The colours you use in your borders or beds are entirely a matter of personal choice, so go ahead; indulge your own tastes and combine colours with confidence!

Using colour in design 

colourful garden

Most colours in nature work well together, and in fact, it is surprisingly difficult to put plants together in a way that isn’t pleasing to the eye. The only combinations many professional designers avoid, simply because they have a less than restful effect, are blue-reds with vermilion-reds and some oranges with purples.

You can still use plants with flowers in these colours if they bloom at different times, of course. If in doubt about colour, study the colour wheel so that you can work out colour themes and combinations you might enjoy.

  • Create moods with colour
    Think about how you use your garden, or different parts of your garden a cheerful place for the family, a vibrant space for entertaining, or a relaxing sanctuary after a busy week. Colour greatly affects atmosphere and can be used to create specific ambiences hot reds, oranges and yellows are lively, vibrant shades that make you feel energetic and sparkling, while blues, greens, mauves and whites are tranquil, restful shades. 
  • Use shade for cool plantings
    A shady border can never be as bright as one in full sun, as shade-loving plants tend to produce less colourful flowers. Turn this to your advantage by planning a border that exudes serenity and peace. Use lush foliage plants that will enjoy being out of the sun.
  • Add colour when the garden needs it most
    Don’t forget autumn and winter. Colours may be different at these times, but can be just as striking. Bright berries and leaves that change colour add zest to an autumn planting

Read more: Tips to prolong flowering displays

 

Work with your hard landscaping

hard landscaping colour

The exterior walls of your house, the materials that outbuildings are made of and the hard surfaces of your garden paths, terraces, driveways and edging material have colours and textures too. 

Keep in mind the colours of brick or stonework near your border, and make sure that flower and foliage colours are shown to best advantage when seen against them. Red brickwork, for example, is an ideal foil for yellow plants, but can be a disaster with some shades of red, purple and orange; cream flowers and cream- splashed leaves can look dirty against bright white masonry or woodwork. 

Read more: How to design and build a pond or water feature

 

The colour wheel 

colour wheel gardening

Colour themes and pairings can be considered as you select your plants by using the colour wheel. Harmonising colours are those between two of the primary colours (red, yellow and blue) on the wheel. Complementary colours are opposite each other on the wheel: for example, red and green, or blue and orange. They are in contrast to one another, and when paired, are visually stimulating. 

  • Use the colour wheel to combine, complement and contrast colours
    A hot colour, for example, from its right side adds punch to a scheme composed of the cool colours on the left. 
  • Harmonising colours sit close together on the wheel
    I
    f they include a bright primary colour they convey a strong but controlled mood, especially when tempered with coordinating green leaves. 
  • Colour triads
    Made by forming triangles within the wheel, these give an opportunity for variety and bright contrasts. They often work well if one flower colour predominates, with the second providing accents. 

Read more: Creating an easy-care garden with wild flowers

 

Best true blues 

true blue flowers colourful planting

Blue flowers without a hint of mauve are few and far between, but these should give you rich, true colours, from aquamarine through cobalt to navy, to make your borders really vibrant. Some to try are:

  • Agapanthus
  • Brunnera macrophylla 
  • Camassia leichtlinii 
  • Campanula lactiflora ‘pouffe’ 
  • Corydalis flexuosa
  • Delphinium ‘lord butler’
  • Eryngium x oliverianum 
  • Iris sibirica ‘perry’s blue’ 
  • Meconopsis grandis
  • Platycodon grandiflorus ‘mariesii’ 
  • Polemonium caeruleum 
     

Bring out your inner designer 

design your own garden

Beds and borders containing plants with themed colours, either complementary or harmonising, will add a designer look to your plantings. Even small borders may be set out in this way, but there may have to be a narrower selection of species. 

Start your scheme off as early in the year as possible: begin the season for a red or hot border, for example, with suitably coloured tulips, primulas and wallflowers; or launch a white or cream theme with Christmas roses, white narcissi and the shrubby honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima

Keeping to a particular theme can be difficult from late autumn to early spring, when the choice of colours is more limited. If so, take the opportunity to fit in another seasonal theme for example, a yellow spring border. 

  • Choose blues that hold their colour
    Blue is the perfect colour to bring peace and calm into the garden. Select your plants carefully: many blues change colour with age, either fading or taking on reddish or purple tints. The most successful blue-themed border should contain only true blue flowers, although really blue-leaved foliage plants may be added for effect. 
  • Cool off with a white theme to temper hot summer days
    White borders may contain foliage plants as well as flowers, with leaves in shades of grey and creamy-white. To be absolutely true to the theme, make sure that any flowers they produce are also white; otherwise, remove any buds before they start to show colour. 
  • Get maximum impact for minimum maintenance
    If you’re short of time for gardening, go for shrubs and groundcover perennials with colour-themed, unusual foliage gold and gold-variegated; silver, cream and white-variegated; or purple and red.
  • Make a warm winter bark bed
    Many shrubs are just as attractive in winter as in summer often more so with their fiery-coloured bark. Group several together for a stirring winter display; in summer, they make good foliage plants for a mixed border.
  • Be ruthless with gifts
    Many people will offer you plants to start off a new border; be absolutely sure that they will fit into your scheme before you plant them. Pot them up until they flower, then work out if and where they could fit in. 

 

Pile on the style with sophisticated schemes 

monochrome border

Unusual colour themes might not be to everyone s taste, but really striking combinations can lift a tired-looking garden and give it a modern atmosphere. You will need to spend a little time researching suitable species. 

  • Go monochrome for a border that’s bang up-to-date
    A black and white theme can look great in, say, an urban courtyard. White flowers and foliage are easy to come by, but black flowers take rather more finding. Among the best are the tulips Black Parrot and Queen of Night; petunia Black Velvet; Viola cornuta Bowles Black; Iris chrysographes and the black hollyhock (Alcea rosea Nigra). As an alternative, use red instead of white for a totally different effect. 
  • Create drama with pale pink and deep purple
    There is a wealth of these colours among flowering perennials. Add white flowers or white-variegated foliage to freshen up the scheme, or for real sultry sophistication, omit white entirely and use lots of dark, dusky foliage with burgundy or coppery hues.
  • Use silver as a solution for a hot, dry spot
    Most grey and silver-leaved plants thrive in this situation. Many, such as lavender, artemisia and santolina have the bonus of aromatic leaves. 
     

Add a burst of colour in winter

Some varieties of dogwood (Cornus) and willow put on a spectacular show of coloured bark once the leaves have fallen. The colour is most intense on young stems; if you prune the shrub every other year you can keep it to a manageable size while also enjoying a brilliant splash of colour during the winter months. 

Read more: A census of winter flowers

 

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