Garden Color Schemes — Plant a Palette in Your Yard

by Steve & Cathy Lambert

Today we paint the garden in color with Garden and Landscape Design Experts and Contributors Steve and Cathy Lambert. Steve and Cathy share great advice (and luscious photographs) to help you plan your garden color scheme.

Although landscaping is often referred to as the “Green Industry,” an all green landscape would be monotonous and boring for color enthusiasts like us. Color is often the most prominent factor a homeowner or garden designer will consider when reinventing or sprucing up their landscape.

Garden Color Scheme with Energy and Excitement

Good garden design involves knowing how to combine colors and textures so the final product is pleasing to the eye. It takes some practice and experience to develop an eye for color, but a good place to start is by studying an artist’s color wheel.

The colors on an artist’s wheel are arranged by their relationship to each other in progression like the colors in a rainbow starting with red-violet to red, red-orange to orange, yellow-orange to yellow and so on. Most color wheels only contain 12 colors, while in nature there are a seemingly endless numbers of shades and tones of these 12. Still, the color wheel is a good tool to train your eye on choosing and combining the colors you’ll use to paint your garden.

Color Wheel by HomeWorkshop

When choosing color combinations for your garden, you will want to select either harmonious or contrasting colors. Harmonious (or analogous) colors are found next to each other on the color wheel and share similar values (i.e. violet and blue or yellow
and orange).

Gorgeous Harmonious Garden Color Scheme

Contrasting or complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel and share no values or color wavelengths like red is to green or orange is to blue.

Garden Color Scheme in Complementary Colors

Advertising researchers have spent lots of time learning how to use colors to subliminally have an impact on people’s moods. Why not apply this same technique in your garden design to create the feeling or atmosphere you want?

Some colors, such as orange and red, called warm colors, make us feel–you guessed it–warmer. While others colors, such as blues and green, can achieve a feeling of coolness. If you plant compatible colors–such as pastels–you create a peaceful mood.

A Cool Calming Analogous Garden Color Scheme

Analogous colors (different shades of one or two colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel) will create a calming sense, while strong and contrasting colors will induce energy and excitement. Strong colors catch the eye of the viewer and draw them in. One bright pot of geraniums at your front door will feel welcoming; however, too many bright colors scattered throughout your yard can cause confusion for the eye.

Red Flowers and Leaves Complement Green Foliage

Some gardeners and homeowners have developed certain prejudices about colors. One recent client declared, “I hate yellow.” So we constantly teased her about all the yellow flowers we were planting in her landscape, while in reality, we did include some chartreuse and yellow-leafed plants in her garden. Ironically, these became her favorite plants.

Orange Flowers Pop Against Yellow Green Foliage

When developing your garden’s color palette it’s best to look at all colors as potentially good choices. The grouping of colors is what you need to choose most carefully. A magenta bloom may look fine planted near other flowers that are purple or pink but hideous when combined with blooms of red, orange, or yellow.

It’s important to remember that many flowers’ bloom and color are often short lived, while the foliage, bark, and even seed heads may last much longer, adding an entirely different color and texture interest to your yard throughout the year.

Analogous Garden Color Scheme of Yellows and Terra Cotta

Keep in mind that the color in your garden is not just limited to the plant material. Be sure to consider your hardscape colors (rocks, colored concrete and retaining-wall materials) and especially the color of your home. Consider how your plants will blend or contrast with their surroundings.

Striking Garden Pathway Planting

Red Rose by Terra Cotta Column

For example, when selecting flowers to plant next to red bricks or a redwood fence, white or yellow flowers would be good choices where as red flowering plants would simply fade into their surroundings. Many gardeners plant their flower beds to accent the exterior color of their home. If your home is tan with green trim, a natural flower bed choice to complement these colors would be red blossoms.

Dramatic color combinations will give your garden and home a distinctive look. Recently, we designed a garden for a terra-cotta colored house. We planted white dogwoods, purple Iris ‘Caesars Brother,’ Heuchera (a.k.a. ‘Crème Brule’) and yellow daylilies. These blooms popped against the earth-toned terra cotta walls where something like red poppies or azaleas would have been lost in their background.

Complementary Green Foliage against Terra Cotta Wall

Shaded areas of the garden can be brightened by using light-colored annuals such as white, light pink, or pale blues. In the shade, dark colors tend to get swallowed up unless they are surrounded by a lighter color to provide them with some contrast.

Light Roses Pop Against Deep Purple Foliage

Check back next month, when we’ll share a list of some of our favorite planting color combinations! For more information on garden color and color schemes in the meantime try: The Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations by Tony Lord, Shocking Beauty by Thomas Hobbes, and The Garden Color Book by Paul Williams.


Cathy and Steve LambertSteve and Cathy Lambert have created distinctively dramatic, custom gardens since 1989, through their award-winning Garden Lights Landscape & Pool Development in Orinda, CA. They share with us their advice and expertise on all areas of garden and landscape.

Landscape Designer/Contractor and Master Gardener Steve envisions and creates romantic, welcoming and functional outdoor living spaces. His writer-wife Cathy wordsmiths Steve’s technical advice into something easy to understand and fun to read for the everyday DIY gardener. Together they also write the “Way to Grow” column for The Orinda News.


What color scheme do you most enjoy in your garden?

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4 Comments for “Garden Color Schemes — Plant a Palette in Your Yard”

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