There exists an entire science devoted to color, how it is perceived, and what effects it has on the psychology of the observer. Artists rely on their internal knowledge of color to invoke a range of sensations, and to create emphasis, and harmony across the page.

As landscape gardeners it is important that we share the artists’ passion for color, and experiment with it’s uses in our garden. We are, after all, artisans of our space.

Spring is coming, and soon nature shall display her finest garments; the grass will give off a lush green, the trees will blossom into a pure white fluff before giving way to their leaves, and the sunlight will generally be making everything outside look a little more appealing.

Flowers are soon to radiate their color across the land, creating a barrage of alluring and beautiful patterns, and waves of heady sensation. For the landscape gardener this is a delightful time of year; with spring on the way it’s time to get creative with color!

Basic color theory is a must for landscape design. The color wheel provides a great visual representation of the spectrum. The spectrum includes primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Use the wheel to follow the tips presented below, and gain a greater understanding of how to use color in the garden.

Understanding Warm and Cool Colors

Shades of red, yellow and oranges, are known as warm colors. Planting warm colored flowers can give out a vibrant glow and cause physiological arousal in the space. They naturally grab attention and so can be used effectively to highlight a certain space, creating a focal point that has an innate pull.

Cool colors, such as blues, purples, and greens, are more likely to influence mood by having a calming, relaxing effect. It is important to consider what mood the space is intending to evoke. If creating a garden for meditation, for example, the calming, cool colors of a deep purple flower, will suit the occasion much more than a bright red!

Unity or Contrast?

Using only warm colors, or only cool colors in a defined space creates an effect of unity, and is easy for the eye.

If it is contrast you are looking to create, mixing both warm and cool colored plants together creates the desired effect. The maximum contrast is between yellow and purple flowers. Colors opposite each other on the wheel are known as “complimentary colors”. These are pairs which create a striking contrast when planted together.

Adding Depth

Color can even be used to create illusions in the depth and size of the space. If you have a small yard try placing warm colors, such as reds, at the front of the garden, with darker shades of cool colors behind them, followed by successively lighter cool shades. Perceptually, this creates the illusion of a deeper, larger space.

Blending color

Tertiary colors can be seen as blends of the primaries on the color wheel, and this is how they should be used in the garden. If you are using a color scheme such as reds and violets, finding a plant which falls somewhere in between creates a smoother transition, and more harmony, taking the sharp edge off the contrast.

Neutral colors, such as whites, grays, and silvers, can also be used to take the edge of vibrant color schemes, softening their effect.

Get Started…

The key to perfecting the use of color in landscape gardening, is a matter of theory and practice. Okay, mostly practice! We have already mentioned warm and cool color schemes. Three possibilities have been highlighted already; using warm colors only, cool colors only, or using complimentary colors.

Other suggestions for getting you started are:

  • Analogous colors– Colors that are next to each other on the wheel, such as yellows and reds, provide a high level of harmony in the garden; for when nothing needs to stand out too much.
  • Monochromatic- Using one color may sound bland, but is actually very effective for simple gardens, and can be high in visual impact. For variety, try to plant many varieties of flower which bloom in different shades of the same color.
  • Triad arrangement- Here, three plants equally spaced apart on the color wheel are combined into a complex arrangement, which is more difficult, but is visually impressive once accomplished.
  • Double Complimentary- A variation of the single complimentary set-up, two plants which lie next to each other in color are placed with their opposites on the wheel; the result is a glorious alchemy of unity and contrast.

However you decide to use color in your landscape gardening project, remember to experiment. Enjoy the process of understanding one of nature’s great mysteries through the act of gardening. Color can brighten our mood, calm us down, make us feel comfortable, and guide our attention. Understanding how to work with color will undoubtedly lead to your ability to create more desirable gardens. Happy gardening!