Design Principles (08)

WCI Chop 2 less border In several previous post I went through the very elemental beginnings of my take on Landscape Design Principles. The last was how I looked at design when considering motion, and the two parts of motion; static and dynamic.

Now let me turn my attention to the most discussed of all landscape design principles . .  . color. More has been written about color than I could ever hope to even read, heck if I started reading now . . . I’d still be reading after I was dead.

A reminder of my chart on these 10 building blocks.

The list:

Ten Building Blocks to Design-Design at it’s Most Primitive

7 physical and 3 Sensory Elements=The 10 Basics of  Design

Physical Elements:

  • Point: where everything starts.
  • Line: the connection of two points.
  • Plane: connection of several lines—2 dimensional.
  • Form: connection of several planes—3 dimensional.
  • Motion: movement/experience, planes/form.
  • Color: an added bonus to 3 dimensional space—courtesy of light.
  • Texture: as in manipulation of plane, form, and color.


  • Sound: Most powerful, out of sight, or irregular rhythm.
  • Touch/Tactile: human nature, drawn to . . .
  • Smell: kicks in memory, most powerful.


So how does a guy like me write about(blog about) color? What do I have to offer that hasn’t been written before? Well, probably nothing, that’s what. Not a damn thing.

I do have something to say anyway . . . shocker. here we go with my 1st biggie

Color is overrated, that’s right . . . I said it, er, wrote it.

Color, especially when discussing flower color is overrated.

These flower colors last from a day to several months with most color range(s) in the 2-3 week range. With a time frame like that it would seem that the overall form, shape, texture, and foliage-especially foliage color is much more important in terms of landscape design.

Heck, I’ll take it even further living here in zone 5/6 . . . it’s the winter landscape that needs more attention, a lot more attention.

There are a lot of designers who would vehemently disagree with me, well fire away. Both barrels . . . I can take it.

I will not back down that the overall effect of the designed space is more critical to the success of the landscape than any color scheme involved in that very space. So, do I ignore color completely? Heck no.

Color Philosophy:

  1. I am always going to ask clients what color they do not like as opposed to color(s) they do like. Most often this is orange.
  2. I do pay attention to color palette in regards to planting backdrop. No sense having red flowers in front of a red brick house.
  3. I do like to stay with pastels together, and not have that mix with one or more hot colors.
  4. If a client wants it hot, stay hot. No need to drift off into something cool, or some of those nice pastels.
  5. Green is a color, a great color. You can get really creative with shades of green and create a awesome foliage planting, with year round interest.
  6. Some plants flower color looks great for two weeks, and like crap for the other 50(most Azaleas, Quince, Mock Orange, older Lilacs, etc . . . oops Forsythia!) plan for that. Plats that flower for two weeks are support plants . . . not focal plants!
  7. Thinking
  8. Still thinkin’ . . . more will come. I just know it. You all know how this works, as soon as I click off of this . . . boom! Another example of me and color.

Color lowdown

Here are several links to some real discussion/images/charts on everything you would ever want to know about all there is to know about color.

This list has it all. It’s in pictures so you have to be feeling a bit adventurous and take a chance when you click a pic!

Real Color Wheel(dot) com Munsell diagram

Here are a couple more:

Vintage Gardens colorguide Paradigm Reborn

Even more

Lines and Colors Visibone

Still more, told you there were lots of possibilities to go look at:

Colorlouvers_a Puzzle A Pattern at Colorlouvers

The last two image both originate from a site called Colorlouvers. A very nice website where you can learn a lot about palettes and creating palettes. If you draw, paint, use color in any way(interior work?), anything.

You could spend a lot of time here, a lot.

Color, that’s it. That’s all I got.

Texture . . . you’re on deck!

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


  1. I like what you wrote. It was very practical and down to earth. I would like to add a few things, not in any particular order of importance, and not making a point for or against color. Or rather, making a point for both.

    1. I totally agree that the big picture, made up of all the details such as heights, forms, colors and mostly texture differences is more important than and particular color or color design.

    2. You mostly discussed the shrubs that have short periods of bloom. I would like to mention some perennials that bloom for particularly long periods…so you get a lot of bang for the buck.

    The ones I have found most pleasing are Nepata ‘Walker’s Low’, Lavender, Butterfly Bush, Coreopsis, and certain Rose varieties (shrubs). There are others, but these are the ones that come to mind.

    3. In Italy, the landscapes are very green…and beautiful. They don’t put an emphasis on color and yet who can argue with the look and success of many Italian gardens?

    4. People should know that most garden pictures they see with tons of color all over are either staged or short lived. Sure, you can get lots of color, but most likely it will be individual plants here and there blooming at the same time, not the entire garden.

    5. I absolutely love color and flowers. However, textures are even more important to make plants be defined from one another.

    6. As far as putting colors together, you just have to use your sense of what works. Yet, I’m not afraid to give a quick splash of something off the beaten path for some excitement.


    1. I always appreciate when someone take the time to really reply to a post like you have done. The response adds greatly to what I have posted here.

      All good points, personally I like your addition of ‘Walker’s Low’ and the Butterfly Bush’s. I would really like to add more shrub roses to most designs in this part of the country, but the damn deer also want me to add the very same thing. 100% spot-on about the color though, maybe the most bang for the buck . . . color wise.

      Interesting to see you also emphasize foliage, texture form . . . I believe there is a jump in most designers process where they jump from obsessing over a color scheme into looking at a 52 weeks a year scheme.

      On #6, well said . . . it’s like learn the rules-then bust ’em.

      Great comments, thanks!

  2. its amazing that there rare articales about graphic design they are all about print and photoshop tutorial while in the other hand web design have million of resource

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