My Journal

Using colour in garden design

Katie Rushworth image of bright pink plants

When I’m thinking of home design, I’m usually drawn to muted, peaceful tones, or rich, soothing ones that will foster an air of calm and relaxation throughout the day. It’s in the garden that I really let my colourful creative juices flow!Using colours in garden design, an article by Katie Rushworth

Gardening is when you can play it a bit more risky with your colour choices, as common colour ‘associations’ are out the window. The colour red is a good example – in graphic or interior design, red is often avoided because of its associations with danger, war, blood and all that nasty stuff. However in the garden, red is the colour of a gorgeous rose, amaryllis or zinnia and lots of other gorgeous blooms – making it a shade that’s more than welcome on my plot.

Colour wheel showing different types of shades and hues for use in colour theory. Article on colour in garden design by Katie Rushworth.

Colour wheel from Presentitude

A free-planted, riotous garden scheme can look lovely, but if you’re after a colour plan that flows a little more smoothly, you might want to look at a colour wheel to identify which hues compliment each other.

Colour theory may sound daunting, but don’t be scared off! In this diagram, you’ll see a range of colours. Tertiary colours are the ones next to each other on the colour wheel (for example, yellow is flanked by yellow-orange and yellow-green). These colours, when used together, will create a pleasing gradation that will hang together in your planting scheme. Alternatively, look at complimentary colours – two totally different hues that compliment each other. These are opposite one another on the colour wheel. In this instance, blue and orange would work well together, or blue-violet and yellow-orange. If you’re looking for a harmonious colour scheme in your garden, select just a few shades rather than creating a busy, chaotic effect.

Wildflower meadow shot close up. Use of colour in garden design, an article by Katie Rushworth

Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

Neutrals like beige, brown, black and white are great to provide a subtle background for your coloured plants to stand out against. In the context of garden design, I’d say we can use green as a neutral too. Here are some of my favourite beautiful colourful blooms, paired with shades that would compliment them in your planting scheme.

Violet (complimented by: yellow)

Shades of purple are relaxing and calming, and have been historically associated with nobility and abundance. Play with lavender, sage, verbena, different types of allium, catmint and buddleia for a garden that’s fit for a king!
Pair with: yellow blooms such as black eyed Susans, seasonal daffodils, sunflowers and calendula.

Orange (complimented by: blue)

Close up of a bright orange marigold flower. Article on the use of colour in garden design by TV gardener Katie Rushworth

Photo by Silvia Corradin from Pexels

Orange brings to mind tropical fruits, sunshine, happiness and warmth and is even supposed to nurture creativity, inner calm and stimulate the appetite! Get garden guests in the mood for a summer BBQ by surrounding them with blooms such as marigolds, golden poppies, ranunculus and cosmos.
Pair with: blue flowers like bluebells, spiked speedwell, delphiniums and Himalayan poppies.

Red (complimented by: green)

There’s no missing bold red blooms in the garden, especially against a foil of their complimentary green. Red signals energy, passion and power, and so for me is a great hue to use for an energetic planting scheme. Turn up the heat with anemones, tulips, azaleas and classic red roses.
Pair with: leafy greens or succulents such as agapanthus and aloe, and hardy evergreen foliage like Fatsia japonica and camellia.

Neutrals to try out

Pampas grass. Article on colour in garden design, by Katie Rushworth

Image by Steve Bidmead from Pixabay

Shades of brown, beige, silver and grey will provide the perfect backdrop to your riot of summer colour, and most will put in some extra hours through the colder months. Ornamental silvery grasses like flax and pampas grass provide drama and a wistful touch, and New Zealand native Anemanthele lessoniana tones into a lovely autumnal brown as the seasons change.

Please note, this is just a quick guide for those wanting to create colour harmony in their garden. If you’re most content amongst a joyful mix of blooms in every colour of the rainbow, go for it! The most important factor is that you’re happy to sit and enjoy the final result. After all, isn’t that what a garden’s for?

For more on using colour in your garden, read my article Planting for autumn colour.

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