The colour of the plants in your garden has a direct effect on the garden’s ‘mood’, as well as changing your perception of space.
‘Hot’ colours – bold reds, yellows, orange and bright pinks – grab your attention and make the flowers appear closer than they are: it’s a trick that designers use to make a big garden feel more intimate. Hot colours work best in sunny gardens and on the whole, plants with bright red flowers for example tend to be sun-lovers.
‘Cool’ colours from the blue, purple and pale pink spectrum are calming and restful. The way they blur into the background can be used to help a small space feel bigger.
But that’s not to say you have to opt for one or the other. Many gardens have a sunny bed that could become a hot border and a shadier area for a cool border, giving you the best of both worlds.
The colour wheel
There’s a lot of garden-design theory based around the colour wheel, which is essentially an artist’s tool where colours are arranged in a circle so that they gradually blend from one colour into the next. If you choose a shade you like on the colour wheel, you’ll find harmonious colours on either side of it. If you want to liven things up, the colour exactly opposite on the wheel will contrast with your chosen shade.
You can’t always control nature
Don’t get too bogged down in designing a colour scheme as nature always has the upper hand. Your chosen plants may not flower together, thwarting your design: plants described as summer-flowering have an awful lot of scope (at least four months) to bloom at different times. When they flower they may not precisely match the colour in the catalogue or on the label. And plants that self seed may pop up in unexpected places and subvert the show.
Just go for it
If you’re baffled by colour theory, just plant what you like. If it turns into colour chaos, there’s a very handy trick you can use: add some white flowers to cool the whole thing down or to separate clashing colours. In an emergency you can simply stand a pot of white tobacco plants (Nicotiana) or white lilies in an anarchic border. White flowers can also be used to add contrast to black flowers, which are technically very dark maroon or purple, making them appear darker.
Read our suggestions for white flowers and black flowers for your garden.
An all white garden
If you love Vita Sackville West’s white garden at Sissinghurst, there’s huge scope to plant your own. A white garden or border really comes into its own at dusk as the light fades. Bear in mind that white comes in many forms. Stick to one tone, for example, a cool pure white or a creamy white, but don’t mix them – warm creamy white can look distinctly off colour next to cool white. White flowers tend to turn horrible shades of brown as they die: strict deadheading is the remedy.
And why stop at white? A border of yellow flowers, red flowers, blue flowers, pink flowers, purple flowers and even green flowers are all possible.
Look at detail too
If you’re planning a red border, for example, home in on detail. You can link in seemingly unrelated flowers by looking for red details: red stamens in the centre of a flower or red blotches on the base of the petals.