Expert Tip: Using Contrast in the Garden



Expert Tip: Using Contrast in the Garden
One of the easiest ways to add impact and drama to your garden is to use the design principle of contrast.  Contrast is the practice of putting things that are disparate next to one another so that the attributes of each are heightened.  Contrast creates design tension, drawing our attention and making us take notice.  The plant attributes primarily used to create this effect are colour, texture and form.

Plant Colour
When it comes to colour contrast, we can contrast flower or foliage.  Focusing on foliage vs. flowers is a better design strategy because it is a more enduring attribute (see Expert Do's and Don'ts of Garden Design).   Foliage comes in a wide range of colours with various shades of green being the most obvious, but also in variegated, silver/blue, burgundy/purple and yellow/gold tones.  
As you can see in the photos below, the bold effect created by foliage contrast is anything but boring.


















These shrubs and perennials below all have cultivars with colourful foliage:

Variegated: 
          -----------
          LungwortSiberian BuglossFountain GrassHostas

Blue-Green/Silver: 
         Dwarf Arctic WillowDwarf HoneysuckleSpruceJuniper
           ------------
           LavenderLamb's EarWormwoodSalviaGhost FernCarexSwitch GrassHostas

Burgundy/Purple:
           Japanese MapleWeigelaBarberryNinebarkSambucusSmokebush
           ---------------
           HeucheraLigulariaSnakerootSedum

Yellow/Gold:
          BarberryNinebark, Sambucus, Mock OrangeSpiraeaSmokebush
          False CypressYewJuniper
          -----------------

Plant Texture

Plant texture can be coarse (large leaves, leaves spaced far apart or rough leaf surface) or fine (small leaves, leaves spaced closely together or smooth leaf surface).  Placing opposite textures beside one another is very pleasing to the eye and avoids monotony.

Coarse textured leaves against fine textured leaves


Plant Form
A plant's form, also called its' habit, can be globular (round/mounding), arching (weeping/ trailing), upright (columnar) or prostrate (creeping). 


Arching habit 

Arching habit

Upright habit
Upright habit


Globular habit

Globular habit


Prostrate habit

Prostrate habit
The effect of contrasting plant forms is typically more subtle than contrasting colour or texture, but it can add a level of design complexity and sophistication that elevates your garden to new heights. 
Contrasting plant forms

Contrasting plant forms
Now that you understand what experts consider when selecting which plants to pair together, you can create interesting, dramatic gardens that rival any professional designer's.  

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