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Use Color and Design in the Garden

colorful annuals

Having the flower garden of your dreams is easier than you may think. By using a few basic color and design concepts, your outdoor plantings can be just as dramatic as your indoor decor.


Garden Color

pastel colors

When planning your garden, one of the first decisions you need to make is what colors you will choose. Since the amount of sunlight varies throughout the day, take into consideration how the flowerbed will look in the morning, mid-day and early evening. Also think about the amount of sunlight the planting area receives.

Shaded areas can appear brighter by using light-colored plants. Consider using light pink, light yellow, lavender, pale blue or white flowers in your shade garden. Dark plants in the shade can disappear into the background. You can still use dark colors in the shade garden, but be sure to surround them with lighter-colored plants.

Full sun garden areas can handle brightly colored flowers. This garden area will draw attention and stand out when you use reds, oranges, bright yellows, deep blues and purples. Pastels in bright sunlight will appear faded and washed out. For best results, stick to one, two or three colors. Repeating the same colors, even in different shades, gives a unified look to the garden. Repeating the same colors in different varieties of plants not only challenges your imagination, but also results in a garden that is uniquely you.

In addition to sunlight, basic color theory comes into play when selecting plants for your garden. You will need to decide if your color selections will be harmonious, complementary or monochromatic. Color choices include bright or pastel and warm or cool.

Harmonious colors are next to each other on the color wheel and have a soothing effect. These softer color combinations include blue and violet, orange and red, and orange and yellow. Using harmonious colors unifies a garden while still allowing a range of color.

Complementary colors are opposite from each other on the color wheel. These are high in contrast and add drama and excitement to your garden. Combinations of yellow and violet, orange and blue or green and red varieties are examples of complementary colors.

A monochromatic color scheme is composed of plants of the same color. You may have an all-white garden or a garden that is "in the pink." Create extra interest in a monochromatic garden by using a mix of tones or shades of the same color in addition to various textures, shapes and sizes.

Foliage color should be considered in any color scheme. Foliage with green and white or green and yellow variegated leaves adds interest to the garden. There are also plants with chartreuse, lime green, bronze or reddish/purple leaves that add a bold element to your garden.

Pastels and muted colors set a peaceful and tranquil mood. These colors include soft pink, lavender, lilac and peach. When using pastel colors, consider where the flowers will be planted. Pastel flowers look best when viewed from a short distance and tend to look washed out in the bright, mid-day sun. Pastel colors can be used in distant parts of the garden to give the illusion of being even further away.

Bright or primary colors include red, orange, magenta and bright yellow. These colors are guaranteed to energize the garden. The color will show well in the bright sunshine and also attract your eye from a great distance. Do not combine bright colors with less intensely colored plants — the brightly colored ones will steal the show.

White flowers are in a class by themselves. They blend well with every color and can also be used as a transition between colors that do not normally work well together.

Warm colors include red, orange and yellow. They tend to make flowers appear closer than they really are.

Cool colors such as blue, violet, silver and white lend a calming effect and make plants appear farther away in the garden.



Color Combinations

warm colors

Yellow and blue create an exciting combination that makes you think of spring.

Yellow and purple can combine to create two different effects. If a bright yellow is used with a deep purple, the effect will be dramatic. If you choose a pale yellow with a lavender color, you will create a classic, subdued look in the garden.

White and green lend a feeling of lightness and a restful look to the garden. These colors are also very effective when placed into a grouping of boldly-colored plants. They will prevent the strong colors from overpowering the garden.

Red and yellow together create a bold, attention-grabbing color mix.

Orange and purple produce an energetic contrast that will definitely clash. If you want to be bold and different, this combination may work for you.

Pink and blue combinations are one of the easiest color schemes to work with because of the abundance of flowers to select from. This color combo can create a garden that is easy on the eye.

White and blue is another easy-to-create combination. There are a wide variety of plants to choose from that will make your garden light and cheerful.

Blue and purple are cool colors that look wonderful in shade or partial shade. To make this color combination pop, use in front of a light background.

Red, white and blue make a wonderful patriotic display in your garden.

Don't forget green. Green is restful to the eyes and does not compete for attention or dominate in the garden. Green creates a void that allows our eyes to travel from one part of the garden to the other.


Garden Design

shade garden

Before selecting plants for your garden, decide which type of garden you will have. Will it be formal, informal, a flower border or an island bed?

Formal gardens are symmetrical. What appears on the right side also appears on the left side, and there is a focal point in the middle. A focal point can be a water feature, statue, trellis, tall grass or anything that draws your attention.

Informal gardens are asymmetrical and flow around trees or buildings.

Flower borders are flush against a building, fence, sidewalk or any other landscape element. In other words, they border something. The tallest plants should be placed in the back, intermediate plants in the middle. Continue until the shortest varieties are in the front.

Island beds are visible from all sides and are surrounded by open area on all sides so they look like islands. The tallest plants are placed in the center of the bed, intermediate plants are placed near the center and the edge, and the shortest varieties are placed on the edge.

Beginning gardeners may be tempted to mix and match plants based strictly on color. Remember the mature height of the plant when planning beds or borders. Plant taller varieties behind lower-growing ones. Taller plants in front block the view of the smaller ones, and the shorter plants will have to live in the shade of their larger neighbors.

Check your plant tag for height before placing them in the ground. If your garden is located in a very windy location, it might be best to use only low-growing varieties to keep the garden looking its best.