Garden Design

Color Harmony in the Garden

Color harmony in sedum

Do areas of your garden have a hodge-podge of colors? Squeezing in all your beloved plants can result in an incohesive, even restless effect. Managing color harmony through all the seasons is an advanced garden technique because of having to keep track of a year-long mental inventory of plants including when, and for how long, they bloom.

Color Harmony Chart

This chart simplifies managing color throughout the year. Look down the columns for the colors, and across to track the changing seasons. You can see in this sample chart that the color scheme changes dramatically from the yellow and oranges of summer into the cooler colors for fall.

Color harmony chart

Color harmony chart by Erica Winston

The first time you fill the chart out is like getting the frame in place for a jigsaw puzzle. After that is done, it is easy to see where the pieces fit in. You will need some colored pencils or markers. Just the basic colors: yellow, orange, pink, red, blue, purple, maybe yellow-green and green, and dark green if you are working for shade.

List the plants and mark in their colors for the area of your garden that you look at and feel dissatisfied with. You can probably do most of it from memory but check the garden each season for any surprises. When you are done, look at the chart and you will see what colors show up the most. Those are the colors you need to work with to manage the color harmony.

Also, look at your chart for colors that are not repeated – that maybe are not companionable with their neighbors. In the Sunny Garden chart, the Sedum fits poorly in the early months it is blooming. You might choose to put up with that because you love its texture as foliage contrast the rest of the year. Or you might consider moving it and putting in a plant that enriches the blend of orange and yellow that dominates. A third choice is adding a transition color around the Sedum, a creamy variegated foliage plant, for example, to create some distance between it and the other plants.

Once you have discovered your dominant colors, it is time to consider what to do to create the harmony you are seeking:

Color echoes

Repetition of color as a means of creating unity, serenity, interest, and charm in a garden.

Color schemes

Using color theory for serene (analogous) colors or bold (complementary) ones. Many websites show color schemes based on the theory of the color wheel.


Highlighting the secondary color of a flower by underplanting with flowers of that color.

Your chart should include the larger landscape context, such as neighboring shrubs and trees. Flowering trees are a big factor in a spring garden. Redbuds add a magenta that can be jarring right near bright yellow daffodils. A woodland garden in April might be a classic blue and yellow area with iris, blue-eyed grass, bluebells, and yellow green’n golds. And then the neighbors’ azaleas open to fuchsias and reds, creating a major dissonance.

Only list the plants that are flowering and providing color in your chart. The rest is part of the green matrix. Some plants, like daylilies or green’n golds “step forward” when blooming, and then fade back into the green. Other plants maintain interest for a whole season or longer, such as chartreuse Carex Everillo or variegated foliage plants.

Put your completed chart in a plastic sleeve so you can carry it around the garden and into the nursery. If you use it when you add plants, it will be a snap to keep your colors harmonious in any season.

Erica Winston is an NGC Landscape Design Consultant and shade gardener. Her own garden is a certified National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat.


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