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.

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