Using Colour in your Garden

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

With a little planning and preparation it is easy to achieve a garden with colour and interest all year round.

Design Techniques with Colour


There are many techniques to successfully combine colours in the garden, and some of these can be better understood by using a colour wheel. Colours next to each other on the colour wheel are known as complementary colours, whereas those opposite each other on the colour wheel are contrasting colours. If you are unsure of what colour combinations will work, use either complementary (adjacent) or contrasting (opposite) combinations of colour for guaranteed success.

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

However, if you are more adventurous you can use just about any combination of colour. Combining ‘clashing’ colours may also work as long as they are the same depth of colour. For example, combine all pastel shades together (Mauve, Lemon, Pale Pink), or all use all bright shades (Deep Blue, Canary Yellow and Hot Pink). Alternatively, white and silver or grey may be used to dilute stronger ‘clashing’ colours.

Different colours will add a sense of depth to the garden by receding into the background or jumping into the foreground. As a general rule, pale hues and shades of blue will recede, whereas bright hues and shades of yellow will appear closer. Shades of red will tend to occupy the middle ground, but will appear closer if of brighter intensity and towards the yellow spectrum, or further away if of pale intensity and towards the blue spectrum.

Hot and cool is another way to describe colour, with red, orange and yellow the hot colours and blue, purple and green the cool colours. White tends to be a cool colour, and is particularly effective when used in shady areas. Black tends to disappear in the garden, therefore if using black foliage or flowers for colour, combine with white, silver or pastel shades as a contrast.

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

Flower colour

Usually, we think of flowers to provide colour and interest in the garden throughout the year. Most plants flower for a short time during the year, a show that can last for a few weeks to an entire season. Some plants may be pruned to encourage a repeat performance to extend the show. Therefore, when planning planting schemes it is good to know when the main flowering season of a plant is.

Foliage colour

Colour highlights in the garden may also be provided by foliage colours other than green. There are many evergreen and deciduous plants with interesting foliage colours such as lime, gold, yellow, cream, white, silver, grey, blue, pink, burgundy, russet, red and orange.

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

Many plants have a combination of colours on the foliage known as variegation. The forms of variegation of many plants is huge, with striped, blotched, spotted, margined, and even chequered patterns. Variegation is usually green and gold, cream or white, but some variegation is a combination of other colours. Foliage colour may also be seasonal, particularly in deciduous plants (think of the beautiful Autumn colour of many deciduous trees), but also in evergreen plants (for example the new red growth of Photinia).

Fruit, berries, seed pods and bark may also provide colour at various times during the year.

Using a Combination of Plants

(Annuals / Perennials / Bulbs / Shrubs / Trees / Climbers)
When planning for colour in your garden, it is important to remember that all levels from the ground up may provide colour throughout the year. Therefore using a combination of plants from groundcovers to trees can really pack a colourful punch in a limited space. Using large blocks or rows of plants requires a larger space to have the same impact.

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

Soil and Maintenance

It is essential to provide a healthy soil environment to ensure the success of your colour display. Use composts and manures to add to the existing soil, mulch thickly, fertilise using organic fertilisers, and water when needed. Regular maintenance of the soil environment is beneficial. Top dress planted areas with compost and manure on a regular basis.

Pruning and re – planting areas will also prolong the display, add to your compost supplies and provide propagation material for future displays. Collecting seed, dividing plants and taking cuttings is a good way to renew the display and will keep the display looking fresh.

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

Seasons

Separate areas of the garden can be planted for a simultaneous and spectacular display at one particular time of the year. Alternatively garden beds can be planted so that there is always something in colour all throughout the year, using a clever mix of plants.

The following are some lists of plants for the Melbourne area, which add colour to the various seasons, in different positions in the garden. However, there are many more plants you can use to create your own display.

Hot Colours for Shady Areas

Plant Flowering Season Nursery Section / Habit
Canna Lilies Summer Perennial Rhizome
Clivea Spring Perennial Lily
Bromeliads Summer Perennial Bromeliad
New Guinea Impatiens Summer Annual
Camellia japonica cvs. Winter Medium to Tall Shrub
Cordyline All year Perennial, Shrub
Coleus Summer Annual
Rhododendron Autumn, Spring Small to Large Shrub
Mollis Azalea Spring Medium Shrub
Fuchsia Spring, Summer, Autumn Small Shrub
Cyclamen Autumn, Winter Bulb, Corm
Primula acaulis Winter Annual
Begonia Tuberous and Cane Summer Annual, Perennial
Aucuba japonica All year Medium Shrub
Abutilon X hybrida Spring, Summer, Autumn Medium Shrub
Correa N Autumn, Spring Small Shrub

Cool Colours for Shady Areas

Plant Flowering Season Nursery Section / Habit
Hydrangea Summer Small to Medium Shrub
Azalea Spring Small Shrub
Cineraria Winter Annual
Daphne Winter Small Shrub
Viola and Pansy Autumn, Winter, Spring Annual, Perennial Groundcover
Impatiens Summer Annual
Liriope muscari Autumn Perennial Grass
Pieris Spring Medium Shrub
Plectranthus ecklonii Autumn Perennial
Anemone X hybrida Autumn Perennial
Ajuga Autumn Perennial Groundcover
Camellia sasanqua cvs. Autumn, Winter Medium to Tall Shrub
Helleborus orientalis Winter Perennial
Philotheca myoporoides N Spring Small to Medium Shrub
Aquilegia Spring, Summer Annual
Brachyscome multifida N Spring, Summer, Autumn Perennial Groundcover
Lilies Oriental Summer Bulb

Hot Colours for Sunny Areas

Plant Flowering Season Nursery Section / Habit
Hibiscus Summer Medium Shrub
Bougainvillea Summer Climber
Roses Spring, Summer, Autumn Shrub, Climber
Portulaca Summer Annual
Anigozanthos cvs. N Summer Perennial Strap Leaf
Phormium All Year Perennial Strap Leaf
Daffodils Spring Bulb
Grevillea spp. N All Year Small to Tall Shrubs
Ranunculus Spring Bulb
Euryops pectinatus Winter Medium Shrub
Geraniums Summer Perennial
Callistemon spp. Autumn, Spring Small Shrubs to Small Trees
Acacia spp. N Winter, Spring Medium Shrubs to Small Trees
Citrus All Year Evergreen Tree
Sedum spectabile Autumn Perennial Succulent
Chanomeles japonica Winter Medium Shrub
Lagerstroemia (Crepe Myrtle) Autumn Deciduous Tree
Chrysocephalum sp. N Spring, Summer, Autumn Perennial Groundcover
Robinia Sunburst Spring, Summer, Autumn Deciduous Tree
Verbena Summer, Autumn Annual, Perennial Groundcover

Cool Colours for Sunny Areas

Plant Flowering Season Nursery Section / Habit
Plumbago auriculata Summer, Autumn Medium Shrub
Magnolia Deciduous Spring Tall Shrub, Small Deciduous Tree
Hardenbergia violacea N Winter Climber
Prunus spp. Spring Deciduous Tree
Petunias Summer Annual
Tulips Spring Bulb
Chamelaucium uncinatum N Winter, Spring Medium Shrub
Bearded Iris Spring, Early Summer Perennial Rhizome
Federation Daisies Spring, Summer, Autumn Small Shrub
Cosmos Summer Annual
Alogyne heuglii N Spring, Summer, Autumn Medium Shrub
Alyssum Summer Annual
Primula malacoides Winter Annual
Salvias Summer, Autumn Perennial
Lavendar cvs. Summer, Autumn Small Shrub
Eremophila nivea N Winter, Spring Medium Shrub
Choisya ternata Summer Medium Shrub
Limonium perezii Summer Perennial
Erysimum Winter Joy Winter, Spring Perennial, Small Shrub