50 Shades of Green …

Another Journal entry and another film title – or almost! To offer an alternative (as many people seemed to have done!) to the much-debated launch of the film, I thought I’d get up close and personal with the colour green!

In the UK, we’re lucky enough to have a seasonal climate with all the wonderful variations that this brings. However, green is common to each; it is a linking element and a constant in the outdoor environment. Even in the depths of winter, we still have our evergreens, our lawns and even our Christmas trees! Green is the ‘background’ colour that is often taken for granted and assumed as an obligatory ingredient both in floral design and in our gardens.

Green Woodland Caroline Davy Studio

Green foliage is a given but plant breeders have recently launched many new varieties of green flower in response to trends and therefore demand. However, when I ask clients which colours they would like to incorporate in their gardens or into floral arrangements – green is hardly ever mentioned as a specific wish. I don’t think that this is because it is not wanted but more to do with the fact that it simply seems to go without saying that this is such an important constituent of any natural design.

Green grass Caroline Davy Studio

The colour wheel is a tool used by designers in most fields to understand colour relationships. It was invented when Sir Isaac Newton bent the colour spectrum into a circle and has been part of an artist’s education ever since. The colours are split into cool and warm hues and by choosing to use one colour with its neighbour or its opposing partner immediately offers a good mix, a harmonising combination or a contrasting effect.

Green is a ‘secondary’ colour that is created from its direct primary neighbours of yellow and blue. These three colours are friends! They produce calm and restful scenes and work well together. In the garden, consider Honeysuckle varieties, Kerria japonica or even the humble daffodil. The mix of yellow and green offers a depth of appearance and a ‘grounding’ that yellow sometimes lacks if seen by itself. Definition is added and the yellow takes on more body and density in the partnership.

Green and yellow hand tied Caroline Davy Studio

Green hanging arrangement with Lilac Caroline Davy Studio

In considering blue and green, I remember being told that ‘blue and green should never be seen’ when planning outfits at an early age. This rings so untrue when you see the effects of lovely blue flowers of Ceanothus peeping through the deep evergreen foliage or Muscari spikes emerging through the strappy green leaves. Blue and green can work and they are frequently seen! The colour combination is cool and it ‘works’. The appearance is fresh, tranquil and atmospheric.


Green appears directly opposite red on the colour wheel and is therefore known as the red’s ‘complementary’ colour. We know this combination works in nature as is shown in the red berries on holly and green and red in apples. The green enhances the red creating an ‘accent’ – a brighter and richer colour than is possible if the red was seen alone.

Viburnum opulus Slate Cottage Caroline Davy Studio

Red is obviously in the warm spectrum and is one of the colours that draws attention to itself. Constable famously used to use a tiny dot of red in many of his paintings to draw the eye into the view and to accent a particular aspect of his composition. In a mass of green landscape, a red jacket or cart pulled the viewer into Constable’s world.

In gardens too, red, orange and yellow jump out at the viewer and care should be taken in their positioning as they can have the effect of making the planting seem closer than it actually is and – as in Constables pictures – drawing the eye directly to this patch over any other. Using a mass of green as a foil to these colours works particularly well – at the same time drawing attention to the brighter qualities, whilst creating an overall picture and holding the scheme together. Too many loud ‘stars’ creates a loud, invigorating riot; the green calms the situation!

Although – in colour theory terms – complementary applies to a specific colour combination on the colour wheel, I believe that green is the champion of champions of all complementary colours. It works as a partner and a best friend with almost any combination of plants. It is the perfect ‘background’ colour used to set off smaller areas of warm colours.

Snowdrops Newton Valence Garden Caroline Davy Studio

The use of green is said to promote harmony, balance, refreshment, universal love, rest, restoration, reassurance, environmental awareness, equilibrium and peace; all in all, a good recipe for a garden scene or a beautiful arrangement to decorate the house. Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the centre of the spectrum, it is the colour of balance – a more important concept than many people realise. When the world about us contains plenty of green, this indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green, on a primitive level.

Green gardens or floral arrangements are not unknown (particularly in contemporary garden schemes where topiary is used to great effect) but an absence of any other colour at all can appear rather flat. If the smallest amount of white is added – even through a white-tinged green flower such as the wonderful semi-ripe flower heads of Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (the later season flowers are truly white) or the pale, slightly mottled flowers of Helleborus argutifolius, or a variegation in foliage – then the effect is immediately lightened, depth is provided and you begin to get light and shadows playing with the effect. Texture also becomes more apparent and the effect goes from potentially on the bland and flat side to something with volume, bringing calming and subtle interest and reflective effect.


Green and white garden Caroline Davy Studio 2

I’m in the process of designing a green and white garden for a client in Surrey at present. We’re looking at textural forms in great detail to ensure that the garden still has movement and rhythm, depth and subtleties of variation in the planting – despite the limited colour palette. I’m also including many different shapes of flowers to ensure that the highlights of the white accents all bring another dimension to the overall scheme.

Great masters of green gardens include Tom Stuart-Smith with his Chelsea Garden of 2008. This is worth studying as he – within the confines of the limited space – brilliantly illustrated how green colour and texture, with accents of white Paeonia, Astrantia and Rodgersia achieved the most tranquil and gorgeous space.

Green and white garden Caroline Davy Studio

Tom Stuart Smith Chelsea Garden 2008-2 Caroline Davy Studio Journal

Tom Stuart-Smith Chelsea Garden 2008/3 Caroline Davy Studio Journal

In fact, Chelsea 2008 was a particularly green year for many designers. Andy Sturgeon’s garden was another study of the colour. He utilised the green fronds of tree ferns to great effect with swathes of perennial and shrub planting to create rhythm and contrast.

Andy Sturgeon Chelsea 2008/1 Caroline Davy Studio Journal

Andy Sturgeon Chelsea 2008/2 Caroline Davy Studio Journal

Robert Myers and Arabella Lennox-Boyd both illustrated how the colour green can be so effective through the use of different forms and textures.

Robert Myers Chelsea 2008 Caroline Davy Studio

Robert Myers Chelsea 2008 Caroline Davy Studio

Arabella Lennox-Boyd Chelsea 2008/1 Caroline Davy Studio

Arabella Lennox-Boyd Chelsea 2008/2 Caroline Davy Studio

Each designer’s scheme works on a number of different levels – including the hard landscaping choices and the overall shape of the design. However, the one linking element that is so striking in each case is the use of green.