the color on the paint swatch.

I expanded this a bit to adapt to gardening and landscaping, taking four neighboring colors in a square from a color picker.

This is not so easy, but it is fun. Matching color with natural elements compounded by natural daylight is never going to be exact. But what you notice in a natural landscape is that the object is always made up of many colors. This is a bit of the point of the four squares too. The best images, even of a single flower, would span the example by having shades of each.

Chanticleer Pond, shades of blue and purple, greens and yellow greens. I love this view, but the bright morning sun is a scene killer. So wish I could have gotten late day images, but I was off to the Scott Arboretum after this. I was in this garden an hour before they opened too. As an architect, I was allowed in for free. Now how cool is that.

What you notice from a single flower is how many colors and tones that you really find. This can give a hint to the color family to which it belongs.

Verbena and Petunia in my garden.

Some natural colors are more vibrant than what we artificially create! Paired with red this hot pink is not quite as hot.

Impatiens and Monarda in my garden.

Is this really pink or purple with a hint of blue or a hint of red? You can determine that by looking at the four colored panel below. This can tell you with what it pairs most amicably, what it leans toward.

Learning color undertones is not discussed in this post, but at least you might be aware when you look at plant pairs in the garden. Maybe that would make a great W4W in the future, finding color undertones.

Lots of things in the garden add color and swimming Koi are a pretty harmonious and calming element.

Pretty weed at the Farm.

A field of wild flowers in harmonious color is relaxing.

By picking colors that are similar, where no one element stands out, you can create harmony. The top left image of the Rudbeckia Goldstrum is not a harmonious grouping below with the reds and blues, but the wild flowers to the right seem to be. It is a more relaxing combination, textually and colorwise. The images were selected for the their color similarity to the four-squares above.

You can design in this manner too, creating almost monochromatic gardens. You will have basically the same color, just variation on tint and shade. This is a great time to understand color undertones. If you do, the plants will harmoniously blend. Then you might pick up those harmonious colors on the color wheel. The gradation in design becomes like garden art. A painting with life.

This image above is an example of how light plays into the exercise. The trumpet vine flowers almost cover the four warm colors below. The shades all play along harmoniously, orange blending into yellow.

Again, we have soft and lightly textured plants lending harmony. They are all about the same height as well. Harmony can have a degree of sameness. This image seems to evoke the whole being greater than the parts, even though it does have a distinct subject, it does not seem to me to command all the attention.

The image itself says harmony, partially because the image is centered (not necessarily recommended unless the subject matter calls for centering), equally weighted and balanced; and partly because the image is selectively blurred. The image has a calm and tranquil feel to it.

The flowers below are attention grabbers, except when they are positioned in relation to each other, then they form the whole. These do not bloom simultaneously, but other flowers and foliage can be combined to give a greater whole composition in the season of each.

Have some fun and see if you too can create harmony. Or take a whole different approach.

Join along…

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I just wanted to say hi to all the readers who did not get to meet me in Asheville. We all were discussing how it is nice to know those of us blogging, but I was reluctant to post my photo online, but having my trusty Mac Book Pro along for the ride, equipped with the app Photo Booth, I snapped me in my hotel room in PA. So now you know who is behind the blog GWGT, and I am very appreciative to all my readers for their continued support.

Flinging For Friday coming up, starting with a few big garden pics. I visited four PA gardens not on the Fling, so check on back.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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19 Responses to W4W – Harmony with Color

  1. helensadornmentsblog says:

    My favorite line in this post is: Harmony is a co-existence of elements where none are prominent or the sole focus of the composition. I think I like this so much because this is so true of human relationships as well. They do best when each person is allowed to shine. This is a very interesting post. Thanks.

  2. Wow Donna, you shared a lot of wonderful information. I should give more thought to the color schemes and how harmonious my garden choices are. Think I believe the colors I gravitate to are ones I like and that it will all hold together. It is sort of like the box of crayons…the colors I like are in the same end of the box. 🙂
    Cute picture of you. Glad we got to meet, though I wish we had more time to get to know each other better. The meet and greet was a zoo!

  3. GirlSprout says:

    Donna, your post was very insightful. It’s beautiful to see the interplay of different colors. I appreciate all the care and thought you put into your posts. The photo of you is adorable.

    I’m joining the W4W meme, but I took the harmony theme literally.

  4. i guess we always create an image of the people whose blogs we read, and so often the images are completely wrong. I had imagined you much older than you clearly are.

    Harmony is a funny thing, especially when it comes to colours. I don’t think I can ever look at colours without having Goethe’s colour theory at the back of my mind, both the colour wheel and the different types of contrast. (I guess my high school arts teacher would be proud…) I do love it when harmony appears quite surprisingly by combining lots of colours that don’t have anything in common by are balanced by the fact that each colour is present in roughly the same amount. (Like this cityscape from Copenhagen: http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/thumblarge_379/12379979228j1y26.jpg)

  5. I’m always interested to see the faces behind the blogs. Not that I ever put mine! Still !

    Gerbera’s – wonderful image. Flowers like this bother me. I like them a lot; find them enormously cheerful and they always make me smile. But I also feel guilty, wonder if I should hide the smile in case I should be thought of as having brash taste. (Which, sometimes, I do!)

    Foxgloves are another over-the-top flower I am specially fond of. They don’t seem to be doing too well in my garden this year but, last year, they were fantastic. And there was me thinking they’d be off to a good start, having over-wintered!

    That Gerbera will keep me happy all day now.

  6. photographybyjoylene says:

    Your gerbera is gorgeous and what a great shot of it!

  7. HolleyGarden says:

    My main rose garden is *supposed* to be a harmonious blend of oranges, but somehow it hasn’t worked out quite that way. I’m still tweaking, removing some plants, adding others. But I’m still working toward the same goal, even though it’s not as easy as it seems! Loved seeing the face behind the blog! 🙂

  8. Your examples of color in the garden next to the color swatches are remarkable! I must do a better job of using color in my garden for visual interest. In the few garden design classes I have taken I always end up making a list of all the things I am doing wrong and should really start rectifying some of them. It is so nice to put a face with a name! I hope that in the future we will have another opportunity to meet.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Hi Donna, Sorry, I did not leave a comment earlier. It was a bit of a crazy day! Mixing colors together comes easy to me and I tend to take the process for granted. (It must be all those years I spent developing color scheme for wallpaper.) It was interesting to read your post and see color relationships considered so thoughtfully.
    P.S. You are very pretty! Can’t wait to see the upcoming garden posts!!

  10. b-a-g says:

    Thanks for the examples of colour schemes (especially the preview of the foxgloves). Glad you mentioned about family being harmony – I took pictures of a family of swans this week but wasn’t sure whether to include them in a post.

  11. Indie says:

    I love all the study of color. It is interesting to see how colors effect a mood, and combinations of colors can be either harmonious or dissident. It is also funny how people can see colors differently – one of the things my husband and I argue about is what color something is!

  12. Karen says:

    Hello Donna, I’ve been away far too long. I spent my lunch hour looking at your past postings. Loved the Daniel Boone homestead in Pennsylvania. And to think you grew up near there, it would be hard for me to leave an area of such great beauty. All that stonework, my oh my.

    I loved the post on harmony in the garden, this is definitely something I need to work on. I am very guilty of mishmashing all colors together which leads to very ‘interesting’ flower displays in my annual beds some years, unfortunately. I always learn so much from your posts.

    So nice to ‘meet’ you through your picture; you are a beautiful lady!

  13. Well I got to meet you in person and spend four days as your roommate and busmate in Asheville. I feel lucky. Very thoughtful and interesting post. Glad you stuck in the Chanticleer photos.

  14. Pleased to ‘meet’ you Donna 🙂 This was a very informative and educational post. For years I struggled with understanding color, always having a much more science oriented brain, than an artistic one. I think I’ve been getting the hang of color better as a gardener though, but I really like how this post makes me think about colors, and how they play with, or against, each other.

  15. Greg says:

    Thanks for you continuing efforts and time spent on these thought provoking subjects. And thanks for your photo as often we don’t understand the face with the words. g.

  16. debsgarden says:

    This is a great post with beautiful illustrations. I love your photo of Chanticleer Pond! I think the lighting is fabulous, which shows, I suppose, how untrained my eye is. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I also love the foxgloves, I have dreamed of a stand of foxgloves like that in my garden, though I have only managed a few pitiful specimens.

    I also just read your post about garden blogging. I enjoyed it, along with all the comments!

  17. great photo of you Donna….you know I love color and I experiment with it sometimes successfully. I liked creating my white and red gardens although the red one has orange in it as well…I will have to reread this and keep these lessons in my special book so I can refer to them…thx for always teaching me such wonderful things about gardening and design.

  18. Pingback: Gardens Eye View » Blog Archive » Harmony Through Chaos

  19. A most informative and lavishly illustrated post, Donna! It’s GREAT seeing your photo! it’s quite a shock, though. With all your gardening wisdom I pictured you as being about 20 years older!!!

    P.S. Your doppelganger goes to our church. An AMAZING resemblance!

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