Color - in Pursuit of Blue

botanierra(z5 WI)April 27, 2012

Why is it that horticulturists seem to have a clear understanding of red, yellow and green, but they get completely lost with BLUE?

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Ummmm, would you like to explain your statement? It seems just a tad over generalized and I'm not at all sure what your premise is.........we don't know our colors?

Color interpretation is highly subjective. Just saying :-)) And reproduced colors open up a huge can of worms - what may be "blue" (or "red") in real life may very well photograph entirely differently based on time of day, amount of light, method of photography, etc., etc., etc.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 7:44PM
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Blue: the most misunderstood colour of them all. There is no limit what people can call blue.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 8:09PM
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I would think that the poster means that often a bloom is called "blue" when it's really purple. Seems to happen an awful lot, IMO.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 8:37PM
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botanierra(z5 WI)

Exactly, wieslaw59 & diggerdee. Blue is my absolute favorite color. There definitely are true blues in the horticultural spectrum; however, many horticulturalists seem to be a bit color blind. In my earlier years as a gardener, I fell for the blather in several of the catalogs (even higher end) and ordered items, only to be disappointed. Over the years, I have learned that it's a mix in terms of responsibility. The horticulturalists who name it "blue" and those who catalog the photographs. If I have not seen a bloom "in the flesh," I have a hard time believing it's actually blue. This doesn't happen for me with other colors.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 9:20AM
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botanierra(z5 WI)

Just to clarify a bit for gardengal48: I understand that cote d'azur means shade or essence of blue. I completely understand about how light and shadow can play upon certain delicate blues, and cameras vary. Flax linum may look very blue on a cloudy or partly cloudy day, while turning periwinkle in direct sunlight. Delphs are generally so dependable. The delphiniums named blue are typically truly blue. Even ceratostigma plumbaginoides are an actual shade of beautiful blue, although the more tropical plumbagos are risky - some are definitely more lavender or periwinkle. Most blue gentians I have found are truly blue. But I have yet to see a blue clematis, in spite of all those being touted as "blue," with the exception of one called bushy bell. So far, every "blue" iris I have ever seen is more purple, lavender or orchid than actual blue; and the "blue" rose or "blue" tulip?? Please. I guess the developing horticulturists *want* it to be blue so very badly that any hint of blue makes it so. And badly blue is what we get. Who looks at a car or a dress the color of one of these badly named blooms and would ever call it blue? Artists seem to know their blues. So why not the horticulturist developing new varieties? I guess after 35 years of serious gardening and studying the garden, I'm a little frustrated at times in the pursuit of providing my landscape with a variety of plants in the color I most enjoy. If I pay for blue, I would like it to be blue; just as if I pay for white, it should be white, etc. The garden should not be the exception.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 10:20AM
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mytime(3/4 Alaska)

I fell for the description of Dianthus amurensis, "closest yet to a true blue" dianthus. I wouldn't even call it purple or lilac or lavender or periwinkle...I'd call it pink!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 10:35AM
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One of my closest friends drives me crazy over this very subject. What she calls "blue" is definitely "purple" and I have the hardest time discussing blooming plants with her sometimes! ha.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 10:57AM
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Amsonia 'Blue Ice' looks blue. As does Brunnera 'Jack Frost.' Blue looks good with violet/purple anyways. They are still in the cool color shades.

Purple comeflowers are pink so sometimes they can't even get purple right.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 10:59AM
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Blues that are actually purple or purple-blue are common catalog "mistakes", but other colors get mischaracterized as well.

I'm still stewing about an annual whose flowers were promoted as carmine, leading to a mass planting that turned out pink.

Add to false descriptions with misleading and retouched photos (i'm looking at you, Thompson & Morgan) and there's always potential for disappointment.

For blue, just stick to gentians and Himalayan blue poppies and you'll be fine. ;)

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 11:13AM
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That's it! Himalayan blue poppies! You just solved a problem for me!!! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYy.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 1:30PM
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botanierra(z5 WI)

I have seeds for Himalayan blue poppies (the plants I have found for these are so very expensive, considering the risk); I will be taking the plunge to germinate them this week. I'm barely in zone 5, so am hoping hard the blue poppies will do well.

I love my delphs. They are awesome. And the groundcover plumbago is beautiful. I have seen it up close and personal, so: getting some. There are some gorgeous Chilean crocus that are truly blue, but extremely rare, therefore expensive.

It really felt good reading some of the commiserate comments. Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 10:50PM
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I love pure blue, but I must admit, that in terms of 'garden visibility', pure light blue (like Himalayan blue poppy) is not THAT visible from a distance, as violet-blue shades are. As far as Amsonias go, they are all pastel blue with me, but without violet tinge.

Try to type 'mauve' in google and click on 'pictures'. There are dozens of different colours , all called mauve.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 6:12AM
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botanierra(z5 WI)

I have the Butterfly Blue Dwarf Delphinium. I first got them because their color was so stunning, when I spotted them as I was driving down the road, I *had* to stop and see them. True indigo blue (just like an Indigo Bunting bird) even in bright sun.

I should also get more of those.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 9:59PM
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Terry -

Since no one here mentioned Lithodora, it's another "true blue" you can
add to your list. . .while it can be a bit finicky to grow, I knew it had come
into it's own when they showed up at Home Depot this Spring!

I share your passion for blue, AND your frustration over the years with
trying to zero in on "true blue". . .after many years, I have come to accept
(and enjoy!) my "blue" garden, which, in reality, is "bluish" or a collection of
"shades of blue". Probably the most important change I made in recent
years, was the addition of a smattering of pale(!) yellows and whites to the
otherwise "bluish" garden - it both highlights and ties together all the disparate shades and now makes an "almost blue" garden a pleasure. . .


    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 1:10PM
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mytime(3/4 Alaska)

I too saw Lithodora at H.D. yesterday, and immediately thought of this thread. My other thought was, "I'm not going to try it again...I'm tired of finding it dead every spring."

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 11:37PM
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Well, true blue flowers not common, especially the deep cobalt blue variety. Many of the blue tend to be toward a purple color.

When I think of blue, I think:

Siberian Squill
forget me nots


    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 7:19AM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

I was a florist for over twenty years and am very anal about color.

All of my Brunnera are true blue. I have never seen a true blue Vinca/periwinkle they are all periwinkle which is lavender blue or just lavender. I have never seen a true blue Clematis in person, photos don't count, too many variables. There are true blue iris, used them for years as a florist, of course delphinium and forget me nots.

I find red more annoying than blue. Many flowers called red by many are hot pink/magenta to me. There are a bunch of Clematis called red that I don't think are even close.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 11:05AM
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chills71(Zone 6b Mi)

blue flax...

true blue in the garden right now...


    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 7:51PM
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mytime(3/4 Alaska)

What about Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, blue leadwort? I haven't ever seen it, but in most of the photos I see, it really looks blue.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 12:31AM
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botanierra(z5 WI)

Carl: We are of the same spirit in regard to colors. My very favorite color combination is just that: Blue, Yellow & White. It varies from year to year as to how much the Blue dominates.

Paul: I'm totally with you on the Siberian Squill, delphiniums & forget-me-nots. Not so much on those others for a true blue. Perspective, I guess.

@ buyorsell888: Ah, the "true blue Iris, the florist's favorite". Again, must be perspective. They look purple-y to me, especially in sunlight. However, now that you mention Iris, I do have some delightful sky blue dwarf Iris - the bearded ones. They were a gift from the garden of one of my sisters-in-law, so I don't know the name, but they *are* so precious.

@ mytime: Hmmm. I confess, I had not heard of Lithodora somehow. Perhaps few nurseries or garden centers stocI it here due to zone hardiness. I am barely in Zone 5a. But I liked the pics I saw online, and would try it. Thank you for that. I do have the Creeping Plumbago (ceratostigma plumbaginoides). A real blue indeed.

You guys are all great and I thoroughly appreciate the responses.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 10:20AM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, blue leadwort is indeed true blue.

There is a picture on the page below of the blue Dutch Iris used as a cut flower, there is also a sky blue. There are some shades called blue that are purple/lavender. I believe there are true blue bearded iris as well and I've got Iris reticulata, in my garden that are really blue too. They are a sweet very early dwarf bulb iris, do come in sky blue and purple too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blue Dutch Iris

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 12:46PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin' sky blue dwarf bulb iris. Mine were destroyed by hail this year so I have no pictures from my own garden but they are true blue. :)

Here is a link that might be useful: sky blue dwarf iris

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 12:48PM
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As a painter I would tell you that things you think are a fixed color actually vary rather greatly in hue according to reflected light. You also tend to see what you think you should see. I have a galvanized metal roof and nine out of ten of you would look at my roof and see silver, but actually it is almost never silver. Usually since it is reflecting the sky it is pale blue, lavender or sometimes even pink or warm notes of pale yellow. But since you know it is silver you see silver or gray and miss all the great stuff.

For plants what I've noticed is that one of the reason we don't see vivid blues is because the blooms are usually surrounded by green foliage. Colors tend bring out the notes of their compliments (opposite of each other on the color wheel) when situated next to each other. Red is the compliment of green so all that green foliage will tend to bring out the red casts in any blues--moving them toward purple. If you want to bring out the blueness of something put orange/peach near it.

For the most part I try not to focus on a single color and instead want to see and play with how different colors play off of each other--not dissimilar to put different foliage textures together so the differences make each of them sing a bit more. But color is very personal and I've never been convinced we all see the same thing!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 4:33PM
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botanierra(z5 WI)

@ carl18: Correction. I see t was your post that first mentioned the Lithodora. (How did I miss that?) Thank you. I will check out our local Home Depot, just in case.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 5:45PM
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botanierra(z5 WI)

It's always somewhat about the light. In darkness, color does not exist. And from shade to shadow to filtered to direct sun, color can vary. This has in some measure already been stated in previous posts. That being said, the elements that cause hues of purple or green to emerge are not present in a true blue, as blue *is* a primary color. Therefore, if it is indeed a true blue, in fact, it will not appear otherwise face to face - in any light. I have such plants. Further, even *if* a photo, for any reason, is inaccurate, the person responsible for describing a bloom for catalog purposes should know their material well enough not to misrepresent it. That is my main issue. And I am pointedly aware that countless other gardeners share my frustration. There are companies that simply will not get my repeat business because of more than a couple of infractions. I love doing trades, whenever the opportunity avails itself, with trusted friends. I actually feel the same way about white-blooming hostas. Not that crazy about pink and purple ones, as some once cross-pollinated with my August Lilies and ruined them. There are few greater joys in life for me (on the material plane) than Blues and Whites in the garden.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 3:56PM
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I love the true deep dark blue of Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate'.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2012 at 11:19AM
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steve I love this plant. Beautiful foliage colour, beautiful flower. Thus spring I keep seeing 'Sunshine Charm' spiderwort. It looks very similar to 'Sweet Kate'...what are the differences?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2012 at 5:06PM
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mistascott(7A VA)

Sweet Kate looks like deep purple to me. It is all in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

I observe very few true blues. Texas bluebonnets (some are more blue than others while others fade to a light purple) can look like a true royal blue to me.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2012 at 10:49PM
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I love the electic blue of Salvia Black and is beautiful.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 9:29PM
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The truest blue flower that i have grown in my garden
is the plumbago.. to me it was a gorgeous sky blue!
But mine didnt winter over so if it was a perennial,
it was too tender for my area.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 12:20AM
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Nearly all Gentianas are true blue. Gentiana asclepiada propagated from seed can give many true blue seedlings, but it can differ depending on origin.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 4:06AM
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buyorsell888 wrote:

There are a bunch of Clematis called red that I don't think are even close.

If you are seeking a red clem. I encourage you to take a look at the clematis 'Rebecca'. I consider its flower colour as close to what most would consider as 'true' red as one can get. I have one in my garden and its blooms are fire engine red.

Here is a link that might be useful: very red clem

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 9:34AM
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I'm been trying to have a blue garden for years, and never get there. But I'm making a dent in my shade area. I have many forget me nots, and I just bought a few brunnera (although so expensive). Also have blue columbine that reseeds like crazy. I bought gentian twice and both died, so I have to give up on those. Maybe I'll try them from seed? No luck with plumbago or jacobs ladder!

I love blue lobelia even though its an annual and needs sun.

Thanks for sharing your love of BLUES everyone!!!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 10:36AM
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Mertie(Z5 MI)

How about Platycodon Grandiflorus: Balloon Flower.
I love the true blue of mine.
Also, as mentioned Tradescantia: Spiderwort.
I also love Butterfly Blue Dwarf Delphinium.
Good luck

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 2:31PM
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mistascott(7A VA)

Platycodon is purple to me.

A (rare) true blue is Italian Bugloss.

See a difference? To me, the bugloss is true blue but the platycodon is not.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 1:37AM
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mistascott(7A VA)

Not sure if the above pics work, so here is another try:

Platycodon (purple to me):

Bugloss (true blue to me):

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 1:43AM
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An additional point: to this forum and to the saved discussion "Why Blue?".

Current research into colour perception supports the idea that many females have an additional colour receptor in the retinas of their eyes. All, or most, men lack this receptor which is associated with perception of the colour red.

This could explain why my wife and I frequently disagree on whether a particular flower colour is blue or purple, with me saying blue and her purple.

It may well be that there is a biological basis for greater colour discrimination in women than men.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 1:25PM
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mytime(3/4 Alaska)

I found out something interesting by mistake yesterday. I had a bouquet of flowers of nearly identical colors...some dahlias, liatris, astilbe, and dianthus (D. amurensis, Siberian Blues). The dianthus almost perfectly matched one of the dahlias...Vassio Meggos. I took pictures in various the house no flash, outside in the shade, outside in the sun, inside under the kitchen lights, and inside with a flash. Although all these flowers were very similar colors to the naked eye, they all had varying changes when photographed, depending on the lighting used. The most striking difference was the dianthus, which came out true blue in one of the photos, even though none of the other, similar and in one case nearly identical, colors came out blue. I wish I'd saved it to post here, but the color of the dianthus was so far off that I deleted it. The link below shows one of the photos...the dianthus shows up darker and bluer than it really is, and the "matching" dahlia shows up slightly pinker. In the garden they grow next to each other, and you would swear they were exactly the same color.

Here is a link that might be useful: my flowers

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 2:03AM
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botanierra(z5 WI)

Here it is the dead of Winter, and of course, I am thinking: Flowers! I have enjoyed everyone's posts so much. Thank you all for contributing. I have learned some things, for which I am truly grateful. It will be purely delightful to see if any other posts are added to this thread. Who knows what might come to light regarding beautiful blues for our gardens. I hope to be trying some some lovely new items this coming year. Happy planning to all!

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 7:34PM
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mistascott(7A VA)

Here is a picture of Evolvulus glomeratus 'Blue Daze,' which also comes mighty close to true blue in my opinion. Grown as an annual below Zone 8.

This post was edited by mistascott on Wed, Dec 19, 12 at 15:37

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 3:34PM
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NHBabs z4b-5a NH

Thanks, Mistascott for posting the Evolvulus. I was planning to take a photo of mine, which I am overwintering in the house, but it currently only has a couple of blooms and I have no other photos of it. Although this doesn't overwinter outside for me, I have found it quite easy to overwinter indoors. Since it tends to be difficult to find other than mail order, I plant at least one in a pot small enough to bring inside and then try to remember to bring it in before the first hard frost. It's a lovely plant and not hard to keep as a perennial even if it is only half-hardy.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 8:19AM
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botanierra(z5 WI)

Oh! I had some of this (Evolvulus) several years back. I confess, I had somehow forgotten all about it - probably when we moved to our current property. It is a lovely shade of blue. Thank you so much for the reminder w/photo. I knew it as Hawaiian Blue Eyes. I do need to get some - great for containers.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2012 at 2:19PM
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