Year-Round Color in the Landscape

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Year-Round Color in the Landscape

Article provided by Cindy Odgers, COHORT

Color in the landscape often means any color other than green, though green is a color too. The color of a plant results from light acting on its leaves, flowers, fruit, bark, and seeds. Colors are warm (reds, yellows, oranges, etc.) or cool (blues, greens, purples, etc.), depending on their hue. Hue is the name of a color such as red, blue, orange, and so forth. Cool colors are receding, not as conspicuous as warm colors are bright, inviting, and lively.

The size and shape of its stems, leaves, bark, and buds and the way light and shadow play off them determine the texture of a plant. Textures range from fine to coarse. Larger stems, leaves, and buds, the number of branches and leaves, and the spacing between them create an effect of coarseness. Simple leaves will appear coarser than compound leaves. The coarser a texture appears in a plant, the greater impact its color will make. Texture significantly influences the perception of color.

Because many of the plants used in the Arizona plant palette have small leaves or compound leaves with finer textures, the impact of their green color is not as strong as it would be if they were coarse textured. Therefore, it is essential to vary the texture when possible if using plants with the same shade of green.

Here are some basic guidelines to follow that will ensure year-round color.

  • Provide interest to an otherwise gray-green area through accent plants (plants with coppery or purple-toned foliage make excellent accent plants)
  • Relieve large masses of one color with small groups of plants of a complementary color
  • Plant in mass.  If a plant is worth using at all, it should be worth using in large enough quantities to be effective
  • Direct sunlight enhances green colors.  Plants on a west wall viewed in the late afternoon will appear more brilliant than at other times of the day
  • Plants with variegated leaf colors will lighten up shady corners
  • A gray or neutral plant will accent the depth of color near it and bring out warm tones
  • If a plant is used once in the landscape, use it again for unity


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