I was trained as a graphic designer and remember studying the color wheel ad nauseum. One thing that permanently sunk into my brain was the fact that colors on the opposite sides of the color wheel (complementary colors) always look good together.
I think this was a valuable lesson. When I look at my own garden, I see this is true. In the picture below note how the yellow tones of the Hachenochloa macra ‘Aureola’ and hosta contrast with the purple blooms of the Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila.’ This scene creates a perfect balance from my perspective and just enough contrast to keep things interesting.
Another example is purple phlox combined with black-eyed Susan pictured below.
Green and red are also complementary colors. Notice how the red azalea and garden gate at the lovely Ladew Topiary Gardens in Maryland are set off perfectly by the surrounding green tones.
In addition to noting the power of complementary colors, have you ever noticed that you migrate towards certain colors and find others unsettling? That has certainly been true for me. Blues, purples, pinks and greens have always been appealing to me. Interestingly enough, these colors are considered “cool” colors and are more likely to encourage a relaxation response. No wonder I like the cool colors so much; I’m always using my garden as an escape from the sometimes chaotic world around us.