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10-year logoBy Stephanie Rose

‘When I paint,’ observed Stephanie Rose at the start of her Natural Companions column in October 2006, ‘I constantly play with color on canvas and experiment with various combinations to see what works well and discover what, to my eye, clashes or doesn’t seem to mix harmoniously.’

‘As a landscape designer, I’m aware of working through the same sort of process when I discuss color with clients – determining their likes and dislikes and narrowing the color palette down to those hues, values and intensities that are most appealing to them.  Some aren’t even aware until I launch into a discussion with them that they have particular tastes involving the color wheel.’  She continued:


‘In my experience, all these clients lean one way or another when it comes to warm or cool, pale or saturated, strong or subdued.  In other words, one client will prefer pastels while another takes to primary colors.  One will love yellow, while another will choose red as the favorite.  As I see it, it’s my job to guide clients in such a way that their color preferences are reflected in the setting we’re developing.’


‘I begin by sharing a great book I’ve used for years:  Color Garden by Malcolm Hillier (Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 1995).  The pages are adorned with incredible versions of color wheels made up of flower petals, leaves and other botanical pieces to give readers a direct, realistic idea of what colors and combinations of colors look like in nature.’


‘Once I’ve established a range of color preferences, I more clearly define their color desires with a visit to a nursery . . . [that] will either confirm their choices – or clearly point out their confusion about their own preferences.  In cases where they’re just not sure, we’ll take a third step, hopping in my car for a tour of well-maintained neighborhoods in which they can see combinations of plants in full-scale, real-life settings.’


‘As designers, we need to develop integrated visions of how settings work and can’t depend upon plants and plant combinations to provide all the color any more than we could upon an expanse of decking, the surface of a watershape or the appearance of walls and other architectural details.  In fact, there are many ways to bring color into a landscape with and without plants, and all components must be seen in the context of a much bigger picture.’


‘As designers, in other words, we all need to see that plants aren’t the only way to bring color into the picture.  On that level, our responsibility for incorporating color into the landscape becomes even more substantial.  To develop these all-encompassing, entirely effective designs, we need to see everything our clients will see on the visual plane as a strategic opportunity to bring color into the landscape.’


‘As a landscape designer, my first instinct is to think about plants in bringing colors to outdoor settings.  Increasingly, however, I find myself looking at a bigger picture that encompasses not only plants, but also walls, garden ornaments, furnishings, decking and all of the other design components I have at my disposal.  I’ll use whatever it takes to create settings of compelling visual interest for clients whose color preferences I have carefully determined.’


‘It can be a lot of work,’ Stephanie concluded, ‘but the results are often spectacular – and as surprising and satisfying as the canvasses I generate with brushes and paints.’   

As a designer, do you agree with Stephanie about the importance of a full-spectrum, fully integrated approach to developing a setting’s array of colors?  Does such an approach make it easier to work with clients?  Or can it get in the way of providing them with the best possible design?  Please share your thoughts, experiences and insights in the comment section below!  


Stephanie Rose wrote her Natural Companions column for WaterShapes for eight years and also served as editor of LandShapes magazine.  She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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