Red is the color of strong emotion—heat, love, passion! December brings the time of year when we think of using the colors of red and green. This tradition stems from the celebration of the winter solstice when the days began to get longer after six months of decreasing sunlight. Holly with red berries was used to decorate homes for the long winters and the colors of red and green became symbols of the winter season.

On the color wheel the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. The pure color is called a hue and within each hue are many tints, tones, and shades. Tints have the addition of white, tones add gray, and shades add black. Within the primary colors are combinations of colors called secondary and tertiary colors. For example, red and yellow combine to make orange and red and blue make purple.

The color red becomes pink with the addition of white.  This springtime design is monochromatic with tints and tones of the hue red.  

Red and green are across from one another on the color wheel and are called complementary, creating strong contrast. Here shiny aspidistra leaves contrast with textured cryptomeria. Carnations and red nandina berries are lighter shades of red and make the deep red roses stand out.

More red and green with a red vase holding green leaves and a passion vine with one red blossom.

In a holiday class at Longwood Gardens we used analogous colors of orange and dark pink to add contrast to the red berries and roses. Colors near the primary hue give a design interest and an unexpected holiday look.

Using red in a multicolored design can be tricky. This design was inspired by the artist Yayoi Kusama who uses strong colors and loves polka dots. Striped paper in primary colors is wrapped on a wire and inserted with the flowers and polka dot paper is wrapped around the vase. Green foliage works to make the variety of primary hues blend together.

The first flower that comes to mind when thinking of red is the red tulip. Here some spring flowers let the red tulips be the stars.

My favorite tulip is the red and yellow parrot tulip which brings to mind Dutch “tulipomania” a time when one tulip bulb could cost more than a house.

Look to nature for exciting color combinations.

Looking to nature for the red and yellow color combination—here red roses and ilex berries are emphasized with yellow spray roses and gloriosa lilies with gold edges.

A long table in a dark restaurant brightens with a series of these red and golden designs.

A garden style holiday design uses garden greens and red ilex berries with red roses. The addition pale green hydrangea and white ranunculus brings light to the dark red roses.

Playing with traditional red roses for the Christmas holiday I had fun making this topiary with devil’s claw, also know as unicorn plant Proboscidea lousianinica. It’s fun to think of new ways to work with a traditional color palate.

I wish you a happy and healthy holiday. Enjoy the color red and warm up for the season.