Paint Your Garden with Color

Color can be a challenging design principle in the garden because it is subjective. Everyone perceives color in their own unique way. But I’ve found that with a willing spirit to experiment and by following some simple techniques, you can create masterpieces in your flower borders and containers.

The following design ideas are excerpted from P. Allen Smith’s Colors for the Garden. For more information about these techniques and a color based plant compendium pick up a copy of Colors for the Garden.


Five Ways to Choose a Color Theme for your Garden

Start Outside: Consider Your Home’s Architecture and Color – Your home’s architectural style offers clues to color selections. Contemporary homes may suggest a bold primary color scheme while a softer, pastel palette better suits a Victorian house. The color of your house or nearby buildings should also be considered. Remember that colors are not viewed in isolation, but in association with the other colors around them.
Move Inside: Extend Interior Colors Outdoors – Inside and outside spaces blend effortlessly together when you use similar color themes. This visual compatibility is especially effective when interior rooms directly connect or have views to outside garden spaces.
Add in Regional Influences – Look around the area. Nearby natural features, such rock outcroppings, lakes, coastal areas, or native vegetation can help in your color choices. Regional climate and light conditions may also influence your color selections. In warmer regions of the country, people often use strong vibrant colors in their homes and gardens, while in more temperate climates, those same colors would look harsh and out of place.
Consult the Genius of your Garden: Your Unique Conditions – Plants thrive when placed in areas where their specific soil, light and moisture requirements are met. For instance shady dry areas of your property with clay soil supports a more limited range of plants, hence colors choices than gardens in full sun with moist loamy soil.
Build on Focal Points – Organizing color schemes around a plant’s finest feature, when it is at its showy best, is a good point of departure when considering color. A brilliant sugar maple, flowering crabapple, or golden forsythia bush can serve as a seasonal spot of color to build color theme. Sculpture, buildings, fountains, or even a bench can also be effective starting points to select colors around objects that are outstanding features in your garden.

Painting with Plants

Once you have your colors in mind, these tips will help you use your selections to their best advantage in the garden.

Understand the Emotions of Color – Color can set moods and create a certain atmosphere within a garden room. Cool colors such as blue and lavender soothe us, evoking restfulness and calm, while hot colors stir warmth and excitement – with reds and oranges simulating the urgency of fire and blood. Learn how to match the mood of the room with its intended use.
Create a Canvas – Use the green framework of shrubs and trees that serve as the borders or walls of your garden rooms as the canvas for your colorful plants. Colors stand out when "painted" upon a uniform backdrop. Other borders of your garden rooms such as fences, walls, and buildings can also serve in this way.
Apply One Color Theme Per Room – Just as you wouldn’t paint each wall in your living room a different color, garden rooms look best when they follow one color scheme. One of the most important keys to using color effectively is to limit the palette to the range of a single color family with perhaps a bit of its complement for contrast.
Pause Between Color Themes – To appreciate each ensemble of color, separate each grouping with greens or grays before experiencing the next combination of hues. Or, you may prefer to design the garden room so it will change color palettes seasonally – spring pastels give way to warmer colors in the summer.
Paint with a Wide Brush – Once you have established these parameters, be generous and make strong statements with large expanses of color. Create drifts of color for more visual impact. Gradations of color from the same family showing the full range, is an effective way to create harmony.
Add Accents of Color – A well appointed garden room charms us with delightful surprises and all the comforts of indoor rooms. Comfy cushioned chairs, bright tablecloths, snug cozy corners with cascading plants and soothing water features are irresistible invitations to come outside and sit a while. Coordinating these accessories with your plant’s color schemes ties the visual picture together. It’s a great opportunity to be daring and bodacious with color.