Flower color is one of the primary characteristics many gardeners look for when shopping for plants. But do we really appreciate the visual impression that various colors convey in our gardens as well as the emotional reaction they produce in ourselves?
When planning a garden’s color scheme, it helps to have a basic understanding of warm and cool
colors and the feelings they stir in the
viewer. Warm colors, including various shades of red, yellow, and orange, are dynamic and tend to stand out from the background. These colors are used to create a sense of passion, joy, optimism, and happiness. The warm colors seem to say, “An upbeat, enthusiastic gardener works this soil.” Because they visually advance from the background—or “pop”—warm colors tend to make a garden space appear smaller.
The cool colors—the blues, violets, and greens—are tranquil and relaxing. They are the colors of the pensive, introspective gardener. Just the opposite of warm colors, cool colors tend to recede from the eye, making a garden plot appear larger. Cool colors create the best visual impression when viewed close up.
Some shades, such as red-violet and yellow-green, fall somewhere in between warm and cool, as does the impression they create. Their visual effect usually depends on the other colors used in the bed.
Most gardeners who attempt to create a color scheme with their plantings strive for either a monochromatic scheme, which includes various tints and shades of the same color, or an analogous scheme, which typically features three or four adjoining colors on the color wheel. The more adventurous might go for a complementary color scheme, using colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, one could combine golden yarrow with blue-violet delphiniums with stunning visual results.
With any color scheme, plants with gray foliage and/or white flowers can be used for softening. Whites and grays are also ideal for the “moonlight garden,” which, as the name implies, is a garden designed to be viewed and enjoyed in the evening by the light of the moon.
A skillfully executed polychromatic garden, which blends the entire gamut of colors, can be quite lively as well. As an interesting alternative, one could create a garden scheme that progresses from one color to another. However, this approach demands a larger gardening space. Otherwise, the color transitions may appear overly abrupt.
Perennials by color
Now that we’ve discussed the effect of plant color in the garden, let’s look at some groupings of plants by flower color so you’ll have some options in mind in case you’d like to create your own garden color scheme. All of the following are perennials, but you can always work in some annuals for an additional splash of color or to provide color until your perennials come into bloom. (Note: several of these examples are available in more than one flower color.)
Pinks and magentas
Blues, lavenders, and purples
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the various perennials by color. A few good reference books and a trip to your local garden center should turn up many additional suggestions.
The bottom line with respect to creating a garden color scheme is that you should work with color combinations that please you. That is, after all, the purpose of a garden. Hopefully the guidelines discussed here will help you find the color scheme that best represents your personality and aesthetic sensibility.