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Finally, I have full-fledged wide-open flowers to show you in my own garden. Look at these beauties. I love a flower that contains a built-in colour complement, and this is a classic, with the bright yellow reproductive parts nestled in a purple star of petals, looking ever so bright and hopeful. Pasque flower is a charming and highly interesting compact perennial that puts on one of the first floral displays of the season, as the crocus are blooming, and rockcress just starting to open. The flowers close at night, and stay droopy and partially closed on cold or wet mornings . This is a common adaptation of early spring bloomers, protecting the delicate floral parts, and only opening them to view when it is warm and dry enough for pollinators to be exploring.

Returning to colour for a moment, you should take the time to Google the colour wheel some time. It is very fascinating that certain quite predictable colour relationships are so appealing to the human eye, such as harmonies and complements (even the nouns are attractive!). And it’s not just in floral colour… the principles apply to interior paint colours, clothing colours, anywhere in the natural or human world. Opposite colours on the wheel such as red with green, orange with blue, and violet with yellow ( pasque flower), all have a bold and appealing effect on the human eye. If you look closely at these exquisite flowers, not only are the stamens bright yellow against the violet-purple of the petals, but a softer repetition of the violet occurs on the stigmas (female parts) in the very center. These colour effects are sometimes quite subtle, but it’s fascinating to understand what is affecting us sub-conscientiously.

When the complementary colours are vivid, such as the bright red of poinsettia flowers against their green foliage, the effect is striking. That is why bold red flowers like peonies, begonias, and celosia are a sure hit… the complement is automatic. You can plan complementary pairings in your home garden. You just have to know when the bloom times are, then you could plant, for instance, blue delphinium beside orange daylily, or purple petunias against a patch of yellow-blooming perennial coreopsis. It’s fun to plan the display, then wait for the flowers to put on their show.

The other relationship illustrated on the colour wheel is that of harmonies, which are colours close or next to each other on the wheel, such as lilac, mauve, and purple. They share the common elements of red and blue in various amounts, so they tend to go together smoothly and attractively to the human eye, not in a striking way like complements, but more in a pleasant, subtle way. You can’t go wrong planting a garden bed with harmonious colours, for instance, cool pink petunias, sky-blue Siberian iris, and mauve or purplish hardy geranium. The possibilities with harmonies are limitless, and fun to explore.

Returning now to the subject of the day, pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), this European native is a perennial with season-long value in the garden, unlike spring bulbs or bleeding hearts that boom, then bust by early summer. Fuzzy and feathery are the two best adjectives to describe the look of this compact perennial, which forms a tight rosette of foliage up to 12” in diameter, and equally tall in bloom. The silvery-green stems and leaves are covered in fuzzy hair, the leaves being also deeply dissected, making them feathery. Later in spring/early summer, the spent flowers form silky, tufted seed heads that last into early fall, so the plant has sustained presence and interest long after its showy spring bloom.

And what a show that is, at least in these vigorous young plants in their third season. I counted 25 flowers open or nearly so on this one little plant, a truly impressive display. This brings me to a horticultural subject that we all as gardeners should pay close attention to. It is seldom the fault of the plant if it is doing poorly in your garden. Genetically they have been selected first by stern hands of Mother Nature, and often enhanced by expert plant breeders to have great potential for performance. Failure or poor performance is usually our fault as the garden managers. We have to provide the kind of growing conditions each plant is adapted to. For the majority, this is a reasonable volume of organically-rich well-drained topsoil, in a fairly sunny location, with adequate soil moisture never allowed to get dry.  A few may prefer less sun, wetter or dryer feet, and even poorer fertility, but they are the exceptions.  I cannot overemphasize the importance of organic matter in the soil (which generally takes care of fertility and pH on its own), followed closely by plenty of sunlight, good drainage, and reliable moisture. Building beds raised 6” or so above the surrounding land with compost-laden soil will ensure most of these conditions are met, only leaving sunshine as a variable. Very few plants do as well or are as happy when shade is a significant factor.

These pasque flowers are so vigorous and productive because of near-perfect growing conditions. Don’t settle for sullen performers, give your plants what they need to make them (and you) happy!