Choosing Colors and Textures for Your Garden

Learn how to change the look and feel of your garden with this guide.

By: DK Books - Gardeners Guide
The Prickly Stems  and Spiny Flowers of Sea Hollies

The Prickly Stems and Spiny Flowers of Sea Hollies

Successful planting designs combine leaf, stem and flower textures as well as colors. Pair plants with contrasting textures, such as the spiky petals of sea holly flowers with silky petals.

Photo by: DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Successful planting designs combine leaf, stem and flower textures as well as colors. Pair plants with contrasting textures, such as the spiky petals of sea holly flowers with silky petals.

Just like a fresh coat of paint can change the look and feel of a room, different color palettes can transform a garden space. Certain colors can be used to create an exciting and energizing area, while others will make an atmosphere feel calm and tranquil. Combine hot pinks, reds, and oranges in areas where you want borders to sparkle; cool blues, greens, purples, and white close to relaxing seating and dining areas. 

The Color Wheel

Many artists and designers use a device called a color wheel to help them create pleasing color combinations. The wheel is made up of the primary colors (blue, red, and yellow) and secondary colors (green, orange, and purple). The secondary colors are directly derived from the adjacent primaries, for example when blue and red paints are mixed they make purple, and red and yellow combine to produce orange. The same principle applies to the tertiary colors, which result when adjacent secondary and primary colors are mixed.

You can use the wheel to create a color palette in the garden. Combine colors directly opposite each other, such as yellow and purple, to create dramatic contrasts that will help to enliven a planting design, or try adjacent colors to produce more subtle blends.

Choosing Colors

As well as using the wheel for ideas, also consider the effects that colors have on the senses. Hot hues, including red, yellow, and orange, are bright, arresting colors that catch the eye: use them as focal points in borders or in pots on a patio. These sizzling shades will also seem to shorten a space and can make a garden look smaller if set at the back.

Cool colors, such as blue, green, and mauve, have the opposite effect and help to lengthen a view, just as colors pale toward the horizon. Blues and mauves are easy on the eye, but a plan with only these colors may look flat, so inject warmer colors to liven it up. 

Using Colors 

Use the color wheel as a guide when mixing and matching colors in your garden, and try the following ideas to create successful designs. You can also incorporate shades and tints of the main hues: shades are colors with additional black, making darker hues, while tints are colors mixed with white and are paler. Use these color mixing ideas to design the color palette you are seeking in your garden:

  • Single color and duotone colors: These designs will allow you to create a sophisticated look. The famous white garden at Sissinghurst in the United Kingdom has inspired many to adopt a monochrome palette, using a combination of white flowers and silver and variegated foliage. Or try planting a border with just two colors, such as purple and yellow, or pink and mauve.
  • Opposite colors: Using contrasting shades from the colorwheel will produce a successful design when used in combination with each other. These contrasting colors are known as complementary shades and are used by many top garden designers. Try pairing purple salvias with bright yellow Doronicum, or opt for maroon alliums with lime green euphorbias.
  • Triadic colors: These shades are the ones that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Like opposite colors, they often create a sense of excitement since they are contrasting hues. Triadic color combinations are useful if you have cool hues, such as purple and blue, which need a matching hot shade to enhance the design.
  • Adjoining colors: Pairing these colors can create harmonious combinations. For example, when you select soft purples and blues, the effect is soothing. Paler tints that reflect light will help to inject highlights into your plan. If you are more adventurous, try a fiery mix of the hot shades, such as red and orange, with a foil of darker shades, and watch your borders blaze under the sun.

Using Plant Textures 

Successful planting designs combine leaf, stem, and flower textures as well as colors. Select shiny leaves, berries, and fruits to reflect light into gloomy areas, and use soft, downy foliage close to the front of a bed or border where its tactile texture can be fully appreciated. Also, plant trees with rough or peeling bark to create focal points in winter gardens. 

When creating your planting designs, pair up plants with contrasting textures. Try matching grasses with plants that produce felted or ferny leaves. Think, too, about the texture of flowers, combining the satin petals of roses, for example, with the spiky bracts and rough, prickly flowerheads of sea holly (Eryngium) or the brushlike blooms of red hot pokers (Kniphofia). 

Try these various textures when looking to add variation to your garden:

  • Prickly: The prickly stems of roses and spiky sea holly flowers contrast well with silky petals.
  • Silky: The petals of large flowers, such as tea roses, camellias, and hibiscus have a satin-like texture. 
  • Shiny: The leaves of Fatsia, camellias, and other plants add a shiny texture, as do berries and fruits. 
  • Matte: Plants with matte leaves include GunneraCercis, hydrangeas, and many others. 
  • Soft: Stachys byzantina and Verbascum bombyciferum are prized for their downy foliage. 
  • Hard: The rigid trunks of trees, like Acer pensylvanicum, contrast well with their soft canopies
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