Basic Design Principles at Menards®

Basic Design Principles: Using Color In Your Flower Garden

Using Color

When you get right down to it flower gardens are really about color. That color can come from flowers, foliage, bark, pottery, furniture, fences and even artwork, but in the end it is all about color. Our gardens are meant to enhance our lives and to make our homes look better from the curb. Color can be soothing or exciting, it can be a riot or a river, it can be front and center or something much more subtle, but whatever our choices, color is the goal. Any color scheme can work, it's your garden so if you're happy who cares what anyone else thinks. However, understanding the basic principles of using color in design can help make that picture in your head a reality. Be it a soothing sanctuary or a patio ready for a party.

The first thing to learn is which colors are considered neutral in gardening. Neutral colors are those colors that can be used with any other color without changing the effect that you are trying to achieve. White, black, grey, silver and shades of brown are considered neutral in any arena. In gardening, green also functions as a neutral. Neutral colors will have a tendency to tone down the other colors in a bed and can be used as a buffer between two plants that might otherwise clash.

While white functions as a neutral in the garden, it also serves another purpose. White glows when you view the garden early in the morning, during the evening and at night. With busy lives, many of us view our gardens less during the day and more often during twilight hours. If you will be using your garden often after dark be sure to include a healthy dose of white flowers and silver foliage. These plants will show well in the evening.

The easiest color plan to pull off is probably the monochromatic color scheme, which is simply combining shades of a single color together to create a garden bed. These beds are simple to put together because choosing plants from a single color family is pretty easy to do. I know monochromatic can sound boring, but these beds don't have to be blah. They can include great depth and interest as illustrated in these photos. Monochromatic color schemes include shades of red including pink, shades of orange and shades of yellow, shades of black, white or violet.

Now comes the part that can be a little bit more intimidating, mixing different colors together. Mixing colors doesn’t have to be difficult and learning to successfully mix colors is easiest if you use the color wheel as a starting point. I know just hearing that you might be using a color wheel may strike terror in your heart, but take a deep breath and repeat after me "The Color Wheel Is My Friend." Really.

Analogous Colors
The first key to understanding mixing colors is to look at the basic relationships between the colors. Using the color wheel is the easiest way to illustrate these concepts. One easy way to combine colors is to use analogous colors. Analogous colors are those that are next to each other on the color wheel. These colors tend to blend together well. The diagram below shows the six major colors on the color wheel. Analogous colors include red and orange, orange and yellow, yellow and green, green and blue, blue and violet, and violet and red. Analogous colors can go beyond two colors, groups of red, orange, and yellow or blue, violet and red can also be considered analogous colors.

Complementary Colors
If you are a bit more adventurous and like some contrast in your colors, try using complementary colors, which can add a lot of pop to your bed. Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. The 3 complementary color pairs are violet and yellow, red and green, and orange and blue. Here are some photos that illustrate the use of complementary colors in the landscape. From left to right are orange and blue, violet and bright yellow and violet and light yellow.

Triad Colors
The third color scheme illustrated by the color wheel is the color triad. The color triad is created by drawing an equilateral triangle connecting 3 colors in the color wheel. An example of a triad color scheme would be red, yellow and blue and the color scheme would include violet, orange, and green. For a real life example of each triad, look at the photos below. The photo on the left illustrates the red, yellow and blue triad while the photo on the right illustrates the violet, orange, and green triad.

Dark & Bright Colors

Colors also fall into two different categories, dark and bright colors. Dark colors, like blue, purple and pink, tend to create a calming and serene atmosphere and will appear cool in even the worst heat. Dark tones are perfect for creating a sanctuary, where you can go to unwind and de-stress from the chaos of life. These colors are great for setting the mood for gatherings filled with soft music and quiet conversation.
Dark colors also have a tendency to make areas look larger than they are. If you have a small garden these colors can help make your area feel more spacious. Don't forget that neutral colors will work with both dark and bright colors to expand the palette of plant material while maintaining the mood you are creating. Bright colors draw attention and make spaces seem smaller.  If you have a large space and you would like to make it seem smaller use bright reds, oranges, and yellows in the distance.  This will make the planting seem closer to you.  Bright colors are also great for drawing attention to areas you would like to highlight, for instance: a front entrance, featured flower beds, seating areas or artwork. Bright colors add a festive feeling and put you in a party mood. They are good next to the patio or a deck where people tend to gather for entertainment. For a more noticeable flower bed add Honey suckle colored flowers.  PANTONE names “Honey suckle” as 2011 color of the year. This shade of pink, with a hint of red and orange says optimism, summertime and has stop-ability. Here are two examples of gardens using dark colors and two examples of using bright colors:

One last point, the most important thing is that you love your garden.  If you have to leave these color principles behind to create your dream garden, do it.  If you're happy, other opinions do not matter.

- Proven Winners and Ball Hort