Gardening 101

Color Rules the Garden

Color dominates our plant choices. We visit the garden center with our eye on the well-stocked aisles of multi-colored annuals and perennials.

The shrubs and trees that bloom in the spring rule our landscapes. We look to color to excite or soothe our emotions, enrich our lives and provide order and grace to our gardens.

Color in the Garden:2webIn design we rely on the color wheel to make our color decisions. The circular arrangement of the primary colors of red and blue and yellow combine to provide secondary colors of purple, orange and green.

Harmony results by using related colors. Yellow goes with green or works well with orange and red in the opposite direction on the wheel. Complements are found across the color wheel and provide optical shock that creates interest and excitement in one bold stroke

Verbena and Ace of Spades Sweet Potato VineOur emotions are on display with use of color in the garden. Yellow is cheerful, pink is frivolous, mauve is romantic and green restful. Warm a space with the use of reds, oranges and yellows, which also tend to advance or foreshorten a view. The cool colors of blue, mauve and violet recede in the landscape adding depth to a small garden. Use pale colored flowers and blue green foliage to cool a hot sunny area.

To brighten a dark or shady corner, plant flowering shrubs or perennials that have clear, bright colored blooms. If you want to grab someone’s attention use RED. Intensify a color by surrounding it with a neutral shade such as white. Design creates a sense of order and unity, whereas the lack of design presents chaos and is best represented by crowding too many clashing colors in a small space.

Any color can be used as the theme in the design of a garden. The Klein-Pringle White garden at the JC Raulston Arboretum was influenced by the design of Vita Sackville-West’s White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England. Claude Monet, in the design of his Giverny Gardens outside Paris, would choose a dominant color that he interwove through the garden with contrasting and complementary hues.

Colorful foliage creates further interest long after seasonal flowers fade. A variegated plant grabs your attention when combined with a nearby plant whose bloom is the same color as the variegated leaf. By creating this color jump or echo you provide unity and contrast with dissimilar plants. Combine plants that have common cultural needs. Rearrange and refine your color combinations until they provide the spark you are looking for.

Hoyt Bangs, a Raleigh native and landscape designer is owner of WaterWise Garden Design. You may reach him at

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