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color wheel garden and landscape

Use a color wheel and a few concepts of color theory to come up with myriad ideas for your flower gardens. Here are some examples.

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Thinking about what to grow in your flower gardens can be overwhelming. There are many things to take into consideration – form, texture, size, light and water needs, and color.

The easiest way to choose colors is with a color wheel. You might remember this from one of your earliest art classes. Or you might remember it from our ongoing series about the color wheel!

Color categories

The primary colors are blue, yellow, and red. All colors are made from those three.

Secondary colors, green, violet, and orange, are made by mixing two primary colors. Blue + yellow = green, red + blue = violet, yellow + red = orange.

Tertiary colors are a mix of a primary and a secondary. Blue + green = blue green; red + violet = red violet, and so on.

Neutral colors are white, silver, black, and brown.

Color schemes

A monochromatic color scheme is tints (light) and shades (dark) of a color (hue). Deep blue, light blue, and dark blue flowers would be a monochromatic color scheme. Pink, red, and maroon would be another. Use foliage as well as flowers.

An analogous color scheme is three colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel. Red is flanked by red-orange and red-violet, and you can use tints and shades of all the hues. Yellow, yellow-orange, and yellow-green are analogous colors as well. Again, use foliage for color, too.

complementary colors flower bed

Complimentary colors are opposite colors. Blue and orange is one of my favorite complimentary color schemes. It’s cool and vibrant all at once. Tints and shades of both colors provide visual interest and depth. Yellow and violet, the colors of pansies, are also opposites.

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A triad color scheme is a triangle of colors evenly spaced around the wheel. The primary colors of blue, red, and yellow are a triad, as are green, orange and purple. How about blue-green, yellow-orange, and red-violet? What an interesting garden that would make!

Using colors

All colors are warm or cool. Yellow, orange, and red are warm, and violet, blue, and green are cool.

Warm colors seem to advance, come towards you, while cool colors recede. If you have a small space, you can enlarge it with cool colors. If your garden or yard is large, a warm colored border will make it appear closer.

colorful flower garden layout

Darker colors are relaxing, while lighter colors are lively. Light, bright flowers and foliage can be a focal point or emphasize an entryway. They will also brighten up a dark area of the yard.

If you are planting perennials, take into consideration bloom time. You can plant a garden to have all cool colors in spring, and hot, vibrant colors in summer.

This is a much more exact science when mixing paints or choosing textiles. Flower and foliage color varies according to water, soil conditions, and light. But I think those variations are what make gardens alive!

Using neutrals

Use white and silver to soften the busyness of a colorful garden. Eyes rest on white and silver, so you might need some in that triad garden I mentioned of blue-green, yellow-orange, and red-violet! White flowers or silver foliage, like that of Dusty Miller, will make that color scheme more restful.

White flowers are also wonderful for nighttime gardens, because they practically glow. If you work all day and can only enjoy your gardens at night, plant a variety of white flowers.

Hardscaping and outdoor furniture colors

Color does not have to come only from flowers! Leaves provide color, too, but think about your outbuildings, fences, and furniture.

Make your outdoor furniture part of your color scheme. Paint it purple, and plant yellow and white flowers for a complimentary color scheme. Paint it green, and plant orange and purple flowers for a triad scheme.

colorful house and gardens flower pots

Use colorful containers. Blue could be the base color for a wide variety of color schemes.

Paint a fence or gazebo white in a garden full of color. Use a wall on your house or shed as an accent wall. Paint it off-white as a backdrop for any scheme, or paint it dark pink to offset a garden full of foliage plants (complimentary).

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Don’t be intimidated by color! Print out a color wheel, or find an app, and take it out to the garden. Take notes, then pour over nursery catalogs. Go to a nursery, look around, and ask questions. Go to garden shows this spring, and visit a botanical garden for more ideas.

You can easily change a coat of paint if you don’t like it. If you are using annual flowers, you can change it up each year. Play! Experiment! And have fun!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.