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Multicolored gerber daisies, such as these from Maldonado Growers at the Carlsbad Farmers Market, add hot color to a sunset garden. Photo by Jano Nightingale
Arts & EntertainmentColumnsJano's Garden

Create a colorful garden

When I think of color in the garden, I always turn to my books about Claude Monet. Not only was he the foremost Impressionist painter of his time, but his garden in Giverny, France, is still maintained as a showpiece for the premier example of the ultimate color garden.

He planted his gardens according to the theory of Michel-Eugene Chevreul, who published the first color wheel. Chevreul explained that opposites on the color wheel make the best contrasts and that the combination of two or more colors could produce the effect of a separate color when viewed from a distance.


On the west side of his flower garden, Monet planted hot colors — bright yellow, orange and scarlet — that were intensified by the warm rays of the setting sun. The “Sunset Garden,” as it was called, encouraged visitors to linger and watch the brilliant colors reflect in the sunset.

According to Derek Fell’s “Secrets of Monet’s Garden,” art critic and Giverny garden visitor Octave Mirbeau observed: “Flowers in hot colors are absolutely brilliant positioned in sunny spots. Nasturtiums in all colors and saffron-colored wallflowers collapse in blinding ruins on both sides of the sandy pathway…

“In the wide flower beds surges the surprising magic of the poppies while the purple iris brightens the borders.”

The combination of the brilliant orange and dark purple in Monet’s garden reflect the theory of the color wheel that using opposites on the color wheel create a stunning effect.

Hollywood hibiscus provides a hot color for a sunset garden. Photo by Jano Nightingale


Using the same theory of color opposites, we can create an orange and purple sunset garden here in Southern California.

In our North County climate, we are blessed with almost wild hemerocallis, or as we fondly call them, tiger lilies, which can be found in and around many backyards and public buildings. They grow quickly and can be divided between friends and neighbors.

These lilies are available as starter lilies (in bags) or full grown in 5-gallon pots from the garden center.

An equally fiery display can be found in the wide selection of gerber daisies, now available at our favorite garden shops. These multicolored gems are perfect to plant in your border garden or in large terra cotta pots and can be cut weekly to bring indoors as cut flowers.

Don’t forget nasturtium, Monet’s favorite border flower, which can be planted from seed or as seedlings. Just remember, they do reseed, so place them in a spot where they can roam freely.


Choose a purple, blue or mauve backdrop to your sunset garden with salvia, or purple sage, which adds the Prussian blue foliage to the brilliant yellow-orange display. The combination of these colors will make your neighbors stop in their tracks to view the perfect light at sunset.


If you observe your garden at various times of the day, you will notice how the light affects your plants.

The plants on the east side of Monet’s garden were dominated by cool colors: light pink, purple mauve and pale yellow. The cool light of the rising sun sharpened these colors, producing a beautifully soothing effect, known as the “Sunrise Borders.”


If you frequent a garden center, ask the staff to point you in the direction of blue and white plants.

Fill your cart with blue delphinium, lavender larkspur and purple sage and highlight with bright white daisy, foxglove and artemisia with a backdrop of green lamb’s ear. Place them together on your cart to see if you have achieved the effect you desire, then go home and plant.


I cannot say enough about the multitude of resources available in bookstores and local libraries available to excite your garden planting designs.

I highly recommend the foremost book on the planning and executing a Monet-inspired garden, Monet’s Passion,” by Elizabeth Murray. Murray not only wrote the book on Monet, she also lived and worked at Giverny as a gardener.

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist who loves to research famous gardens. She teaches vegetable gardening at the Carlsbad Senior Center Community Garden. Contact her for upcoming classes at [email protected] or call the Carlsbad Senior Center, (442) 339-2650.

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