Choosing a colour scheme for your garden

Having recently moved into a new house with a beautiful big garden, I’m busy researching garden design techniques and in particular, how colour can be used in a garden for optimum impact.

Personally I’m a big fan of cool hues including blues, pinks and whites, but others may prefer fiery colours such as reds and oranges.

While I’m no expert in choosing  colour schemes for gardens, I wanted to ask someone who is in order to find out more.  This blog is a guest Q&A with a member of the garden design team at Wyevale Garden Centres, which operates 153 garden centres throughout the UK.  I’m sure, like me, you’ll find their colour wheel particularly helpful – the idea is that opposite colours work well together and create maximum impact.  Happy reading and, as ever, I’m looking forward to hearing your views.

How important is colour when you are designing a garden?

Colour is very important – it’s one of the key tools in creating a beautiful garden. By choosing the right colours, you can create different moods, give your garden an air of tranquillity, transform it into a vibrant, energising space, and even make a small garden seem bigger.

Top tips for choosing the right colours:

Firstly, decide what atmosphere you want to create. Do you want your garden to feel calm and restful, or are you looking for a vibrant, energising space for play & parties?

Use the colour wheel to guide you in creating colour combinations.

Remember that green is a colour too! Combinations of foliage in different shades of green can be very effective, especially in shady gardens where fewer flowering plants flourish.

Don’t be tempted to use too many colours. Simple combinations are often the most effective, while too many different colours can make a space feel cluttered and claustrophobic.

Are some gardens better suited to certain colours?

There are a couple of rules of thumb which can help you to decide which colours will work best in your garden

Blue colours appear to recede away from the viewer, while reds will appear closer than they are, so if you want your garden to appear bigger than it is, use shades of blue and purple in the background (at the back of your garden) and bright vibrant bright colours in the foreground, (adjacent to your home) this will help to create the impression of depth.

Strong colours look best in sunlight, which is why so many of our brightest flowers originate from hotter climates than ours. If your garden is shady, choose soft shades, whites and light colours to brighten it up.

Bright colours such as red and orange will draw the eye, so are useful for accentuating focal points or features.

Which colours go together and why?

An easy way to work out which colours will look good together is to use a colour wheel. This consists of two wheels — one on top of the other. The lower wheel shows the full colour spectrum, which can be see through windows cut into the top wheel — three adjacent to each other and one opposite them. By turning the upper wheel, different colour combinations are revealed in the windows.

The colours that appear in the three adjacent windows are all similar shades, and these are called harmonising colours. Using harmonising colours together in a garden produces a calm, restful effect.

The colour that appears in the single window opposite the harmonising colours is called a complementary colour. It contrasts strongly with the harmonising colours, but without clashing. Introducing a complementary colour into a planting scheme is a great way to add a dash of energy and excitement, rather like adding a pinch of salt or spice to a recipe.

Should you balance out strong colours with lots of green foliage?

Too many strong colours can be a little overwhelming on the eye. Green foliage has a cooling effect, akin to the volume knob on your stereo! So foliage helps to balance and reduce the dominance of these hot bright colours. Plant evergreen shrubs through your borders — this will also have the added bonus of providing interest and structure during the winter.

Could you suggest some plants to put in a garden that follows a violet and yellow colour scheme?

For year round structure, plant Hebe ‘Autumn Glory’ (an evergreen shrub with purple flowers in summer and autumn), compact evergreen grass Carex ‘Evergold’ (green and pale yellow variegated leaves), and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ (purple evergreen foliage).

Spring colour comes from yellow primroses and daffodils and purple Tulip ‘Negrita’ as well as wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ which flowers for months on end.

In summer, yellow-flowered rose ‘Sunny Sky’ and Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollandaise’ combine with purple Salvia ‘Caradonna’, followed by Aster ‘Purple Dome’ and Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’ in late summer and autumn.

Could you suggest some plants to put in a garden that follows a red and green colour scheme?

Red comes in both ‘cool’ and ‘hot’ shades, depending on whether it has blue or orange undertones.

For cool reds, which harmonise well with purples and pinks, the complementary colour is lime-green. For hot reds that harmonise with oranges, however, the complementary colour is more of a blue-green. In the plant world, most of the green colours are found in foliage, although there are a few green flowers to be had as well.

Hot reds and blue-green colour scheme:

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii and Hebe albicans, both with blue-green foliage, provide evergreen structure, with Hosta ‘Halcyon’ for added foliage interest in summer

For spring colour, Chaenomeles x superba ‘Crimson and Gold’, followed by Geum ‘Mrs J Bradshaw’ and Kniphofia ‘Nobilis’ in summer. In late summer and autumn, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’.

Cool reds and yellow-green colour scheme

Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ and Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’ for evergreen structure, with yellow and green variegated grass Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola and Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’. Include some darker green-leaved plants such as Buxus sempervirens and Bergenia cordifolia to break up the yellow foliage and stop it from being too overpowering.

For spring colour, Tulips ‘Spring Green’ and ‘Burgundy Lace’, followed by Rosa ‘For Your Eyes Only’, Astrantia ‘Claret’ and Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’ in summer, and Penstemon ‘Garnet’ which provides colour long into autumn.

What is the best advice for choosing the right colour for your garden? Should you stick to one key colour, or lots of colours?

The number of colours you use depends on the effect you’re going for. Keeping it simple, with a colour scheme based around one key tone looks great in contemporary designs, and can you’re your garden feel uncluttered and calm. Mixing lots of colours together gives a more informal look but needs to be done carefully to avoid the garden looking chaotic, and can make small spaces feel claustrophobic. The best advice when you’re starting to develop your garden is to try out the effect of colour combinations in a small area first or with bedding combinations. If you like it, you can build up from there.

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