Bold Colors for Your Garden

Learn how to use bold color combinations to create a garden with a big "wow" factor.


Go for the Bold

Bold garden designs take a fresh look at color and its capabilities. They dare to stretch color to extremes. The hottest pink juxtaposes with golden orange. Deep velvety purple pairs with vibrant yellow. Scarlet ignites when standing next to orange or magenta. A palette of rich, saturated hues dazzles the viewer from dawn to dusk.

The bold garden relies on color celebrities of equal intensity, used in dramatic vignettes. Give a brilliant pair the limelight by placing them front row center in the border, and then repeat the colors in the background, creating an echo of the original color match.

To discover a good match, get close and look at the whole blossom. No flower has an absolute single-color affiliation. Striping, patches, sheens, stamens, undertones, or throat all contribute to the flower's petal palette. One or more of these shades may harmonize with a likely partner. Also consider how the flower petals change color as they unfurl, then fade. Some roses may turn three or four different hues from bud to full bloom that could suggest color partners.

Plant the best red flowers for your garden.

Design the Perfect Garden

Plant shapes and bloom times also play a role in bold matches. A marriage of unusual forms creates major chemistry. For example, Angelica archangelica towers in a shade garden and frolics spiritedly with the large, dark leaves and bright flowers of Ligularia and gooseneck loosestrife. Bold matches are limited only by the variety of flower colors available.

Success depends on timing. If you seek a color match and can't find a flower partner that blooms at the same time, put foliage to work. The most breathtaking garden pairings often involve foliage understudies, not flower stars.

Select the Right Plants

The tropical leaves of canna shout "bold" in the background of thisgarden, a fitting backdrop for thebrazen colors of the marigolds inthe front of the border.

Turn to perennials, shrubs, and bulbs to form your bold design's foundation. They'll give it stability with annual repeat performances.

Another bold approach involves a cast of thousands. Bright-flower summer annuals star in a mass planting that Victorian gardeners called bedding out; this bold scenario complements or contrasts colors. Or shades of the same color work in an analogous scheme. Mass plantings stop traffic with their sheer intensity of color. This type of bold garden requires lots of maintenance: fertilizing, watering, and removal of faded blooms keep the color showstopping.

Meadows result from nature's improvised mass plantings. Many a happy color accident happens when annual wildflowers mingle and turn up in unanticipated pairings. Predetermine the boldness of your meadow's color scheme by blending the seeds of your favorite hot hues. The meadow will perpetuate your brilliant scheme yearly by self-seeding.

Once you've got the knack of gardening boldly, surround yourself with color, overhead and all around. Think vertical and horizontal. Turn to trellises and arbors to raise the colors to new levels.

Use color to create a tropical garden.

Consider Other Options

Gardens alone don't always instigate a bold design. Your color adventure may begin with a house color or an arbor painted in a favorite hue that calls for a coordinated garden. There again, foliage may provide all the highlights needed to support a bright house exterior or a hardscape accent. For example, a garden design featuring a complementary flower color mixed with white or silver will hold its own next to a periwinkle blue or lemon yellow house.

When you go for a bold look, consider more than the plants. A warm-color fence, arbor, or chair, painted a rich hue of terra-cotta, apricot, yellow, or blue, brings out the brilliance of nearby, well-matched flower hues.

Great Color Combos

Blossoms of 'Purple Splendour' rhododendron and neon yellowIcelandic poppy form a stunningpair.

Plan your garden's bold color range for the intensity of light in its peak season. For instance, if plantings look their best in high summer, select the brightest colors possible so they won't fade in harsh sunlight. Tone down the color later by editing out plants or adding cooling white or silver plants as fillers among the brighter flowers.

The flower combinations listed below offer a starting point for creating your own bold color garden.

Bold and Beautiful

Use bold colors to enliven a scene, but remember to practice a modicum of restraint. Consider these outstanding color matches:

  • Pair 'Royal Purple' smoke bush with copper tulips or red Oriental poppies.
  • Combine pink 'Silver Cup' Lavatera with orange California poppies.
  • Mingle red and gold daylilies, dahlias, and marigolds.
  • Pair Rudbeckia "Goldsturm' and Aster x frikartii "Monch". Include lamb's ears as a calming device for the glowing duo.
  • Mix summer bulbs: purple alliums and orange foxtail lilies.
  • Contrast orange and yellow Calendula with flowering kale.

Two-color gardens.

The Magic of Magenta

Daring gardeners savor magenta's good vibrations and discover endless ways to contrast one of the boldest of the bold colors for stunning combinations, such as:

  • Magenta coneflower with silver Artemisia
  • Hot pink English primrose with chocolate-leaf bergenia
  • Magenta cosmos with purplish bronze fennel
  • Lime-green Euphorbia with magenta-flower zinnia
  • Deep pink roses with cinnamon-hue plume poppy
  • Magenta sweet William with burgundy astilbe
  • Magenta 'Ann Folkard' geranium with golden orange daylily
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