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September 24, 2010

Naturally Inspired: Color Insights from a Garden Expert, Stephen Orr

Stephen Orr has one of the most beautiful blogs you could find, called "What Were The Skies Like."  Orr has been the garden editor at House & Garden and Domino (double sigh).  His first book, "Tomorrow's Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustaintable Gardening," will be coming out in February from Rodale, and we'll be lining up to buy the first copy.  We asked him to send us some of his favorite images and talk about what's going on in them colorwise. "I always look to nature for color inspiration, and think of colors in terms of nature. Since I'm a garden person, I have a color memory of flowers and plants," he told us. We translated his images into palettes you can use in your own home.

  Digitalis Pam's Choice

"Nature doesn't make color mistakes. We don't get upset about nature's color sets.  That's why it's good to look in nature because you kind of can't go wrong.  What could be better than the deep reddish burgundy color in the throat of this foxglove called 'Pam's Choice'.  I'm always drawn to colors that are hard to name . . . is it maroon? wine? ox-blood? carmine?"

Rosate 2078-10, Peony Pink 2078-70

Perfect for a little girl's room, with pale pink on the walls, and accessories in deep purple.


"Nature teaches you subtlety.  Most flowers shift their color as they mature. The mauve-pink of this common foxglove starts to take on blueish color of lavender and lilac as the individual blossoms start to age. Think how marvelous it would be if you isolated all the different shades seen in this one flower and made a garden just of those tones."

Purple Easter Egg 2073-50, Lavender Mist 2070-60

I've picked up two of the paler colors here as an idea for a powder room, where you could use either as the primary wall color and the other as trim.

Actaea Racemosa, Bugbane

"A strict black and white color combination is a rarity in the garden.  I like to photograph plants against the dark charcoal walls of my lake cabin (a color chosen to match a neighboring house that was painted with creosote).  Instantly everything is thrown into high contrast, like the white bristle-brush flowers of this bugbane.

Black Horizon 2132-30, Potpourri Green 2029-50, White Heaven 2068-70

"You could work this a number of ways--pinkish, almost white walls, black lacquered furniture, and a few green accessories.


"In nature, jarring combinations naturally occur.  This tight little cluster of plants was on Anacapa, a remote island I visited last spring off of the coast near Santa Barbara, CA.  I love how the pudgy leaves of the orange-flowering ice plant turned a dusky blue-green.  Maybe they were reflecting the intense blue of the sky.  A study in complementary colors if I ever saw one."

Calypso Orange 2015-30, Cool Blue 2058-40, Fresh Scent Green 2033-30

What a bold room this could make!  Orange walls, with the cool blue picked up in an area rug and green plants everywhere.

White Lake

"When you're outside, you see combinations that go beyond what the object is --not just the flowers and plants themselves.  Even in the most barren season, I keep my eye out for unexpected color lessons.  While walking on the frozen lake last February, I saw this last bit of red fruit hanging on some bare branches by the water's edge.  The deep red was particularly eye-catching against the slatish-blue of the frozen water."

Bedford Blue 1679, Smoked Oyster 2109-40, Million Dollar Red 2003-10

Oyster walls, the brown of wood furniture, and red accents in tableware/vases/lamps in a dining room would be incredible.

lichen on fence rail

"There is a little community of lichen that grow on the wooden rail fence in my front yard.  I'm fascinated by the pure silver of their "leaves" and how they take on other colors like mint green and mustard as the seasons progress."

Silver Marlin 2139-50, Gray Horse 2140-50, Luminaire 374, Hint of Mint 505

A chic and subtle living room.  You could use the silvery color on your walls, pale wood furniture and neutral drapery, with pale mint picked up in your upholstery fabrics.

Boletus Porcini

"I recently went on a hike to a remote lake above Aspen and was happy to discover that the trail went through a forest full of hidden treasures--porcini.  At first it was hard to spot these mushrooms since they huddle so close to the ground but I tried to train my eye to look out for their tell-tale chestnut red coloring and bingo!  They made a delicious dinner that night."

Carrington Beige HC-93, Grand Canyon Red 2090-10, Brilliant Blue 2065-30

I like a very formal living or dining room painted a classic color like Carrington Beige, but with strong colors in the furniture (chestnut brown) and accessories (bright blue).

Varieties of Dahlias

“My friend the potter Frances Palmer grows dozens and dozens of varieties of dahlias for her vases. I think she gets any color she can and all those bright clashing magentas, oranges, yellows, scarlets, and pinks look great together. As I said, nature doesn't make color mistakes.”

Spring Azalea 2077-40, Vermillion 2002-10, Pink Taffy 2075-50, Blazing Orange 2011-20, Victorian Purple 1370

This is one of those bold groupings where you can pluck any of the colors and put them with any of the others--and the more the better!

Stephen's blog: http://www.whatweretheskieslike.com


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You are really an expert.
Thanks for giving us cool informations about the color insights.
I learned heaps from you today.

So interesting posts,you wrote the headline you gave,and the meaning was so excited.I am sure people who all like them,and better then,good luck!

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