The following is a guest blog post from Susan Morrison, a Northern California landscape designer and blogger.
Small gardens offer many advantages over their larger cousins—less weeding comes to mind—but having less space to work with brings a unique set of challenges. If you’re a plant and accessories lover, you might be torn between the desire to cram in every bright bloom or vivid pot that catches your eye, and the knowledge that too many competing colors can lead to chaos. With a little planning, however, a small garden can be colorful without being overwhelming.
When Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist, asked for my help designing a new cocktail garden for her narrow side yard, I knew we’d be relying heavily on containers. To satisfy Amy’s desire for bold color, we chose a palette of rich blues anchored by deep purple on one end and lime green on the other – before purchasing anything. Instead of endless days spent shopping in an effort to find containers that conformed to her swatches, Amy asked a local handyman to build them to her specifications out of unfinished wood—then painted them herself. (You can also find unfinished wood containers online.) If choosing a color palette seems daunting, sites like Adobe Kuler provide a range of color palettes, and a menu of easy-to-use tools that allow you to experiment with an infinite number of combinations, while still ensuring your ultimate choices will coordinate.
When it comes to flower color, an exclusive palette of pastel blooms will blend together much more harmoniously than one that mixes soft colors with bold ones. Pastel shades always combine well with one another, no matter how many different flowers you include. As the speaker at a recent talk on color that I attended explained it: if you washed all your clothes 200 times, they would eventually fade to the point where you could wear anything with anything. Sticking to the paler shades found in the innermost circle of the color wheel is a great strategy for impulse shoppers, as it gives you a substantial number of plants to choose from, with no need to worry that the ultimate effect will overpower the garden.
On the other hand, if you’re the type who wouldn’t be caught dead planting pale pink anything, it’s possible to make a bold design statement without sacrificing harmony. Once you’ve chosen the colors that speak to you, the secret is to repeat them everywhere, including accessories like furniture, containers and artwork.
Artist and garden designer Keeyla Meadows is not the type to shy away from splashy shades. Sizzling reds, bright oranges and shocking pinks dominate in her small, sunny garden, but by pulling these colors through in her handmade benches and containers, the end result is harmonious.
In their small, showcase water garden, Potomac Waterworks choose only two high-contrast colors, red and chartreuse, then repeated them not only in a range of foliage plants, but in the accessories and artwork as well. The ultimate effect is a garden that is simultaneously energizing and restful.
Whether your style is softly romantic or outspokenly edgy, stick to a few simple color strategies for a garden that reflects the real you—without sacrificing harmony.
Susan Morrison is a Northern California landscape designer with Creative Exteriors Landscape Design, blogger at Blue Planet Garden Blog and the co-author of Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, an Amazon “Best Books of 2011” selection.
Susan knows first-hand the challenges and rewards of gardening in a small space. Her own 18 by 50 foot back yard serves as her laboratory for fresh ideas, and is the inspiration for her iTunes garden app Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens.