Master the Art of Using Color in the Garden

Create a bold, dramatic landscape with these tips for designing with colorful flowers and foliage.

Create Repetition

Create drama and interest in your garden by planting spots of your favorite color. The recurring color will draw the eye through your landscape and give your yard a cohesive feel. Here, for example, clumps of bright red salvia pull attention from the front of the garden to the back.

Change with the Seasons

Add excitement to your yard by adjusting the color scheme from season to season. It's easy with a little planning -- just pay attention to your plants' flowering times. For example, grow pink-, purple-, or blue-blooming bulbs and perennials in the spring; summery red and pink blossoms in the hot months; then mums with trees and shrubs in golden, orange, or red tones in autumn.

Design for Your Timeline

Consider when you spend the most time in your yard as you choose your colors. If you're outside mostly in the evenings, go for plants with silvery foliage or white flowers. They shimmer and shine as the sun goes down, whereas other shades tend to fade. If you see your garden mainly in the mornings, select bright flowers and foliage to give your day a cheery start.

Employ Bright Colors

Shades of red, orange, and yellow usually catch your eye the fastest, so use plants and art in these colors as focal points. These bold, bright hues are also perfect for directing attention away from objects you'd prefer not to view. For example, splash some orange in your yard to keep garden guests from noticing your neighbor's garbage cans or recycling bin.

Plant in Layers

Think of your garden like a cake and create bands of color that run horizontally. Layered plantings such as the garden you see here are wonderful for adding depth to your yard. In this garden, lacecap hydrangeas create a soft pink and blue strip. Underneath is a swath of oranges and yellows, and a lovely band of lavender provides a base.

Pick a Color Palette

One easy way to create lots of interest is to picking a color scheme. Select a few shades that blend well and create the look you crave. By limiting your color choices, each one has more impact -- and it relates beautifully with everything around it.

Create a Canvas

Understated walls are perfect for showcasing art. So use neutral green, gray, or brown backgrounds to highlight plants or colors in your yard. Here, for example, a beige stucco wall makes beautiful climbing roses and honeysuckle shine.

Plant En Masse

Large groups of a single hue make more of an impact than smaller clusters, so coordinate your plants to create big drifts of color. This trick is effective both when you use a single plant and when you grow different plants of the same shade that bloom together. Try a widening swath of reds and blues to create a dramatic visual crescendo across the landscape.

Play Off Containers

Color-play doesn't have to be limited to flowers. Add interest in your yard with statement-making containers. A bold blue ceramic pot, for example, can make just as much impact as the blooms it holds.

Add Color with Structures

Landscape structures, such as fences, pergolas, and garden sheds can add a dose of visual thrill to your yard, especially if you live in a snowy winter climate. This cool blue fence ties in with a planting of perennial geranium and purple thalia in the water garden, and a red door and lime-green bench give the landscape some added pizzazz.

Think in Small Sections

Deciding how to plant your entire yard can be daunting. But make it easier by approaching color choices like you would a bouquet of flowers. Once you come up with a combo you like, select a few more flowers that come in those shades and plant them together around the yard.

Take It to the Next Level

Select trees with colorful foliage (such as tricolor beech or golden locust, shown here) or flowers to extend your garden's visual appeal up into the air. For the biggest impact, use trees that echo one of the tones in the plantings below them.

Brighten Shady Spots

Chartreuse is an ideal color for creating drama in shady spots. Plants such as Japanese forestgrass, 'Gold Heart' bleeding heart, creeping Jenny, or the variegated bamboo shown here act like a ray of sunshine. Also consider evergreens with golden foliage to enliven areas that experience a lot of gray skies in winter.

Play Up Purple

Golden leaves grab the eye -- but so do purple ones. And plants with violet, maroon, or plum-hue leaves (including 'Diabolo' ninebark, many Japanese maples, and many weigelas) are especially trendy. The rich coloring stands out in the garden and blends well with a wide variety of shades, including chartreuse.

Go Monochrome

The easiest way to make a statement with color is to pick one hue. Create depth by using different shades -- for example, explore the range of purples. And don't forget to tie your design together by adding plants that have your preferred color in their foliage.

Make a Sense of Space

Soft colors such as white and pastel pinks, purples, and blues can make your garden feel larger because they seem like they're farther away. Maximize the effect by planting bolder shades of red, orange, or yellow up close.

Create Contrasts

White stands out most next to black -- so use that same idea in garden design by combining plants with light-color flowers or foliage with darker ones. A purple-leafed phormium makes a strong background for the white variegation in a scented geranium or the brightness of a pristine rose bloom.

Attract Attention

Bold colors stand on their own, so shades of red, orange, and yellow are perfect for drawing attention to your favorite landscape element. Try planting red bee balm next to your front door, for example, or try bright furniture next to a garden hearth. A crimson rocker acts as a literal red flag to draw the eye toward an inviting blaze.

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