Cherry red zinnias (Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Deep Red’, annual) pick up the same bright color from the center of the dark red leaves of a coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Kingwood Torch’, USDA Hardiness Zone 11) and reflect it upward to meet the bowing plumes of a red amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus ‘Polish’, annual).
Photo/Illustration: Melissa Lucas
One of the most dynamic colors is also the oldest color used by humans: red. Prehistoric horses drawn in red pigment gallop across the ancient cave walls in Lascaux, France. To poets, it is the color of passion; to seafarers, it is an omen: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” Throughout its long history, red has been associated with highly charged emotions and a sense of urgency. Today, red still commands the attention of motorists and pedestrians at traffic lights.
Some gardeners are put off by the same assertiveness that makes red effective in controlling traffic. Others embrace the challenge of working with such a vibrant, exciting hue. Pure, primary red sends out a clear signal that says, “Stop! Look at me!” This effect works well with containers planted in red. They cheer up the entrance to a house or call attention to window boxes placed against neutral siding. But in the garden, pure red can be overpowering, especially if the flowers are large. The larger the flower, the more dominating the color. Primary red is at its best set off by complementary green leaves, in contrast to white, or in harmony with dark shades of blue-violet. It also lends itself to hot color harmonies with oranges and orange-yellows.