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Roses are Red
Using Red Flowers and Foliage in the Garden
Did you know that red and green are complementary colors? They sit directly across from each other on the color wheel, so they always look good together.
Many gardeners shy away from using red in the garden. Red does attract the eye and can appear to be screaming in the garden. But there are so many shades of red to choose from. It would be a shame to miss out on so many great plants because of a bias against red. The trick is learning to see which red... will work with the other plants you love. Luckily, most reds make it very apparent which hue they're leaning toward, whether it's orange or blue or burgundy.
Somehow the dislike of red in the garden never really extended to roses. Red roses are welcome everywhere. 'Milestone' is a vivid orange-red. Orange reds can seem to glow in the sunlight. They work best with yellows and clear oranges. Or simply set off by their green foliage.Continue to 2 of 53 below.
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Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow seems to make it self at home in any garden. If you've only grown the pastels or buttery 'Moonshine', take a look at some of the spicy red varieties like 'Paprika' pictured here. Many of the new hybrids will bloom their first season in the garden and get more prolific as they mature. 'Fire King' is another great red variety that changes color as it ages. You can see the yellow centers on 'Paprika', that make it easier to blend in with yellows and blues.Continue to 3 of 53 below.
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Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker) and Bee Balm
They call it Red Hot Poker, but the red is definitely on the orange side. That's to be expected since most Kniphfia goes from yellow to orange to red on the same flower cluster. Nature usually knows what it's doing and wouldn't but the wrong shade of red in there. But you can see that the scarlet bee balm is more of a rusty brownish red and doesn't necessarily pair well with the clearer orange tones of the kniphofia.Continue to 4 of 53 below.
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Scarlet Bee Balm
The red bricks in the stone wall are all it takes to bring out the rustiness of this scarlet bee balm. The color is very subtle and will easily mimic related tones that are nearby.Continue to 5 of 53 below.
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Cannas - Tropical Punch
Tropical flowers are rarely shy and these Cannas are no exception. The yellow border should tell you that the petals are leaning toward an orange-red. But a flower this bold should be used as a focal point and not expected to blend in with a crowd.Continue to 6 of 53 below.
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Celosia - Annual Dazzle
Celosia are great for non-stop color all season long. They bloom early and just keep getting larger and better. And they are almost neon in color. Again, they don't blend well with just any plant. The red varieties tend to lean toward the burgundy purples, so they do combine with burgundy foliage and make nice additions to containers with dark leaved sweet potato vines or the juxtaposition of neon green 'Marguerite'.Continue to 7 of 53 below.
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While red can flame in the sun, it can also be used to spark up the shade. Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) can handle both partial shade and damp conditions, two tough spots to design for. Another orange-red, the blossoms can be jarring in a pastel shade garden but paired with white begonias or impatiens, you'll hardly notice it's shady.Continue to 8 of 53 below.
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When Fuchsia Isn't
Fuchsia flowers may have lent their name to the magenta color fuchsia, but the plant hasn't been limited by that. A lot of gardeners think of Fuchsia as a hanging basket plant for partial shade, but most Fuchsias love full sun. They just need to be watered regularly, and they'll bloom even more profusely in sun than in shade. But you can see how these red and white blooms really explode in partial shade, especially against the dark green foliage. I think they'd be a bit lost in full... sun. Here, they're not a bit garish.Continue to 9 of 53 below.
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Coreopsis 'Limerock Ruby'
Threadleaf coreopsis are favorites of every gardener. 'Moonbean', with its buttery yellow petals, blends with just about everything. 'Limerock Ruby' prefers to take center stage. This red is on the rusty side, so purple and pink flowers will clash and pale blues will disappear. But don't let that scare you away. 'Limerock Ruby' will bloom long and late into the season and looks really great with Rudbeckia, Goldenrod and other fall bloomers in saturated jewel tones.Continue to 10 of 53 below.
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Crocosmia is such an interesting plant. It has spiky leaves, like iris, a soft, arching form and tubular flowers that slowly open from the bottom up. The tubular flowers are favorites of humming birds and the red of 'Lucifer' is a beacon for them.
The base of the flowers has a bit of orange in it and the petals also have an orange-red cast. Since blue is the complementary color of orange, this red is surprisingly cooperative in the garden.Continue to 11 of 53 below.
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For non-stop color, you can't beat Dahlias. Dahlias are a great, guilt-free introduction to cutting gardens. The more you cut them, the more they bloom. And they come in colors from pastels to deep burgundy. Very often the stems have a touch of color too, like the burgundy stems of this cherry red variety. You can choose Dahlia bulbs to match the pallette of your garden and tuck them in or switch them out.Continue to 12 of 53 below.
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Coneflowers have turned out to be surprisingly versatile. Purple, pink and white are ubiquitous, and rightly so. They are among the most dependable plants you can have in a garden. The newer introductions are eye-catching.
They've been slow to catch on, partly because they take awhile to settle into the garden and partly because they're so expensive. Now that growers are patenting their introductions, it's very expensive to reproduce the plants and that cost gets passed along to us.
But... they make a great treat and 'Twilight' is the best of the red coneflowers - so far. It's a blushing red with a golden center disk and swept back petals. I wouldn't pair it with purple or pink coneflowers, but I've seen it used wonderfully to set off yellow and golden flowers. It also makes a nice cut flower.
I recently heard that one of the reasons gardeners are having trouble establishing the new hybrid Echinaceas is that we pamper them too much. At heart, they're still prairie flowers and prefer tough love.Continue to 13 of 53 below.
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Emilia 'Scarlet Magic'
Emilia is a sweet little dot of a flower that's easily grown from seed. The flowers dance about on airy stems, like a red baby's breath. If you aren't ready for the bold move of incorporating red into your garden border, you might want to take the baby step of planting Emilia 'Scarlet Magic' in your containers. I mean, how many red flowers are called "sweet"?Continue to 14 of 53 below.
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Blanket Flowers made their name on their concentric circles of color. Of course, plant breeders couldn't resist playing with them and now we have Blanket Flowers in refined monotones. 'Burgundy' generally has deeper burgundy petals than my flower here. I think the plants in my garden cross-pollinated with other nearby Gaillardia. (I can't wait to see what else develops.) No matter the shade of red, Gaillardia offer another chance to make a long-blooming splash in the garden with... very little maintenance. Deadheading will keep them going and cutting them for bouquets will take care of that.Continue to 15 of 53 below.
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There is nothing more dramatic than the plate sized blooms of hardy Hibiscus. It's the size that draws attention, but the flowers are amazingly beautiful, too, with the fan-like overlapping petals drenched in color. If that's too much drama for you, the tropical Hibiscus flowers may be smaller, but no less beautiful.Continue to 16 of 53 below.
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If you think red has no place in a cottage garden, you're overlooking hollyhocks. Tall and striking, yet simple and unassuming. The single-flower types come in a lovely deep maroon that works as well as any purple foliage plant as a foil for brighter colored flowers and leaves.Continue to 17 of 53 below.
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Lilies add elegance and sophistication to a garden. But they don't have to be refined all the time. Sometimes they should be allowed to shout out. Red lilies may shout, but in a mannerly fashion. I don't know the variety here, but they're a little less orange in person, but they're still the eye candy of this garden. There are lots of great red lilies, like 'Red Carpet', 'Red Velvet' and 'Red Storm'.Continue to 18 of 53 below.
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Maltese Cross (Lychnis Chalcedonica)
Maltese Cross was named because its four petals formed a cross, but I always see it with five petals. Perhaps it's one of the "bigger, better" hybrids. Either way, the clusters of early summer flowers explode in scarlet or orange-red, dominate the garden just as summer makes an appearance and then step aside for other plants to shine. If you have a lull in the garden during the transition from spring to peak, Maltese Cross will tide you over with flair.Continue to 19 of 53 below.
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Orchids, like lilies, have the reputation of being elegant and sophisticated. But orchids are tropical beauties and tropical flowers are ones to hide their beauty under pale, washed out tones. Place a Cymbidium Red Beauty 'Evening Star' on a table in the living room and no one will notice the TV.Continue to 20 of 53 below.
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One of the most wonderful features of peonies is that they don't like to be divided. They're happy to stay put for years on end and bloom where they're planted. Add a heady fragrance and cotton candy color and what's not to like. Even the foliage looks good, lasting for the remainder of the season. There are so many great red peonies to choose from; 'Karl Rosenfield', 'Chippewa' and the always popular 'Red' peony. 'This is Sword Dance', pictured... here, with true red petals and a cluster of yellow and red streaked stamens.Continue to 21 of 53 below.
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Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata hybrids)
What other flower has garden right in its name? Phlox have come a long way from the powdery mildew magnets of the past. They do make wonderful garden plants, standing tall with out staking and slowly spreading in a well-behaved manner. If you're looking for a worry free red flower to test the waters with, consider a red phlox. But much like my burgundy Gaillardia, my red phlox seems to cross with others nearby and become a little less true red as it spreads.Continue to 22 of 53 below.
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Red Spider Lilies (Lycoris radiata)
Looking for an interesting new bulb? You can see how spider lilies got their common name. They're only hardy down to about Zone 7 and they're not long bloomers, but if you can grow them, they tend to pop up in unexpected places as a very welcome surprise.Continue to 23 of 53 below.
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Red Geraniums (Pelargonium species)
You don't have to reach for the unusual to enjoy red in the garden. Red geraniums are a classic. There are many shades of red geraniums available, but the deep blue-red geraniums seem to have the most presence. One geranium in a pot is enough to make a statement, but why limit yourself?Continue to 24 of 53 below.
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Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red'
When I was a kid, my mother always had red salvia (Scarlet Sage) in the garden and we liked to pull the flowers apart and eat the sweet drop of nectar inside. The hummingbirds must have hated us. I never thought the flowers were particularly attractive, probably because I took them for granted. You can still find Scarlet Sage in garden centers, but there are more salvia choices these days. One of my favorites is Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red'. The flowers are less dense on the stem and... give it a more airy appearance. The plants bush out better than Scarlet Sage and are also a bit taller, reaching about a foot and a half in height. Plus, you can save the seed for next year. I plant 'Lady in Red' in my vegetable garden to attract insects and just because it's so pretty.Continue to 25 of 53 below.
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Scarlet Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus 'Scarlet Runner')
Another nice plant for the vegetable garden is Scarlet Runner Bean. I tried growing them mixed in with my pole beans, for color, but the pods get confusing when you harvest. So now I grow them along my fence. But just because they're beans they aren't restricted to the vegetable patch. Runner beans make great climbers in the garden border. They'll bloom longer if you remove some of the early pods.Continue to 26 of 53 below.
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Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
If you still can't handle red in your border, consider adding a dash of red in the wilder areas of your yard. Sumacs have a well-deserved reputation as weedy plants, but they serve a purpose too. Birds make use of them for food and shelter. With the staghorn sumac, you get those glorious red plumes and a larger bird population to boot.Continue to 27 of 53 below.
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Knautia (Knautia macedonica)
Sometimes the easiest way to ease into using red flowers is to start with the burgundy end of the spectrum. Purple foliage gets all the press, but there are plenty of great burgundy flowers to use in your garden design. Knautia has been around forever but gets very little attention. The flowers are similar to Scabiosa, with button-like flowers bobbing on slender stems above the foliage. It's also an easy self-seeder, but since it's so delicate looking, it never seems like a thug.Continue to 28 of 53 below.
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Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)
One of the most exciting things about sunflowers in recent years is the depth of colors available. The sunny yellow classics will always have a place in the garden, but the rich russets and burgundies are just begging to be displayed.Continue to 29 of 53 below.
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No one can say there aren't enough daylilies to choose from. They're easy growing, profuse blooming and you can find daylilies from the bright red of 'Ruby Stella' to the deep maroon of this unnamed variety shown here.Continue to 30 of 53 below.
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Hardy Mums(Chrysanthemum x grandiflorum)
Whether your mums are hardy or not, you probably can't resist a pot or two in the fall. The orange and gold varieties are seasonal and stunning, but the burgundy mix especially well with other flowers and, as shown here, make a great foil for the brighter colors.Continue to 31 of 53 below.
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Fall also brings a lot of red to the garden without our help, in the form of seeds and berries. One of the most anticipated berries is the red holly berry. There are hundreds of holy species, but home gardeners look for plants with glossy green leaves and bright red fruits. Most hollies are dioecious, meaning they have male and female flowers on different plants. So you need at least one male plant to pollinate with the flowers on the female plants, in order to get berries. Luckily for gardeners... with small yards, plant breeders have been experimenting with grafting both sexes onto one plant, but check to be sure.Continue to 32 of 53 below.
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Viburnum (Viburnum sp.)
Viburnums are popular for many reasons, but many also have wonderful fall berries. Most need a touch of frost, for the berries to be attractive to the birds. So you get to enjoy them throughout the fall.Continue to 33 of 53 below.
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Shadbush aka Juneberry and Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.)
There are many wonderful stories about how Amelanchier got its common name of Serviceberry, but the all are based on the fact that the flowers bloom just as the ground has finally thawed. On many of the ornamental varieties, those flowers turn into dangling red berries in the fall. They're favorites of the birds, who will thank you by planting more Amelanchier shrubs in your yard.Continue to 34 of 53 below.
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Crabapple (Malus sp.)
Crabapples are great trees for your yard. You get the beautiful flowers in the spring and the clusters of long-stemmed berries that hang on and persist well into winter. Many are yellow and gold-blushed with red and some are simply fire engine red.Continue to 35 of 53 below.
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Dogwood (Cornus sp.)
You don't often associate Dogwood trees with berries. One reason is that only mature dogwood trees (15+ years) produce enough berries to get noticed. Another is that the immature berries are green and get lost in the foliage, while the mature berries turn red about the same time the leaves do - so they're lost again. Plus, birds often get to them first.
However, they can add a hit of red to the fall garden. This berry cluster is on a Cornus florida or Flowering Dogwood, and... they're just about peak.Continue to 36 of 53 below.
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If you haven't seen the seed pods of roses, called rose hips, on your rose bushes, it could be because you pruned off all the old flowers before they were able to go to seed. You might notice a similarity between rose hips and crabapples. They're both in the same family, along with eating apples. I wouldn't make a snack of rose hips, but they do make a nice tea.Continue to 37 of 53 below.
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Jack in the Pulpit(Arisaema triphyllum)
Jack in the Pulpit is a delicate little woodland charmer that we don't often think of planting. But if you do have a plant or two, the red seed pods in the fall produce viable seed for propagating more. The seed pods are attractive in their own right, looking like shiny red raspberries.Continue to 38 of 53 below.
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Caster Bean (Ricinus communis)
Caster beans are fun plants to grow from seed. They can easily top 6' in one season. The stems are reddish and even the beautiful star-like palmate leaves have a reddish cast. Then, come fall, you get these spiny red seed pods. They look meaner than they are to touch, which is a good thing since they're poisonous if ingested. But if you don't have small children or pets who like to munch on your plants, they're a great focal point for a garden. And the red is on the mauve side,... tempered with green, so it's a good match for most other colors.Continue to 39 of 53 below.
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If it's colorful burgundy foliage you're after, it's hard to beat Rex begonias. Their leaves are swirled with an array of reds, greens, silvers and whites. These are fun plants to collect as houseplants, but they can be used to great effect in a shade garden, where they echo the tones of Japanese Painted ferns.Continue to 40 of 53 below.
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Hibiscus 'Panama Red' (Hibiscus acetosella)
There's a lot of buzz about purple foliage, but much of what's labeled purple is actually a burgundy red. Often plants bred for colorful foliage sacrifice flowering. This Hibiscus 'Panama Red' will flower, but it's the glossy burgundy leaves are the reason it's included in this garden.Continue to 41 of 53 below.
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Purple Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria)
Admit it, the first time you saw a Purple Smoke Bush you said "What the heck is that?" They're just one of the wonders of nature. They're labeled Purple, but the leaves are actually a purple-red and they get even redder, almost a cherry red, in the fall. Funny, you wouldn't think the leaves of a plant with flowers this spectacular would even get noticed, but the oval foliage is very nice in its own right. And Purple Smoke Bush combines beautifully with deep blue flowers, like... delphiniums as well as with bright neon green and yellow.Continue to 42 of 53 below.
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Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum)
You can't take about red foliage without mentioning the Japanese maples. A single Japanese red maple can turn a yard into a landscape. The dwarf, thread leaf Japanese maples are very slow growing and can be worked right into a garden border.Continue to 43 of 53 below.
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Colorful foliage has become indispensable in garden design and red foliage has been with us for years. Just think of all the combinations you can get in Caladiums alone. These cherry red leaves come with their own complement in the green border. They look like a slice of watermelon. The fuchsia blossoms dangling behind seem a little more orange, but not enough to be jarring. Besides, tropical plants should have a little attitude about them.Continue to 44 of 53 below.
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Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)
With the introduction of sun Coleus, gardens everywhere suddenly had non-stop color. Coleus probably had more to do with gardeners' love of colorful foliage than any other plant. Deservedly so. A little pinching here and there and you have a full, busy plant that doesn't need flowers to attract attention. And you can get just about any shade of red from cherry to mahogany.Continue to 45 of 53 below.
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Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra')
Isn't this a stunning grass? But beauty comes at a price. It's not hardy in my Zone 5 garden, so I have to purchase it new every year. And gardeners in the Deep South can't purchase it at all because it's invasive there. It's a runner, so if you live in a marginal area, keep it contained and don't let it go to seed. But if you live in a colder climate, the way the blade tips catch the light is absolutely mesmerizing.Continue to 46 of 53 below.
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To make up for tempting southern gardeners with Japanese Blood Grass they can't grow, here's yet another gorgeous grass that's not hardy in colder zones, but would be fine down South. This fountain grass, Pennisetum 'Princess', was introduced by Athens Select, as a plant that can take the long, hot, humid summers of the South. I grow it in a pot and overwinter it dormant, under my basement potting table. So mine starts from scratch each spring, but since it only grows about... 2-3' tall, it catches up quickly. I like it because it looks like a Phormium, but airier. There's also a large variety called 'Prince'. The maroon foliage intensifies as the summer heats up.Continue to 47 of 53 below.
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New Zealand Flax 'Bronze Baby' (Phormium)
Here's a great example of how one little touch of red can make all the green in the garden stand out. OK, it's not such a little touch, thanks to the red pot. But if you can pull your eye away from the Phormium and container, you can really notice the different leaf forms and textures behind it.Continue to 48 of 53 below.
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Panicum 'Cloud Nine'
Oh My God! This is why ornamental grasses get such good press. This switch grass, Panicum 'Cloud Nine', is a virtual haze of red splendor in the fall. And at eye level, where you can fully appreciate it. It's not that fascinating before it blooms, but with bluish leaves that turn golden in fall, it's very easy to work in to any color palette and with the light filtering through the inflorescences and a gentle breeze, it's worth the wait.Continue to 49 of 53 below.
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Fall Peony Foliage (Paeonia)
Many, many times red foliage puts in an appearance all on its own. I mentioned earlier in this gallery that peonies bring multiple interest to the garden. The ferny foliage takes on a maroon hue in the fall, just in time to complement the colors of your fall blooming flowers.Continue to 50 of 53 below.
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Moveable Red Accents
Can't commit to red in the garden? Here's a great example of how and when to give red a try. This peaceful little cul-de-sac at the end of a shrub border is made a destination by the cheery red chairs. Kind of makes you smile just to see them. And look how much more interesting the trees become because of the contrast.Continue to 51 of 53 below.
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What are Friends For?
Here's an example of why choosing the right shade of red can make all the difference. Her red jacket certainly pops out at you, but it's an orange-red and kind of jarring against the light green foliage and white flowers of the climbing hydrangea. Notice how the maroon of the shed makes a more harmonious blend with the greenery.Continue to 52 of 53 below.
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Putting Together a Red Border
Here's another example of how some reds just work against each other. There's the Purple Smoke Bush, 'Limerock Ruby' Coreopsis and some more purple foliage plants in the backdrop. The purple and burgundy foliage has too much blue in it to work cooperatively with the more orange Coreopsis.Continue to 53 of 53 below.
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Red Foliage Border
Here's a better example of combining reds. It still has a mix of orange and blue reds, but there's enough green to balance it out and, as we said, green is the complement of red - any red. So the rusty red plant in the foreground (sorry, I don't know what it is) picks up the red border on the banana leaves in the center. The burgundy Phormium echoes the lower growing burgundy Heuchera. The two colors might clash, but there's enough space and green between them to help make the... transition. You may or may not like the orange-red dahlias dotted about, but their foliage is also a burgundy tint, so maybe nature knows better than we.