What Are Bicolor Plants: Tips On Using Flower Color Combinations

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

When it comes to color in the garden, the overriding principle is to choose colors that you enjoy. Your color palette may be a conglomeration of exciting, bright colors or a mix of subtle colors that provide an atmosphere of peace and relaxation. However, if you’re overwhelmed by the abundance of flower color combinations, narrowing the field to two colors may simplify the process. Read on to learn about two-color gardens and bicolor garden schemes.

Two-Color Gardens

Take a good look at a color wheel, and then plan (and plant) accordingly. There are many ways to use the color wheel for creating two color gardens. For example:

  • Analogous colors – This bicolor scheme involves harmonious colors that are side by side on the color wheel. Two color gardens based on analogous colors may feature shades of red and orange, orange and yellow, blue and violet or violet and red.
  • Complementary colors – For contrast that really pops, select colors directly across from one another on the color wheel, such as blue and orange, yellow and violet, or green and red.
  • Neutral colors – Take advantage of neutral colors when selecting flower color combinations, as neutral colors can be used with any other color (or colors) without changing the overall effect of that color. In gardening, neutrals can be white, gray, silver, black brown or green.

Using Bicolors in the Garden

So what are bicolor plants? According to the Royal Horticultural Society, some bicolor flowers occur as a result of a mutation that occurs during the initial development of a flower. This random event may or may not occur in subsequent seasons. Most bicolor plants, however, are carefully and selectively bred for their bicolor features.

Bicolor plants are fascinating and add real interest to the garden. However, it can be tricky to garden with bicolor plants.

One solution is to plant a bicolor variety with a contrasting, solid color that serves as a backdrop. For example, locate a plant like Dianthus ‘Nova,’ a bicolor with blooms of dark and light pink, alongside colorful foliage, such as ornamental sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas).

You can also plant a solid color flower of one of the two colors represented in the adjacent bicolor plant. For example, plant big, red or white petunias alongside Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips, a striking bicolor plant of red and white.

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Daylilies, a Rainbow of Color

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Bold, bright colors attract our attention from a distance while intricate patterns of color become visable when we step closer. Written descriptions and images on a plant label, a hybridizer's catalog or a registration database can further complicate our understanding of a daylily's true color. Other factors such as soil, temperature, partial shade or full sun can alter a daylily's color giving a different appearance from one garden to another or from day to day within the same garden.

Assisting us in sorting through the complexities of daylily color are terms relating to the placement of color and the color patterns seen in different areas within the bloom. The color of one area can compliment or contrast with another, producing different color combinations which may enhance the attractivness of the flowers. The parts of a daylily bloom, including the throat, anther, petal, sepal, eyezone, midrib and edge are areas where these color differences may occur.

The centermost area of a bloom is the throat. The throat contains the stamens and pistil and is where we begin to see color on the petal segments. The most common colors described for the throat portion of the petals are yellow, yellow to green, green and occasionally gold, melon or orange. Filaments, the stem portion of the stamen, may be the color of the throat portion of the petal, a lighter shade of this color or include the color of the area just above the petal throat. Anthers, the pollen containing sacs at the tip of the stamens, are most often white, pale yellow or black. A green throat is seen here in the cultivar Magic of Oz (Herrington H. 1995) while Mandarin Firecracker (Rich 2008) has an orange-pink throat. The filaments of Stenciled Impressions (Stamile 2002) include lines of color seen above the throat and Arctic Snow (Stamile 1985) shows the sharp contrast of black anthers against near white petals.

Magic of Oz ( Herrington H. 1995) & Mandarin Firecracker (Rich 2008)

Stenciled Impressions (Stamile 2002) & Arctic Snow (Stamile 1985)

The surface of the petals and sepals, the tepal segments, is where the majority of the color occurs on a bloom. A bloom with both the petals and sepals the same shade of a single color is referred to as a self. A self may have a throat of a different color as seen in Red Volunteer (Oakes 1984) or the throat may be the same color as the petals and sepals. The daylily Three Rivers Gold (Otte 1994) is a bloom with petals, sepals and throat all the same color and can be referred to as a complete self.

Red Volunteer (Oakes 1984) & Three Rivers Gold (Otte 1994)

Daylilies registered as a blend or polychrome are single colors comprised of a mixture of two or more colors on their petals and sepals. Pat Neuman (Trimmer 1998) and Waterfall Rainbow (Hanson 2005) are both registered as blends which exhibit the mixing of two colors, Pat Neuman (Trimmer 1998) being a pink cream blend and Waterfall Rainbow (Hanson 2005) an attractive blending of pink and orchid.

Pat Neuman (Trimmer 1998) & Waterfall Rainbow (Hanson 2005)

When the petals and sepals are a single color, which is a mixture of three or more colors, the color is often referred to as polychrome. Our Friend Sally (Carpenter 2002), Leisure Time (Branch 1995) and Nancy Ligon (Rice 1998) are all registered as polychromes.

Our Friend Sally (Carpenter 2002) & Leisure Time (Branch 1995)

Bitone, reverse bitone, bicolor and reverse bicolor are very unique colorations. In a bitone the petals are a darker shade and the sepals a lighter shade of the same color. The daylilies Lavender Potpourri (Stoll 2006), a lavender bitone, and Momentum (Olsen 1996), a tawny rose bitone, both have the darker shade of the primary tepal color on their petals.

Lavender Potpourri (Stoll 2006) & Momentum (Olsen 1996)

With a reverse bitone the sepals are the darker shade and petals the lighter shade of the same color. Sangre De Cristo (Stamile 1998) is a pink reverse bitone and Satin Bird (Childs 1982) a violet purple reverse bitone.

Sangre De Cristo (Stamile 1998) & Satin Bird (Childs 1982)

Bicolor blooms have two completely different colors, a dark color on the petals and a light color on the sepals, as seen in the cultivars Alien Force (Gossard 2010) and Harpie Lady (Gossard 2008).

Alien Force (Gossard 2010) & Harpie Lady (Gossard 2008)

Blue Beetle (Gossard 2010) has darker pink sepals and lighter cream petals and is registered as a reverse bicolor. Also registered as a reverse bicolor is the cultivar Unique Style (Carpenter K. 1985) which has yellow petals and rose sepals.

Blue Beetle (Gossard 2010) & Unique Style (Carpenter K. 1985)

Some of the most exciting color combinations can be found in daylilies with contrasting color within the eyezone or with an all over color design or pattern. The eyezone is a place for color which circles the bloom just above the throat. An eyezone has a different color or colors, or shades of color than the primary color of the petals and sepals. Different terms are used for the type of eyezone depending on the shade, color or placement of color within the eyezone. When a darker color or shade of color circles the throat on the petals only, the eyezone is referred to as a band. Little Leprechaun (Stamile G. 2007) and Square Dancer's Curtsy (Payne L.H. 2001) have a band of a different color on the petals only.

Little Leprechaun (Stamile G. 2007) & Square Dancer's Curtsy (Payne L.H. 2001)

When there is a darker color or shade of color circling the throat on both the petals and sepals it is called an eye. Piano Man (Trimmer 1998) and Adorable Tiger (Rasmussen 1998) both have the darker eyezone color on the petals as well as the sepals.

Piano Man (Timmer 1998) & Adorable Tiger (Rasmussen 1998)

The cultivars Paul Stout (Kirchhoff 1998) and Coyote Moon (Kirchhoff 1994) both have an eyezone that is a faint or barely visable darker shade of color which circles the throat on the petals. This type of eyezone is referred to as a halo.

Paul Stout (Kirchhoff 1998) & Coyote Moon (Kirchhoff 1994)

An eyezone that is a lighter shade of color than the primary color of the petals, as seen in Lake Lure (Sellers 2001) and Captivating Smile (Rice 2005), is known as a watermark.

Lake Lure (Sellers 2001) & Captivating Smile (Rice 2005)

Two new terms and definitions for variations of color were recently added by the American Hemerocallis Society, applique and pattern. The definition of applique from the society is "Applique, Applique Throat: In a daylily bloom, an applique color pattern originating in the throat and extending outward onto the midrib and tepal surfaces. The strong contrast and sharp distinct edge of an appliqued throat show no color bleeding into the surrounding petal tissue." The cultivars Chinese Scribe (Munson R. W. 1991) and Catcher in the Eye (Kinnebrew 2001) both exhibit this newly defined type of throat and eyezone.

Chinese Scribe (Munson R.W. 1991) & Catcher in the Eye (Kinnebrew 2001)

The second definition is for pattern and reads as follows from the Dictionary of Daylily terms on the society's website. "Pattern, Patterned: A daylily that exhibits variations in hue, value, or saturation of the base, midrib, or throat color, in such a way that a design is created beyond that of a bold or solid eye, band, halo or watermark, with or without simple picotee edging. This type of "patterning" includes but is not limited to, daylilies with concentric rings or feathering of color within the eyezone or elsewhere. It excludes selfs, simple bitones and simple bicolors." Cosmic Kaleidescope (Carpenter 2006), Marilyn Morss Johnson (Morss 2007), Screen Pattern (Stamile 2005), Jerry Hyatt (Hanson 2004), Westbourne Childhood Memories (Meadows M.J. 2005) and Little Trooper (Stamile G. 2008) are cultivars that show a few of the various designs of placement, color combination and shades of color seen in patterned daylilies.

Cosmic Kaleidescope (Carpenter 2006) & Marilyn Morss Johnson (Morss 2007)

Screen Pattern (Stamile 2005) & Jerry Hyatt (Hanson 2004)

Westbourne Childhood Memories (Meadows M.J. 2005)

Little Trooper (Stamile G. 2008)

Two other terms for patterns of color are stippled and striped. A stippled daylily has small clusters of cells of a different color than the base color of the tepal segments, giving a freckled, speckled or dotted pattern as seen in Kaleidescope Fantasy (Morss 1995) and Spacecoast Freaky Tiki (Kinnebrew 2006).

Kaleidescope Fantasy (Morss 1995) & Spacecoast Freaky Tiki (Kinnebrew 2006)

Daylilies with a stripe pattern have stripes of at least two different colors or shades of a color which extend outward from the top of the throat toward the tips of the segments. Two examples of striped daylilies are Pink Stripes (Derrow 2006) and Lovely Margie (Lovell 2005).

Pink Stripes (Derrow 2006) & Lovely Margie (Lovell 2005)

The edge or outer margin of the tepal segments is another place for color. The color of an edge can be the same as the segments in a self, Atlanta Southern Beauty (Petree 1991), can mimic the concentric rings of color seen in an eyezone, Windswept Dreams (Salter 2007), can be a darker shade of a color or a completely different color than the primary tepal color as seen in Cranberry Zinger (Rogers C. 2005) and Oh So Awesome (Salter 2008).

Atlanta Southern Beauty (Petree 1991) & Windswept Dreams (Salter 2007)

Cranberry Zinger (Rogers C. 2005) & Oh So Awesome (Salter 2008)

We can remove some of the mystery of color description by using the appropriate terms for placement of color. Referring to a bloom as purple and white takes on a different meaning when described as purple with a white edge, white with a purple eye, purple with a white watermark or a purple and white bicolor. The daylily provides us with a rainbow of color choices. With the language for color placement we can navigate the full spectrum of the rainbow.

Author's note: For the official terms and definitions related to color in daylilies please visit the registration guidelines and Dictionary of Daylily Terms on the American Hemerocallis Society website.

The definitions included here for Applique, Applique Throat and Pattern, Patterned are by copyright of the American Hemerocallis Society, Inc. All Rights Reserved, used with permission.

Leucanthemum Sweet Daisy™ Birdy

Sweet Daisy™ Birdy Leucanthemum is a beautiful perennial with robust, long-lasting blooms and carefree longevity in gardens down to zone 3. In the AAS Trials, it demonstrated excellent cold and heat tolerance and maintained a tidy, sturdy habit over the three-year trial. The cheery flowers are large and pure white in color, appearing earlier in the season than the comparison varieties. The 5″ reflexed daisy blooms feature small feathery petals around golden yellow button centers. Leucanthemums, also known as Shasta Daisies, are used for both cut flowers and garden highlights while also providing food and habitat for many kinds of pollinators. Enjoy this beauty in the garden as a medium-height bright spot (great for moonlight gardens) that will provide years of beauty with very little maintenance other than deadheading spent blooms if desired, but not necessary.

Available in plant form only.

Square Foot Raised Beds

Square foot gardening involves dividing the growing area into small square sections, typically 1 foot per square. The aim is to produce an intensively planted vegetable garden or a highly productive kitchen garden.

Using a raised bed for growing vegetables allows you to control the soil quality and prevent it from becoming compacted. Vegetable roots can grow unimpeded. The beds do not have to be very high off the ground to get the benefits from being in a raised bed. Even 6 to 8 inches can be enough.

These vegetable beds are enough to improve water drainage. This garden uses Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening technique to make layout easier and amp up the harvest.

Best Rose Companions, Companion Planting

Roses need friends or companion plants around them for various reasons, including pest and disease control, longer season of interest and aesthetics. Below are some basic rules to follow when pairing your favorite roses with other plants.

Rose 'Crocus' & Phacelia Tanacetifolia

Rose 'Anne Boleyn' & Viola

Rose 'Graham Thomas' & Digitalis purpurea

With such a multitude of companion plants to pair your roses with, you are sure to find several combinations that will enhance your landscape and please your eye!

How to Create Color and Textural Contrast in the Landscape

Ever wonder how professional garden designers put together color combinations and create perfect textural contrast in the landscape? By following a few basic principles, you can do it yourself! Here’s a quick visual study of how it’s done.

The Color Wheel

Artists, interior decorators and garden designers alike all use the same color wheel when choosing colors to pair together and you can, too. Here are a few key takeaways from this diagram:

Warm colors include shades of red, pink, magenta, orange, gold and yellow .

Cool colors include shades of chartreuse, blue, purple and violet .

Neutral colors in the garden include white, silver, tan, dark purple , dark green and near-black .

Harmonious colors are in close proximity to one another on the color wheel. For example, red and orange are harmonious colors.

Contrasting colors are positioned opposite or near opposite one another on the color wheel. For example, blue and orange are contrasting colors.

Now, let’s look how these color concepts play out in real life when we are choosing planting partners for our containers and the landscape.

Boost of Energy Recipe – A Harmonious Color Palette

Supertunia ® Royal Magenta ® Petunia

Supertunia ® Trailing Rose Veined Petunia

Blushing Princess ® Lobularia

Magenta and purple lie right next to one another on the color wheel which makes them harmonious , also known as related , colors. When you use a mix of such colors, the effect is visually unifying—all of the flowers look like they go together. From a distance, Boost of Energy combination would look purple.

You could get this look using any harmonious colors on the color wheel, for example yellow + orange, blue + purple or green + blue.

Summerfest Recipe – A Contrasting Color Palette

Supertunia ® Royal Velvet ® Petunia

Superbells ® Coralina Calibrachoa

Notice how different the purple flowers look in this combination when paired with contrasting, rather than harmonious , colors. The dark purple petunias recede while the contrasting bright yellow bidens flowers jump energetically out from the background. Coral is close to yellow on the color wheel, which help s t his duo create a nicely contrasting backdrop for the purple petunias. A mix of contrasting colors causes us to pause and take a closer look rather than visually taking in the whole thing at once like we do with a harmonious color combination.

In Our Element Recipe – Using a Color Echo

Supertunia Vista ® Fuchsia Petunia

Supertunia ® Mini Vista ™ White Petunia

Superbena Sparkling ® Rose Verbena

Using a color echo is an easy trick for mak ing a beautifully designed combination every time. A color echo means the color of one flower or plant is repeated in a different flower or plant in the same combination. For example, in the In Our Element recipe shown here, the fuchsia pink and white petunia colors are echoed in the bicolor patterned pink and white verbena flowers .

Color echoes can be done many ways. You could match the color of a daylily flower’s eye with a solid colored phlox of the same shade. Or you could pair the dark purple star-patterned center of Superbells ® Morning Star ™ calibrachoa with a solid dark purple Superbena. The variations are endless and so much fun to play around with!


Knowing how to pair colors together is important, but it’s not the only design element to master if you’re going to have a well-designed landscape and container combinations . Texture is a critical component too, specifically knowing how to pair plants with contrasting textures.

This full shade landscape pairs plants in a neutral color palette of green, chartreuse, silver, white and dark purple. But what really makes this scene dynamic is the mix of contrasting textures between all of the perennials. Silver, broad heart-shaped Brunnera leaves contrast with the narrow yellow bladed grass in front of it and the ferny foliage behind it. Pairing the solid chartreuse colored coral bells with the patterned Brunnera leaves also brings nice contrast even though both plants have somewhat broad, flat leaves.

The spiky texture and upright structure of the astilbe flowers in the background are a nice contrast to the mounded lungwort and coral bells in front of it. Their white color is echoed in the silver Brunnera leaves in front. Though this scene contains a lot of green, no two shades of green are exactly alike , and all of the leaf shapes are different. Both color and texture design elements are used to form an interesting composition.

If you look closely, you will see this perennial combination combines all three principles we’ve discussed—contrasting colors, color echo and contrasting textures. Fall in Love ™ ‘Sweetly’ Japanese anemones are adorned with yellow pollen laden centers which are echoed in the yellow sedge at their feet. Magenta pink and chartreuse yellow are contrasting colors on the color wheel. The relatively broad leaves of the Japanese anemone contrast nicely with the narrow bladed strappy sedge.

Brick Road Recipe – A study of warm, harmonious colors and textural cont r ast

ColorBlaze ® Sedona Sunset ™ Coleus

Rockapulco ® Orange Double Impatiens

Sweet Caroline Red Hawk ™ Sweet Potato Vine

ColorBlaze ® Chocolate Drop Coleus

This gorgeous combination looks so well-designed because it uses all of the principles we’ve discussed . Overall, this is a very warm color palette of deep purplish reds and shades of orange. All of these colors are close together on the color wheel, making this a harmonious color palette.

Look at the many different leaf shapes in this container recipe. We have broad, flat leaves near the top, pointy maple-shaped leaves throughout, and the small, scalloped, rounded leaves of the trailing coleus. The impatiens flowers are also rounded, echoing the shape of the trailing coleus leaves. By including such a diverse palette of foliage textures, it gives this entire container an energetic feel and our eyes linger to take it all in.

When you look at your favorite container recipes you are growing this year , study them through the lens of color and texture. Do they include a mix of contrasting or harmonious colors? If your favorites have contrasting colors, make a note to explore more contrasting color combinations for your pots next year. How is the mix of textures looking in your containers? Is there enough of a mix, or could you swap in a different plant with smaller or larger leaves for contrast instead? Make a note of that, too.

Mastering the use of color and texture in design takes some practice, but once you do, your containers and landscape will look like they were designed by a pro—YOU!

Watch the video: Growing Bicolor Flowers

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