Creating a Color Scheme for Your Garden

Flowers and plants offer an exceptional color palette that would make any artist envious.
Contrasting Colors

Contrasting Colors

Use opposing colors for an eye catching display in garden border. This simple combination of orange cosmos and purple morning glories will brighten any summer garden or container.

Photo by: DK - Learn to Garden © 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Learn to Garden , 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Use opposing colors for an eye catching display in garden border. This simple combination of orange cosmos and purple morning glories will brighten any summer garden or container.

For some, the huge choice of color in the garden offers an exciting design opportunity, but for others, choosing color schemes can be nothing short of daunting. Many different color theories are used by garden designers, but if you are nervous that your yard may end up a frenzy of clashing hues, or a poor palette of dull shades, the color wheel offers a helpful guide. Using opposing colors guarantees an eye-catching display. This simple but effective combination of fiery orange cosmos and purple-blue morning glories works especially well.

Opposing Colors

The color wheel is made up of primary colors (red, yellow, and blue), and secondary colors (orange, green, and purple); the latter are formed when the two primary colors on either side are mixed together. 

These primary and secondary colors provide the foundation for successful color schemes. You will see that each primary color sits opposite a secondary color. These “opposing colors” are complementary and work extremely well when used together in a garden context. Thus, red goes well with green, yellow with purple, and blue with orange. 

Bearing in mind that most foliage is green, and that—on a good day, at least—the sky is blue, it is difficult to be strict about this theory, because the majority of colors in the garden go well with blue and green. However, it is undeniable that blue and orange do combine very well, and that yellow and purple create a pleasing match. 

Adjoining Colors 

Opposing colors create visual excitement, but can be overbearing. Adjoining colors, which sit side-by-side on the color wheel, create more subtle combinations. These were favored by Gertrude Jekyll, who created many amazing gardens in the early 20th century. She divided the colors into two categories: cool colors, consisting of blues, purples, lilacs, and pinks, and hot colors, which include yellows, oranges, and reds. Jekyll saw that it was important to use the in-between shades to create subtle blends. Rather than planting only yellows and reds, fuse the two with shades of orange and some plants with yellow and red in their foliage to carry the color theme throughout the year. 

Monochrome Planting 

If you are disciplined enough, restrict your palette to just one color. Try creating a sunny yellow border, or a cool silvery-white one. It may seem straightforward to plant a monochrome garden using plants of the same color, but it is important to try to create variation and contrast within a plan, as without that, it will appear bland and monotonous. 

For example, when using white, do not restrict yourself to pure white flowers, but also allow cream, lime green, and pinkish and mauve-tinted whites. Likewise, choose the foliage of the plants carefully, and include pale to dark greens, gray, silver, and blue-tinted leaves. When opting for yellows or reds, go for the full tonal spectrum within those colors, and mirror your color choice in the accompanying foliage. 


This is the most dominant and important color in the garden, and there are myriad shades of green to choose from. For color that will outlast a flowering display, mix foliage in various shades of lime, apple, and blue-green.

Keep Reading

Next Up

America's First Gardens

Celebrate Independence Day by learning what the Founding Fathers (and mothers) grew in their gardens.

What's My Garden Exposure?

Knowing which direction your garden faces and how much sun and shade it gets each day will help you better plan your garden design.

Making a Garden Plan

Accentuate your landscape with a bed or border. Choosing the right plants, using color for effect and contrasting flower shapes are essential for proper garden planning.

Year-Round Gardening Ideas

Plant ideas for all seasons vary in colors, shapes and design influences. Lean on these simple tips when planning for your outdoor area.

Gardening on an Exposed Site

Gardens at high elevations and on exposed sites can be challenging to keep hydrated. Choosing the right plants and protecting from wind damage is essential.

The Best Garden for Your Lifestyle

Use this guide to determine which type of garden might suit you and your lifestyle best.

The Best Garden Design for Your Lifestyle

Discovering an outdoor design that works best for your schedule, budget and space is key to garden planning.

How to Plan and Design a Garden

Design a garden that will inspire you for years to come. Learn how to make a garden that works for you.

Garden Exposure: Choosing the Right Site for Your Plants

Learn more about how exposure and temperature will affect your plant choices with these tips.

How to Shop at an Independent Garden Center

Learn how to shop wisely and save money at an independent garden center.