I forgot that I was going to continue writing about contrast. I have been writing an article about dominance, but that will be published in April. I began to write this article on the last day of February, so I am forcing myself to deal with my thoughts on this subject. I wish that I had given myself more time.
Formal gardens tend to have strong geometric patterns which provide plenty of contrast without much thought from the designer, but lack of contrast is a very common flaw in informal gardens.
When people think about informal gardens they often visualize a romantic cottage garden in the English countryside, with narrow paths which wind through billowing masses of flowers. The emphasis is on blooms, so plants with various types of leaves tend to be planted together without much thought about whether the leaves harmonize or contrast with their neighbors. The planting beds tend to be ameboa-like shapes which become progressively soft and formless during the spring and summer as the plants continue to grow. This design approach gives gardens a lush and romantic atmosphere, but because the designer is avoiding obvious patterns, it is easy for the design to lack contrast.
Lush romantic cottage gardens are really an invention of the 19th century. Traditional cottage gardens usually featured a straight path leading to the front door. This path was often bordered by narrow flower beds. The flowers were mainly intended for cutting and were planted without any regard for color schemes. The rest of the cottage garden was usually planted with fruits and vegetables. The straight rows of vegetables and the straight front walk created simple formal patterns of straight lines. The unsophisticated mix of flowers contrasted with those lines and introduced a carefree and joyous atmosphere into what were mainly carefully tended kitchen gardens.
Many gardeners think that because traditional cottage gardens featured a joyous mix of flowers that romantic cottage gardens don’t require planning – you can plant whatever you want wherever you want. In fact, romantic cottage gardens require a much higher degree of artistry than formal gardens do.
Because romantic cottage gardens are so soft and formless, color tends to play a more important role than it does in formal gardens. An informal garden which is filled with clashing colors will usually have too much contrast – to the point where the garden actually lacks contrast because the contrasts between individual plants cannot be appreciated. An informal garden which is filled with pastel blooms in shade of pink and lavender will be lovely, but a few flowers in deeper shades of purple or rose-red will contrast with the pastel color scheme, while harmonizing with pink and lavender. Adding areas of pastel yellow accented by blooms of deep yellow will do even more to add contrast to this garden. You could even introduce some deep yellow flowers into areas dominated by pink; the deep yellow flowers will connect visually with the areas of yellow. The result will not be the same as an unplanned mix of flowers, even if you are using a broad range of colors in one garden. The garden’s color scheme will be predominately pastel flowers which are accented by blooms in deeper hues.