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How to Use Colour in Your Garden
Your garden colour scheme will derive from the style of garden you are making. You may not want to restrict your colour palette at all, planting spontaneously and experimenting along the way. Or you may want to plant your whole garden or individual parts of it using a restricted palette. Colour theories were developed by the famous English gardening woman, Gertrude Jekyll who was a trained artist, and the French Impressionist artist, Claude Monet. Both used their gardens at Munstead Wood and at Giverny as a living canvas. Since then, colour themeing gardens have been made and copied - Hidcote’s Red Borders, Sissinghurst’s white garden are particular favourites. Sometimes adopting a colour scheme gives better results in terms of a harmonious planting scheme. Here we show you some of the underlying ideas on using colour in your garden. These other Workshops might also be helpful: How to plan a winter border; How to plan a spring border; How to plan a summer border; How to plan an autumn border; How to plan for year round interest.
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One way to choose and blend colours is to use a spectral wheel - found in gardening books or make your own - to help you select plants on a colour basis. Identify complementary colours: pairs of diametrically opposed hues: red and green, yellow and violet. Harmonising colours are adjacent hues which share a pigment: red-violet-blue, orange-yellow-green.
Plant colour comes from foliage, fruit and texture as well as flowers. Give any colour scheme a backbone of good foliage plants. Hard landscaping materials also influence how colour appears in your garden.
Match your colour scheme to the garden and planting style - a happy confusion of colours for Cottage style gardens; shades of green with few muted coloured flowers for Japanese style gardens; bright harmonies for Mediterranean style gardens.
Colour affects the mood of your garden. Hotter colours are exciting, intense and stimulating - use around patios. Cool colours are restful, calming and relaxing - use around secluded seating areas. White draws the eye - use pale tints rather than pure white to lighten borders unless you want to focus attention on an area. Silver foliage adds light to an area.
Colour in the garden is affected not only by hue intensity but also by light, time of day, seasons, texture of plant, form/habit/shape of plant, other colours in the ‘picture’, the amount or area of colour. As a gardening Impressionist, where you put colour and what it is next to affects how it is seen. But your viewpoint constantly changes, too, as you move around the garden.
Soil type affects plant colour - some hydrangeas flower pink on alkaline soil, blue on acid. Colours change with seasons for instance the warm red stems of dogwood look hot in winter, then they produce cool green foliage and white flowers in summer.
Use blue and pale colours at the end of borders to make them look longer. Bright colours foreshorten. Purple foliage adds weight and balance to a scheme, and silver foliage cools down adjacent hot colours. For a first step it’s a good idea to colour on paper a planting scheme or part of one using complementary colours for harmonious schemes results. Restrict your palette to one of the following combinations: red and green; yellow and purple/lilac; orange and blue. Test for balance by colouring the space each plant takes up.
A spectral wheel shows you all colour shades together
Certain colours are always good together, such as blue and yellow
Strong hot colours such as red are effective planted together
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Other Design and Style Articles
   Adding a Japanese touch        Attracting birds to your garden
   Coping with hot, dry gardens        Dealing with exposed gardens
   Disguising eyesores        Ensuring year-round interest
   Gardening in a conservatory        Gardening in a v. small space
   Gardening on a roof top        Lighting in your garden
   Making a cottage garden        Making a family garden
   Making a rock garden        Making a wildlife garden
   Making a woodland garden        Plan a garden from scratch
   Planning a spring border        Planning a summer border
   Planning a winter border        Planning an autumn border
   Revamp an overgrown garden        Revamping a Patio
   Shaping a lawn        Simple topiary
   Using colour in your garden        Using exotic plants
   Using microclimates        Using objects in borders