The colour of the plants and flowers in your garden has a direct effect on the garden’s mood, as well as changing your perception of space. Colour can come from flowers, foliage and even the stems of shrubs or the bark of trees.
Your outdoor furnishings can also be used to plan your colour scheme. Ornaments, colourful bistro sets, pots and painted walls can all help bring your garden to life.
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Choosing a garden colour scheme
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 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.
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 rigid 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.
Using white flowers to bring harmony
If you’re baffled by colour theory, just plant what you like. If it turns into colourful 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
Garden colour ideas
Make your garden appear larger
To give a small garden the illusion of size place warm coloured plants at the front and cool plants towards the back. In the small urban garden below you can see hot pink potted plants placed on the patio with cool purples, dusky pink and white flowers towards the back of the garden. The hot pink grabs the eye and makes them look closer, while the cool colours blur into the background.
Hot pink flowers at the front draw the eye, while cool colours recede in the distance to create the illusion of space.
Make a large garden more inviting
Plant flowers with warm orange, red or yellow blooms to bring the borders in and make your garden more inviting. Red hot pokers, crocosmia and gold daisies will all do the job well. Plant them at the back to draw the eye in.
Make your garden feel calming
Plant cool blues and pale purples for a calming garden. You might want to use a limited range of colours, in which case choose your main colour and use the colour wheel to select shades either side for a harmonious feel. The smart contemporary garden below uses foxgloves and dahlias in soft pink tones, with cool blue flowers receding at the back.
Different shades of pink create harmony.
Bring some order to a hectic garden
If your garden already has established plants with no order you can make it appear less hectic by adding white flowers among the colours. White flowers can break up the different blocks of colours and prevent them clashing.
Creating a vibrant garden
If you want a garden that feels colourful and energised use the colour wheel to find colours opposite each other on the wheel. These are known as complementary colours - for example orange and blue or yellow and purple.
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.
Read more on garden design, including using software to design your garden, creative cloud pruning and how to create a herbaceous border.
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