Colour Gardens

All plants are coloured, so what is a “colour” garden? Well, some gardeners like to use particular colour schemes, choosing either all pastel or all bright colours, for example, rather than just dotting colour around the garden at random. A favourite idea is to create a border or even a whole garden of a single colour – a particularly popular choice being white.

Contrasting colours can make a bold visual
statement. These pinkish-orange dahlias
stand out vividly against the deep blue salvias.

Choosing colours

We all know what colours are, although we may see them slightly differently. What we don’t all agree on is which colours are pleasing and which are not. Inevitably, because we are all different, our feelings about certain colours or combinations vary dramatically. Therefore, although there may seem to be codes or formulas for colour use, it is important to do what pleases you; after all, the garden is for you. For a long time, mixing oranges and purples would have been deemed one of the worst sins in gardening, but now influential gardeners are much more adventurous and many will readily combine these colours.

Arranging colours

Using colours in drifts can make a big impact in a garden, and if the drifts are planted so that they merge harmoniously rather than jump suddenly from one extreme to another, then so much the better. In this way mauves might merge into blues, and yellows into oranges, creating a soft, fluid design that leads the eye around the garden.

If you want to create something more eye-catching, then try planting contrasting colours such as orange and mauve together. If you are not brave enough to put them right next to each other, use a foliage plant between them to soften the impact. As with so many other aspects of designing gardens, it is best to see how other people use colour and then follow those ideas that you like.

Soft, pastel colours can create a
tranquil, peaceful feeling. Here,
pink alliums mix with white
geraniums and blue salvias.

Creating different moods

Colours can have a significant effect on our mood. Hot colours such as oranges and flame reds are lively and exciting, whereas the lighter pastel colours are cool and soothing. Dark purples are sombre and heavy and, if overdone in a garden, can produce a leaden appearance.

Single-colour gardens

Experimental gardeners can have great fun by devoting a border or even a whole garden to a single bloom colour – white is an especially popular choice. Such gardens are not truly just one colour anyway, because you have to take the foliage into account. So, a “white” garden is usually made up of white, green and perhaps silver and grey. Even the white may vary from a creamy or a yellowish white to bluish-white, and it takes a fair amount of skill to balance these different variations.

Two-colour gardens

This variation on the single-colour planting idea involves a border, or whole garden, being planted with two different colours. White and gold or yellow and blue are two popular and pleasing combinations. The two colours can be equal in quantity or mainly one with a touch of the other as a contrast.

White flowers

  • Achillea ptarmica
  • Anaphalis margaritacea
  • Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’
  • Anemone nemorosa
  • Antirrhinum majus
  • Argyranthemum frutescens
  • Bellis
  • Campanula latiloba alba
  • Convallaria majalis
  • Crambe cordifolia
  • Dianthus
  • Dicentra spectabile ‘Alba’
  • Digitalis purpurea ‘Alba’


  • Epilobium angustifolium ‘Album’
  • Geranium sanguineum ‘Album’
  • Gypsophila paniculata
  • Iberis sempervirens
  • Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’
  • Lathyrus
  • Leucanthemum ‘Everest’
  • Lilium
  • Lysimachia clethroides
  • Nicotiana sylvestris
  • Omphalodes linifolia
  •  Osteospermum ‘Whirligig’


  • Paeonia
  • Penstemon ‘White Bedder’
  • Petunia
  • Phlox paniculata ‘Fujiama’
  • Polygonatum x hybridum
  • Ranunculus aconitifolius
  • Romneya coulteri
  • Smilacina
  • Viola
  • Zantedeschia aethiopica



You can create a white garden in spring,
as seen here, and then change the plants
to have a "hot" red garden in the summer.

Hot colours

Vibrant and exciting bright orange, flame red and orange-yellow can be great fun to play with. They attract the eye and can create a focal point in the garden. But, like parties, they are great fun once in a while but can lose their appeal if done to excess. Certainly, a whole garden planted in these colours would become tiring after a short while, so it is better to create just one border or a part of a border, placing them in key positions. They can also look effective on the far side of a pond.

Contrasting colours

Using colours that contrast particularly boldly with each other can add drama to a border and will draw the eye. Many people find that some contrasting colours are more acceptable than others. Most would agree that bright red looks fabulous with green, for example, but they may be more reserved about other combinations, such as orange with purple. As with hot colours, gardeners should always bear in mind that dramatic contrasts can begin to jar if used too much.