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Doctorate In Beautiful Flowerbeds

June 10, 2009
University of Gothenburg
What colors make a garden beautiful? What colors match and what colors clash? How can a flowerbed be planned based on scientific color theory? A student recently earned her doctorate in the study of colors that make a garden beautiful.

Nina Nilsson, researcher at the Department of Conservation at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Gothenburg

What colours make a garden beautiful? What colours match and what colours clash? How can a flowerbed be planned based on scientific colour theory? Researcher Nina Nilsson at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, is finding the answers to these questions. She is the first person in the world to earn a doctorate in the colour composition of flowerbeds.

The colours of plants have fascinated mankind for thousands of years. The colour of a plant not only tells what kind of plant it is, colours are also linked to emotions and memories. Plant colours can therefore be thought of in a biological, a cultural and an esthetical perspective.

Unique study

Colour is a foundation of horticulture, and is probably the strongest determinant of how a flowerbed or a garden is perceived. Yet, few scientific studies have focused on the colour composition of flowerbeds - until now.

First in the world

Nina Nilsson, Faculty Subjects Coordinator for Conservation, Gardening and Garden Design, the Department of Conservation/Dacapo at the University of Gothenburg, is probably the first person in the world to conduct scientific research on colour composition of flowerbeds. She bases her research on two standard works: UK gardening pioneer Gertrude Jekyll's book 'Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden', which remains a best-seller almost 100 years after first being published, and Swiss Johannes Itten's 'Kunst der Farbe', which established 'Itten's colour theory'.

Harmony and beauty

By applying Itten's colour theory on Jekyll's planting design schemes, Nilsson is attempting to scientifically document the principles that bring harmony and beauty to a flowerbed. Nilsson has tested the theories by for example analysing the colour compositions of a number of flower borders in the Gothenburg area. 'My research has a pedagogical purpose. I want my work to provide guidance on how to choose and arrange flowers in a garden', says Nilsson.

Nilsson's experience of gardening and garden design is quite extensive, and she has also worked with biotope studies and park design. In addition, she has been compiling what she calls 'the gardener's knowledge portfolio'. Nilsson will present some findings from her research at an international gardening conference in Bologna in June.

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University of Gothenburg. "Doctorate In Beautiful Flowerbeds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 June 2009. <>.
University of Gothenburg. (2009, June 10). Doctorate In Beautiful Flowerbeds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 28, 2017 from
University of Gothenburg. "Doctorate In Beautiful Flowerbeds." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 28, 2017).