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Design As A Factor In Flower Arrangement; Color Harmonies

( Originally Published 1923 )

In all floral decorations it is easier to arrange material if but one species is used; monotony, however, is avoided and the composition is more interesting if combinations of two or more species are made. In such combinations there must of necessity be variations in both form and color. The beauty of the composition is enhanced or decreased, depending upon the selection made of the varying types of flowers and foliage. Variations in forms are most generally those of contrast, for it is very difficult to find in flowering material, two forms in different species which are analogous. The Compositæ, such as the Daisies, Asters, Calendulas and single Chrysanthemums, furnishes many varieties similar in form. The Leguminosiæ, also, has harmonizing forms. Often the contrast in the forms of the flowers, or in the forms of the flower from that of the leaf, increases the effectiveness of both.

One writer has said that the leaf and flower of the Cyclamen is a most excellent illustration of correct design. (See page 178.) The contrast between the form of the leaf and the form of the flower is so pronounced that value is added to each. The outline of the leaf is striking. It illustrates the principle of gradation, for the curve in-creases gradually and at a certain ordered rate from the nearly straight point to the full rounded base. The curve on each side of the leaf is uniform and symmetrical in character like the outline of a Greek vase. This gives shape balance. A study of the markings of the leaf reveals much of interest. The surface is decorated with a number of light spots, distributed regularly over it. Looking at it critically we find that the spots are very much alike in shape (shape harmony). If they were not, each spot would require special attention and the leaf would become uninteresting because of the confusion. The repetition of the spots in an orderly way from the smaller spots near the tip to the gradually enlarged spots at the base gives an appearance of restfulness and unity to the design. There is also variation in the intensity of the coloring (tone balance). Variety is introduced which relieves monotony, yet in no haphazard way. Much of the value of artistic flower arrangement comes from the art of so balancing our work that it never bores because of its monotony or confusion. When one studies the veining of the leaf it is found that there is an excellent illustration of the principle of radiation of line. One vein radiates beautifully from another, beginning at the prominent midrib and ending in delicate linings at the margin.

In all flower arrangements we should have color harmony. This may be harmony of contrast, harmony of analogy, complementary harmony or dominant harmony.

"Contrast of color is due to the modifications in the appearance of colors that are caused by the differences in hue, brightness and purity of adjacent or contiguous color."

"If any two colors differing in hue, are placed together their difference will be increased and each of the colors will be slightly tinged as if mixed with the complementary of the other."

The most pronounced harmony of contrast is illustrated when one of the so-called fundamental colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue or violet—is combined with a neutral color such as gray, black or white. A vase of Hadley and White Killarney Roses would represent such a harmony. These varieties are so similar in their shape, the composition is more interesting than if flowers of different species were combined as, for example, Hadley Roses and Paperwhite Narcissi.

Complementary harmonies are less pronounced in their differences. The definition of complementary colors as given in Chapter VI, states that any two colors which by their union produce white, constitute a complementary harmony. The colors most frequently named as complementary are: red and green-blue, orange and green-blue, yellow and blue, green-yellow and violet, green and purple. Thus an arrangement of blue annual Larkspur, Delphinium Ajacis, and orange Calendulas would produce such a complementary harmony. Here, however, there are differences of form, but the composition does not lose in interest because of this.

Dominant and analogous harmonies are combinations which more nearly approach each other in the spectrum scale. In his excellent and most artistic book on *"The Flower Beautiful," Clarence Moores Weed describes these harmonies thus: "According to the most approved principles of color relation, the idea of harmony in color implies a common element. Thus, in what is often called a dominant harmony, different tones of the same color are placed together, such as the arrangement of a light tint of blue with a dark shade of blue. Such harmonies are easily made with many flowers, especially Sweet Peas, Asters, Poppies and Marigolds. Somewhat similar to the dominant harmony is the analogous harmony. This is made when tones from neighboring colors on the spectrum are placed near together." The example of analogous harmony given by Professor Weed is that of red-violet Comet Asters combined with violet-red varieties of the same species.

Vivid red, yellow or blue colors are always difficult to harmonize. Often, however, it is necessary to use these colors in a so-called color scheme. The colors of the Rotary Club for example, are blue and yellow, and are often used in decorations for that organization. In the use of such brilliant colors, care should be taken to use one in a much greater proportion either as to numbers or intensity of coloring. If the two colors are used in nearly the same proportion, each color will appear to be striving for the mastery and the decorative effect will not be so agreeable. One or the other of the colors must be distinctly dominant, if there is to be a correct sense of pro-portion and color balance. Ward says: "One color, either in area or intensity, ought to be in excess of any other color in a good composition; this will give piquancy and character to the whole arrangement." The same principle should be observed where three or more colors are used in the composition. This is, in a way, a similar principle to that discussed under decorative effects for halls and living rooms, in that there should be in every decoration a "point of emphasis."

Successful decorators have a natural ability to select harmonious colors in the proper proportion. There can be no hard and fast rules for selection, especially in flower arrangements. It must be made a subject of study and each decorator should try different color combinations in varying proportions and intensities to determine which are the most pleasing.

Every student of color should have, for a study of harmonious combination, a set of color slips such as may be obtained from the Milton Bradley Co., Springfield, Mass. These may be cut in strips and various combinations made, so that pleasing groups of colors may be demonstrated.

In *"Color Harmony and Contrast," Ward gives the following table of agreeable contrasts:

1. Heliotrope and light amber.

2. Violet and amber.

3. Violet and light yellowish pink.

4. Ultramarine and dark yellow-green.

5. Gray-blue and light golden ochre.

6. Plum-purple and orange amber.

7. Plum-violet and sage-green.

8. Brownish yellow and deep, warm green.

9. Dull orange and slate blue.

10. Dull indigo and dull orange.

11. Slate blue and grayish-yellow-green.

12. Claret and buff.

13. Deep blue and yellowish pink.

14. Chocolate and pea-green.

15. Maroon and warm green.

16. Black and bronze-yellow-green.

17. Deep red and medium gray.

18. Venetian red and gray-yellow-green.

19. Coral-red and turquoise.

20. Chamois and lavender.

21. Deep crimson and yellowish-green.

22. Deep golden yellow and sea-green.

23. Golden brown and olive green.

24. Pale turquoise and pale orange.

25. Deep blue and yellowish green.

26. Indigo and light olive green.

Ward suggests the following groups of three color or "triads" as affording agreeable combinations:

1. Red Yellow or Gold Blue

2. Blue, medium Turquoise Orange-yellow

3. Olive-green Blue, dark Amber, deep

4. Orange Gray-blue Cream color

5. Orange-red Blue-green, dark Yellowish-green, dark

6. Crimson, deep Stone color, dark Greenish-yellow, darkened

7. Crimson, deep Leather color, light Blue, medium

8. Purple Pale orange Green-blue

9. Gray-blue Amber Greenish gold

10. Violet Orange-yellow Green

11. Ruby-red Blue-green Greenish-gold

12. Scarlet Olive-green Violet-blue

13. Purple Yellow Gray-green

14. Lavender Orange, dull Yellow-green

15. Venetian red, dark Chamois, deep Sea-green

16. Indigo Orange-red Greenish-yellow, deep

17. Leaf green Orange, pale Pink, pale

18. Coral red Ultramarine Orange, amber

The student of flower arrangement soon becomes ex-pert in combining material varied both in form and color. The amateur will probably get more interesting results if colored flowers are combined with white. Often, however, certain color schemes are desired and the following are suggested:


1. Coreopsis tinctoria—Orange-yellow. Coreopsis tinctoria—Claret-brown.

2. Coreopsis lanceolata—Lemon-chrome. Delphinium chinensis—Ultramarine-blue.

3. Phlox Drummondii—Carmine. Phlox Drummondii—Rose-pink.

4. Coreopsis lanceolata—Lemon-chrome. Antirrhinum majus, variety Defiance—Ochraceous-orange.

5. Anthemis tinctoria—Strontian-yellow. Delphinium chinensis—Ultramarine-blue.

6. Monarda fistulosa—Hortense-violet. Penstemon barbatus, variety Torreyi—Red.

7. Phlox Drummondii—Buff. Dianthus chinensis—Crimson.

8. Tulipa Gesneriana, variety rosea—Deep rose. Myosotis Sutton's Royal Blue—Indigo-blue.

9. Narcissus Orange Phoenix—Cadmium-yellow to lemon-chrome.

Scilla sibirica—Indigo-blue.

10. Lythrum superbum—Phlox-purple. Antirrhinum majus—Pale lemon-yellow.

11. Salpiglossis sinuata—Maroon. Salpiglossis sinuata—Cadmium-yellow.

12. Cosmos bipinnatus-Mallow-pink. Limonium (Statice) Bonduellii—Pale lemon-yellow.


1. Coreopsis tinctoria—Orange-yellow.
Coreopsis tinctoria—Claret-brown.
Delphinium chinensis—Ultramarine-blue.

2. Phlox Drummondii—Buff.
Dianthus chinensis—Carmine.
Campanula carpatica—Blue-violet.

3. Coreopsis lanceolata—Lemon-chrome.
Veronica longifolia—Gentian-blue.
Phlox Drummondii—Rose.

4. Delphinium chinensis—Ultramarine-blue.
Eryngium amethystinum—Silver gray-blue.
Foliage of Eryngium amethystinum—Deep glaucous-gray.

5. Antirrhinum magus, variety Defiance—Ochraceous-orange.
Antirrhinum majus, variety Nelrose—Eosine-pink.
Campanula carpatica—Blue-violet.

6. Anthemis tinctoria—Strontian-yellow.
Campanula carpatica—Blue-violet.
Eryngium amethystinum—Silvery gray-blue.

7. Phlox Drummondii—Rose-pink.
Verbena hybrida—Maroon.
Delphinium chinensis—Ultramarine-blue.

8. Shasta Daisies—White, yellow center.
Echinacea purpurea—Indian Lake.
Coreopsis lanceolata—Lemon-chrome.

9. Helianthus divaricatus—Light-cadmium.
Echinacea purpurea—Indian Lake.
Echinops Ritro—Gray-blue.


1. Hosta (Funkia) undulata—Pale Hortense-blue
Gypsophila perfoliata—Hermosa-pink.
Platycodon grandiflora—Violet-ultramarine.
Phlox Drummondii—Carmine.

2. Helianthus divaricatus—Light cadmium.
Echinacea purpurea—Indian Lake.
Echinops Ritro-Gray-blue.
Eryngium amethystinum—Silvery gray-blue.

3. Cosmos bipinnatus, variety Lady Lenox—Mallow-pink.
Shasta Daisies—White with lemon-yellow center.
Coreopsis lanceolata—Lemon-chrome.
Gypsophila perfoliata—Hermosa-pink

In each group some tone of green may be used. The particular tone for each combination may be suggested by the natural foliage of some member of the group, for often the interest in a composition is heightened by selecting just the right color of foliage.

In the use of both flowers and foliage it must be remembered that the texture of the petals or leaves influences the color effect to a marked degree. Some are smooth and shining, reflecting the light, and thus appearing brighter and with a greater degree of luminosity. When the petals or leaves are velvety, quite a different intensity is produced, even if the colors, in respect to the spectrum scale, are similar to the smooth ones. The use of flowers of a velvety texture, especially for vase arrangements or table decorations, if used in natural light, are very rich and pleasing; under artificial light they are less so.

Students of color effects in flower arrangement will find the Taylor Color Harmony Chart* very helpful in creating distinctive combinations. The Taylor System of Color Harmony is a visible method of combining colors easily and correctly. It was named for Henry Fitch Taylor, its originator, and one of America's well-known artists. With the use of the chart its publishers have determined and printed the following lists which may be helpful:

RED (pink, rose, mahogany, garnet, maroon, etc., belong to the family of red).—Amaryllis, Anemone, Arbutus (Epigæa), Balsam (Impatiens), Calceolaria, Camellia, Cineraria, Cockscomb, Cyclamen, Gaillardia, Geranium, Transvaal Daisy (Gerbera), Heather (Erica), Hyacinth, Lantana, Laurel (Kalmia), Lupine, Poppy, Rose, Schizanthus, Stock, Sweet Pea, Tulip.

RED-ORANGE (salmon, peach, scarlet, belong to the family of red-orange).—Amaryllis, Cyclamen, colored Freesia (Freesia hybrida), Geranium, Gerbera, Gladiolus, Impatiens, Lupine, Pansy, Poppy, Rose, Snap-dragon, Stock, Tritoma, Tulip.

ORANGE.—Calendula, Gerbera, Gladiolus, Iris, Lantana, Lily, Tritoma, Marigold, Nasturtium, Snapdragon.

ORANGE-YELLOW.—Calendula, Daffodil, Iris, Jonquil, Lily, Nasturtium, Rose, Schizanthus, Tritoma, Tulip.

YELLOW.—Calendula, Calceolaria, Carnation, Freesia, Gaillardia, Gerbera, Gladiolus, Hyacinth, Iris, Lily, Lupine, Nasturtium, Orchid (Oncidium), Pansy, Prim-rose, Polyanthus (Primula), Rose, Schizanthus, Snap-dragon, Stock, Sweet Pea, Tansy, Tulip.

YELLOW-GREEN.—Mignonette, Orchid (Cymbidium). GREEN.—NO color problem.

GREEN-BLUE (Turquoise).—Browallia, Forget-me-not.

BLUE.-Ageratum, Bluebell (Campanula), Cineraria, Forget-me-not, Hyacinth, Hydrangea, Iris, Larkspur, Lobelia, Lupine, Polyanthus, Poppy, Stock, Tulip.

BLUE-VIOLET.-Anemone, Bluebell (Campanula), Gentian, Heliotrope, Hyacinth, Iris, Larkspur, Periwinkle.

VIOLET.-Sweet Pea, Anemone, Cineraria, Cyclamen, Gerbera, Heather (Erica), Hyacinth, Hydrangea, Iris, Lupine, Pansy, Polyanthus, Poppy, Primrose, Schizanthus, Stock, Sweet Pea, Trillium, Violet.

VIOLET-RED (Magenta).—Anemone, Azalea, Begonia, Cineraria, Cyclamen, Gerbera, Gladiolus, Heather, Hydrangea, Orchid (Cattleya), Pansy, Petunia, American Beauty Rose, Rambler Rose, Schizanthus, Stock, Sweet Pea, Tritoma, Tulip.

The use of colors for different degrees of illumination should be studied carefully. Some species seem adapted especially for the darker corners of the living room, and if placed in strong light or in artificial light, their value is diminished. Blue and purple should be avoided for evening decorations, as pale blue loses in its intensity under artificial light and dark blue becomes almost black. I once had occasion to decorate for an evening banquet where it was requested that the color scheme be the colors of the organization, pale blue and pink, and that Forget-me-nots be used. The request was complied with, but the effect was not pleasing, for in the artificial light, the blue of the Forget-me-nots became indiscernible. If deep blue Cinerarias be used as a hall decoration for an evening function, they are not noticed in the artificial light because of their increased somberness. Yellow also loses in intensity but this is often an advantage, for many of the deeper shades lose their harshness and blend well with the general scheme of the decoration. Many varieties of Helianthus have fine, decorative value because of their large size, but they are somewhat coarse for small rooms and particularly intense in their colorings. Under artificial light and in a large hall they are beautiful. Pink, especially the deeper shades, also rose and red colorings, are attractive for evening color schemes.

One of the principal factors to be observed in successful decoration is that "the setting has to do with the value of the composition." As has been stated, certain combinations and species are most effective in the high lights of the window, while others lose their value when so placed. There are certain backgrounds which increase the intensity of the coloration and others which reduce it. One should study carefully the location which will bring out best all the value of the flower arrangement. The effect of adjacent draperies or other interior decorations should also be studied. I have been called upon frequently to decorate a stage where the curtains are deep red. In themselves they are very rich and effective as the wall decorations are a gray notan of high value with trimmings of gold, but the colors of plant material which should be used with such a setting is limited and the selection of the color scheme requires careful study. A reception room decorated in blue and gold presents quite another problem, as does one with old-rose draperies.

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