Color Harmony and Color Contrast

One topic I am frequently asked about is how to use color in the garden. It is easy to get bogged down in all the rules and theories. Not to mention apply these to living plants. I always like to remind everyone that asks that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t be timid about planting your favorite colors and trying new color combinations because your garden is all about you – if you don’t like what you ended up with you can always change it.

Spring flowering bulbs are some of the best plants for testing color in the garden because they are so easy to grow and when it comes to color choices, the sky is the limit. Tulips, iris, daffodils, and hyacinths are available in just about every color imaginable. This broad palette makes it easy to design spring flowering bulb plantings in contrasting or harmonious combinations.


You remember the color wheel, right? The contrasting a.k.a. complementary colors on the wheel are red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple. When paired together these colors make a bold, dramatic statement. To smooth out the edges mix in neighboring ‘cousin colors’ like yellow-orange and violet with yellow and purple. By using contrasting colors with their neighboring ‘cousin colors’ we create a more delicate, harmonious composition.

Contrasting Color Scheme in the Garden

When creating a contrasting color combination it’s a good idea to allow one color to dominate. For instance, if choose orange contrasted with purple plant more orange than purple or vice versa. You can soften the planting by filling in with a few of the color cousins like lavender and peach.

Good to Know: Contrasting Color Ratio

  • Dominant Color – 50%
  • Secondary Color – 25%
  • Cousin Color 1 – 15%
  • Cousin Color 2 – 10%


Some of the most memorable gardens I have seen have been developed around a single color family. It’s also one of the easiest color combinations to pull off. Just blend a single color and it’s cousin colors. A mix of red, red-orange, orange and yellow-orange is a beautiful warm color arrangement. The proportion of the harmonizing colors in the composition is based on your preferences.

Harmonious Color Scheme in the Garden