This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
The range of simple color among flowers is not very extensive. There are singular and almost unaccountable intervals in that range where color is conspicuously absent in every genus. Indeed, there is no such thing as a pure green flower, nor a pure blue one, neither is there any flower to match the remarkable blue-green or green-blue so familiar in the plumage of certain birds; this has no existence at all in the vegetable world. The range of color, therefore, among flowers is strictly circumscribed. A simple color is a hue not complicated with any other tint or shade or hue. Roughly described, the hues comprise: yellow, gold-yellow, orange, scarlet, red, crimson, magenta, purple, violet, and ultramarine; these together with blue, peacock-blue, green, and yellow-green (hues which do not appear in the floral world) compose a circle of color from which all tints and shades are derived. Fig. 1035. In other words, the admixture of white with a hue produces a tint, and the admixture of black, a shade. Fig. 1036. A reduction of the range of hues given above to its simplest terms would comprise only yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, and green, six primary colors.
Fig. 1037. Although pioneer investigators of the nature of color resolved these six hues into three-yellow, red, and blue,-the restriction was made at the cost of absolute purity in the other three hues which they chose to name secondary colors. There is no possible way of producing absolutely pure orange, violet, or green, by a combination of pigments.
Fig. 1035. The intermediate hues.
The generic character of flower-colors is comprehended in the hues just named, although such names are of little consequence so long as identification is without question. Unfortunately scientists and artists have not yet established a standard nomenclature of color, and as a consequence the name of a particular hue is largely determined by a consensus of public opinion, which, very naturally, is not always correct.
It is essential, therefore, to accept both popular and scientific estimates of color if the subject is to be considered in its relation to flowers. The scientific determination of simple colors is expressed by certain arbitrary numbered lines in the spectrum. Thus, yellow is at line 580, gold-yellow at 605, orange at 630, scarlet at 655, red at 680, green at 530, peacock-blue at 505, violet at 430, ultramarine at 455, and blue at 480. These numbers indicate the wave-lengths of the respective hues, with the micron (one-millionth part of an inch) as the unit. This identification of color, however satisfactory from a scientific point of view, is both intangible and impracticable in every other respect. The flower-petal or the artist's pigment matched with the spectrum is the only proper medium through which to convey an adequate knowledge of a given hue to the layman, and it must be remembered that everyone is hypothetically the layman who is not directly associated with the particular science or art under consideration.
The colors of certain flower-petals as matched with the spectrum lines are as follows: Yellow (580). - CEnothera biennis, Brassica nigra, Ranunculus acris, Helianthus decapetalus, a single dandelion ray.
Rudbeckia hirta, golden calendula.
Tropaeolum majus (deepest orange hue), the common type.
Red azalea, red carnation, tube of Rhododendron nudiflorum.
Crimson peony, American Beauty rose (dilute).
Magenta cineraria, Polygala sanguinea.
Purple cineraria, Mimulus ringens.
Viola cuculata and Campanula rotun-dijolia (light).
Centaurea Cyanus, the bluest phase (light).
Scilla sibirica (light).
Gentiana Andrewsii, (bluest tip of petal).
Myosotis palustris, bluest phase (pale).
1036. Color phases in flowers.
Such a list is manifestly imperfect; to state the case accurately, few flowers are "on the line;" three of the colors have no numbered lines, and many of the plant species or varieties are not and can not be explicitly cited. For example, the red carnation must be a red and not a scarlet-red variety, and its coloring should match that of the Rhododendron nudiflorum tube; the same rule applies to the red gladiolus. It is equally the case that many flowers show only a modification or a dilution of the hue they are chosen to represent; the blue of the forget-me-not at best is extremely dilute.
A list of artists' pigments is more to the point. It has the great advantage of nomenclatorial fixity and it does not include hues subject to change. The representative colors are:
Lemon, zinc, ultramarine, pale cadmium, and light malori yellows.
Medium cadmium and malori gold-yellows.
Cadmium orange and deep malori orange-yellow.
Carmine or alizarin lake (no single pigment is exactly normal red), these incline to scarlet.
Magenta: a mixture of crimson and mauve lakes in nearly equal parts.
Mauve lake: a true purple.
Guimet's French ultramarine.
The color harmonies.
If the simple colors, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, and green, are arranged in a circle (Fig. 1037), those lying opposite each other harmonize by reason of absolute contrast. Blue and orange, for example, are complementary colors and theoretically they balance each other. It by no means follows, however, that a mass of orange nasturtiums and blue forget-me-nots must therefore look well together; the very massing of such hues would make that impossible in spite of the fact that the misty grayish character of a clump of blue forget-me-nots is the reverse of aggressive. But the orange of the nasturtium is obtrusive to the last degree, and its environment should be as colorless as possible-even to the point of dull gray or white.
If these six simple colors in the circle are again separated by intermediate hues (Fig. 1035), so about three of the latter lie between the six original colors, the result will be a circle of twenty-four divisions, having the effect of a rainbow. This will perfectly illustrate the principle of color harmony and color discord. Besides the opposing colors which harmonize by contrast, there are neighboring colors which harmonize by analogy.
For example, any four or five colors lying side by side in the circle are bound together harmoniously by reason of their near relationship. Therefore, all these four or five colors may be combined-and nature does combine them - with esthetic results. But skip over four of the colors and attempt a combination of the first and sixth, and the result will prove to be a discord, the bond of relationship is broken, and the eye is disturbed by the aggressiveness of two colors between which there is evidently no bond of sympathy. It would be safe to say, therefore, that the circle demonstrates the fact that its colors situated at right angles with each other are discordant, and those lying nearly parallel with each other are harmonious.
Fig. 1037. Harmony by contrast.
This is the theoretical side of color harmony. The practical side is scarcely different; it simply modifies the theory. Brilliant blue and orange, which are theoretically harmonious, are scarcely as agreeable in each other's company as the rule would imply. The trouble, however, lies with the brilliancy. The golden calendula and the deep purple aster in association are violent and aggressive. Remove the one and the other and substitute pale-tinted flowers of these hues and the result will be harmonious.
Flower families are very likely to sustain harmonies of analogy. Hyacinths, sweet peas, and nasturtiums represent groups with very nearly related hues or tints. There is a predominating influence of crimson-pink among sweet peas, of lilac among hyacinths, and of orange among nasturtiums, yet the influence at times (in a particular variety) is wholly wanting and is replaced by an analogous tint or hue. It would be a rather nice bit of color adjustment which would result in a harmony superior to that of a careless grouping together of flowers gathered at random from any one of these three genera.
But the theory that analogous colors harmonize is correct only when not carried to excess. Attempts to force deep-hued flowers into harmony often lead to contrary results. A range of color from crimson to ultramarine depends for its harmony upon the careful grading of intermediate hues. Such colors, in full force, might do violence to each other. It is tempting the hardness of a diamond to pound it with a hammer. It is taxing crimson too heavily to expect it to show its beauty in the presence of strong violet! The effort should rather be to merge the individualities of the crimson and the purple flowers into a group and effect a play of color between the two.
The theory that colors at right angles on the wheel are discordant is also subject to some modification. Relatively the right-angled colors must be crude and strong to affect the eye objectionably. Yellow and red in the rose is an agreeable color-combination. Yellow and red dahlias crowded together are certainly harsh and unneighborly.
A country bouquet of asters, marigolds, fuchsias and dahlias is bad, because the country garden is not a part of it. Atmosphere, space, and a stretch of green foliage make a world of difference.
It is wisest to try the effect of one color upon another before allowing two or three strong hues to wage war with each other. It will be found quickly that white is a peacemaker, and green is an invaluable mediator. With these colors at command, the chances of discord are reduced to a minimum. Everything also depends upon simplicity in color-combinations. It is questionable whether a combination of more than two colors can be ever esthetically a success. The adjustment of many colors needs the hand of an expert.