Many beginner gardeners don’t think much about garden color schemes other than they want a lot of color — the more the better. Choosing too many colors for your garden can result in a wild mess that you likely won’t be happy with.
Luckily, working with garden color schemes is not as intimidating as you think. When you plan your home decor, you rely on color to tie your room together. When you get dressed in the morning, you pick your clothing based on color schemes.
Why do we treat our gardens so differently… combining colors together that we’d never put in our homes or on our bodies?
When deciding on a color scheme for your garden, take cues from your clothes and your home decor. What colors do you like to wear or use when decorating? These are the colors that you’re drawn to and will give you a sense of what you may like in your garden, too!
Tips for Getting Started with Color Schemes
Before we go “into the weeds” here, I want to give you some quick wins if you haven’t ever thought about a color scheme for your garden. It’s easy for me to say “choose a color scheme and stick with it.” But… it can be overwhelming to choose a color scheme if you are just a beginner at gardening. So, here are some of my tips for locking down your garden color scheme:
- Decide on the energy of your garden: Depending on the color “temperature” the colors in your garden can evoke different energy. So, it’s important to first decide what type of feeling you want to convey with your garden.
- Do you want a garden that’s relaxing and calm? For peaceful gardens, you want to keep the color temperature cool and the contrast to a minimum. I’d recommend blue, purple, blue green and as a bonus… white!
- Do you want a garden that’s vibrant and energizing? For exciting gardens, keep the color temperature warm and amp up the contrast. I’d recommend red, orange and yellow and yellow-green.
- Choose ONE color at first: To get started, all you need to do is choose one single color — that’s it! Pick your favorite color and this will be the beginning of your color scheme! Keep it simple.
- Research native plants in this color: Next you’ll want to find some plants that have the color you’re focusing on. The garden planning worksheets in my Printable Garden Planner Kit are great for getting these ideas down onto paper.
- Choose a design style for your garden: Are you looking for a cottage, traditional or a modern garden style? Decide on the style that you’ll use to give you a better idea of how to arrange your plantings.
- Hone your garden over time: Once you get the base color, style and feeling in place, you can begin to incorporate more plant combinations, colors and focal points into your garden beds. Take it one step at a time!
Planning your color palette before you start choosing plants will save you a lot of headaches – and money buying the wrong plants. Think about your garden in terms of color schemes and plant combinations rather than quantity of colors. This is pretty easy to do once you learn a little bit about color theory and settle yourself into your chosen color scheme. This is done using the color wheel.
Quick Tip: If you are interested in learning more about creating a 4-season garden, check out my post about Landscape Layering.
Understanding the Color Wheel
Before your eyes roll back in your head or you click away from this page… try to bear with me. The color wheel is not that intimidating, I promise!
There are 12 colors on the basic color wheel and these are divided into 3 primary colors, 3 secondary colors and 6 tertiary, or intermediate, colors.
The three primary colors are red, blue and yellow. Each and every OTHER color on the color wheel is created from mixing these colors together. This means that if you had only red, blue and yellow tubes of paint, you would be able to mix those colors together to make the other 9 colors. In fact, combining the 3 primary colors in addition to black and white (as tints) is how every other color in the world is created!
Mixing two of the three primary colors together in 50/50 combinations creates the three secondary colors of the color wheel:
- Red + Blue = Purple
- Red + Yellow = Orange
- Blue + Yellow = Green
Furthermore, a 50/50 combination of a primary color with its neighboring secondary color will create tertiary colors (also called intermediate). These make up the final 6 colors we’ll be talking about:
- Red + Orange = Vermillion (Red-Orange)
- Red + Purple = Magenta (Red-Purple)
- Blue + Purple = Violet (Blue-Purple)
- Blue + Green = Teal (Blue-Green)
- Yellow + Orange = Amber (Yellow-Orange)
- Yellow + Green = Chartreuse (Yellow-Green)
With just a little bit of knowledge of how the color wheel works, you can use it to create amazing garden color schemes. Let me show you how!
Garden color schemes and how to use them
If you’re following along, you’ve already chosen the “main” color for your garden color scheme. Using what you know about the color wheel, you can start to hone that single color into a beautiful palette. There’s no rush here! Starting with just one single color is totally ok at first.
Using the color wheel, you are able to create all different kinds of garden color schemes that will evoke different types of moods. The three types of color schemes I’m going to cover are:
- Analogous: three colors next to each other on the color wheel
- Complementary: two colors opposite each other on the color wheel
- Complex: a set of analogous colors plus the complimentary color opposite them on the color wheel. Basically, combine the two together 🙂
Analogous Color Schemes
Analogous color schemes use colors that are right next to each other on the color wheel in groups of 3’s. Because there isn’t too much contrast between the three colors, they sort of just “blend” together in a really harmonious way. It’s very pleasing to the eye (and easy to do)!
The photo above is a great example of an analogous color scheme.
If you use violet as your primary garden color, add to it various shades of purple flowers and blue flowers. When you combine purples and blues in the garden, you get a harmonious, analogous color scheme that works every time.
Complementary Color Schemes
On the color wheel, each primary color will be directly across from a secondary color. These “opposites” are called complementary colors. The way my high school art teacher explained this to me is that complementary colors, when placed right next to each other, make each color appear its most vibrant and bright. Complementary colors are great for adding a “pop” to your garden. Here are some examples of vibrant, exciting complimentary garden color schemes:
Yellow + Purple
A complimentary color scheme of purple and yellow is a very easy combination to try in the garden. There are so many plant choices in this range. And, these opposite colors really pop against each other.
Try the yellow ‘Moonshine’ yarrow (zones 3-9) combined with catmint (zones 3-9) and ‘Blue Queen’ salvia (zones 5-9).
Orange + Blue
Combining blue and orange in the garden is a vibrant and unique complimentary color scheme that will take people’s breath away. Although it’s more difficult to find true blue flowers to contrast with orange, the results are well-worth the effort for this stand out display.
Create this blue-orange complimentary color scheme at home by combining the beautiful ‘Orange Emperor’ tulip (zones 3-8) with blue forgot-me-nots (zones 5-9) for a high impact combination.
Red + Green
Since foliage is green, a red-green complimentary color scheme is one of the easiest to pull off. A lush mix of green leafed plants is the perfect backdrop to set red blooming plants on fire. Red will always look its most intense grown against it’s opposite: green.
Try it at home by combining ‘Tiny Tim’ euphorbia (zones 6-8) and ‘Red Emperor’ or ‘Madame Lefeber’ tulips (zones 3-8). You can also swap the tulips for some beautiful red roses.
Quick Tip: If you’re enjoying these color combinations, check out my post about how to combine plants in your garden.
Complex Color Schemes
Complex garden color schemes are the most, well, complex of the schemes. Basically, we’re combining the first two garden color schemes together! Yay, more color! This color scheme lets you use a wider range of colors without creating chaos.
Despite being complex, this is the most popular of the garden color schemes! It literally is the difference between professionally designed gardens and ones that look amateurish. If you can edit down your wild and crazy color scheme to a complex color scheme, you will notice such a huge change in the harmony of your landscape. It’s the “little” tweak that makes all the difference!
A complex complimentary color scheme consists of 3 colors next to each other on the color wheel (analogous) contrasted with the color opposite them (compliment). This amazing color scheme combines the harmony of similar colors with the pop and excitement of their complete opposite. For example, combine blue, violet & purple with their complimentary color: amber.
Ready for my favorite complex color scheme?
Blue + Violet + Purple + Amber
What a stunning combination this makes. Keep most of your plantings in the blue and purple color range. For a fiery pop of interest, add in the amber (yellow-orange) here and there!
To try this one at home, combine ‘Holland Sensation’ Allium (Zones 4-8), ‘Bowles’ Mauve’ Erysimum Wallflower (Zones 6-9) and Campanula Bellflower (Zones 5-8).
Using white in the garden
You may have noticed that white isn’t on the color wheel. So, you’re probably wondering how white plays into these color scheme concepts. You can use white to highlight focal points at the end of a path, too. I’ve seen a lot of really beautiful gardens that just use white blooms and that’s it. Using *just* white and no color is a very popular practice in “traditional” style gardens.
White is actually the absence of color, which means that you can use it with almost any color scheme. What makes white so diverse is that it brings out the true hue of any color that you pair it with. So, if you place a white flower next to green and it takes on a greenish tinge. The same thing happens with yellow, pink or blue. On it’s own, white would be be placed in the “cool” color temperature category. But, if it’s paired with a warmer color, it can take on the warmer tones, too.
This article really covered a lot about garden color schemes and color theory. Using the color wheel you can see how primary, secondary and tertiary colors relate to one another.
Choosing a garden color scheme means using these colors in a controlled way in your landscape. You can plan a complementary, analogous or complex color scheme depending on the feelings you want to evoke in your garden.
If you’re having trouble deciding which colors to use, look to your wardrobe for cues. Choose a single color to base your garden design from.
Then, choose the feeling of your garden (peaceful vs. energetic) and decide on a style like cottage, traditional or modern. Over time you can build on your garden color scheme, but in the beginning keeping it simple is the best option.
Now that you have color theory and some garden color scheme examples, you should be well on your way to choosing a great color scheme for your own landscape.
Comment below and let me know what colors are in your garden. Did you follow color theory to decide on your garden color schemes or do you just go with your gut?
More Gardening Posts
What Blooms with What?
Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!