Clever with Colour

Everyone loves a colourful garden. Some enjoy heady swathes of bright colour while others prefer more subdued colour schemes. Whatever your choice, there are so many exciting possibilities that you can create if you get clever with colour.

In this series, we show you easy ways get clever with colour in your garden.

Complementary colours

There are two simple ways of choosing colours for the style or theme you would like to create and, in this article, we discuss ways of introducing complementary colours into your planting scheme. A very basic colour wheel is all you need for the garden.

Complementary colours are located opposite one another on the colour wheel, so, for instance, violet and yellow, orange and blue, red and green, red-orange and blue-green, yellow-orange and blue-violet, and red-violet and yellow-green, are all complementary combinations.

Complementary colours create a contrasting colour scheme that, by varying the intensity of each colour, will result in either a vibrant or a subtle combination.

The psychological effects of getting clever with colour

Bright colours in the yellow-green, yellow, yellow-orange, orange, red-orange and red spectrum are recognised as warm, cheerful colours. They certainly do have a warming effect outdoors, especially in winter, and are colours that are found in succulent species as well as in beautifully patterned, tropical foliage.

Pink, mauve, violet, blue-violet and blue have a cool, calming effect in a garden, and, when you add a touch of white or silver-grey, create a romantic, elegant mix.

Garden styles

Through our interpretation of the original garden styles, we recognise that certain colour schemes work best to depict different styles or garden themes. For instance, you will often see purple (or violet) and yellow featured in Mediterranean gardens, while orange and red-orange are prevalent in a winter-flowering succulent garden where the colour of the succulent leaves is often blue-green.

In an informal cottage garden one expects to find a colourful mix of herbs, vegetables and perennials with little consideration for colour combinations, while colour choice plays an important role in a country-style garden where massed plantings of shrubs, perennials and annuals are used for a bold effect.

The question is often asked: “How can I incorporate several colour schemes into a single space.” Firstly, if your garden lends itself to being divided into different ‘rooms’, this is an exciting way of creating a journey for yourself and guests through different spaces, each with its own colour scheme.

If that’s not possible, it’s easy enough to transition between different colour schemes by simply using a swathe of green foliage as a divider before picking up on a new colour combination. You can also blend one colour into the next, but we will chat about this in our next article on harmonious colour schemes.

Where to start

There’ll always be those favourites in your garden that you won’t want to remove. To create a complementary colour scheme, find the colour of your favourite plant on the colour wheel and locate its complementary partner on the opposite side. So if you have a shrub with orange flowers, you could incorporate anything blue into the colour scheme. If the shrub has yellow flowers, purple would be your obvious choice. Orange will pair well with blue (think orange Strelitzia Reginae with the blue of Plumbago Auriculata), while red-violet (mauve) and yellow-green (limegreen) are perfect companions.

Undertones can make a difference

All colour has either a blue or a yellow undertone, and it’s worth taking the time to become familiar with these if you enjoy working with colour. Often the undertone does not reveal itself unless you place the plants in question next to one another or on a white background.

Hybridised colours sometimes clash horribly with one another, and that is because the undertone varies, especially when it comes to annuals – and even more so when they are sold in mixed packs with no consideration for the undertone.

There’s no rule to say that undertones must be identical. In the case of succulents, a combination of foliage with either a yellow or blue undertone provides a striking mix of colour and texture. However, when working with prominent flowering species such as roses, your colour combinations will be greatly improved by pairing the correct undertones. For instance, both pink and red can have a decidedly blue or yellow undertone, and, by using them incorrectly, the one can pull the other down.

Choosing the perfect accessories

It’s not necessary to always rely on flowering plants to create your perfect colour combinations, especially in a small garden where planting space might be limited. Use containers, cushions, furniture and any other accessories you enjoy and apply the same rules to create a complementary colour scheme.

The Gardener