“Colours are the Smiles of Nature”

When I first began growing roses, I was like a child in the lolly shop, unable to decide which ones to choose from all the beautiful colours and styles. My choices were not always suitable, and I could not resist the enticing rose names so I often overplanted. Some didn’t survive, but most have flourished, and it was a valuable learning experience. A few years later, despite the work, I’m still keen on the drama of a well-packed garden with masses of roses and perennials holding each other up. At this time of year, the rose growers release new rose varieties for delivery in mid-winter. So once again, I’m back pouring over websites and imagining the new bloom colours amongst the existing roses and perennials- it is at once inspiring and addictive.

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colours, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night”

Rainer Maria Rilke
A section of the Palm garden – pinks

Gardens are all about colour, and the act of gardening is a play with colour and textures. Our eyes see colour before shape, and some colours positively pop in the environment when well placed. Even all-white gardens or purely foliage green space with no flowers are all about colour; it’s a beautiful concept to have a textured garden or a garden all one colour. I enjoy areas with a particular colour scheme rather than a melting pot of all colours randomly chosen. It is more calming, harmonious and inviting.

Colours in the landscape are not only the blooms and foliage but the wider picture of how the light changes in the garden and how it interacts in the distant farmland during different seasons.

“Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.”

Claude Monet

Gardens need harmony, so we feel good when we walk through, work or sit to relax. Well, designed garden schemes give a sense of balance, order and excitement, and we can use plant foliage and flowers just like paint to achieve it. Although, not always easy when dealing with living plants and nature. No matter how much we plan, plants are sometimes different in bloom, growth habits and colour than what we had envisaged. Nonetheless, it is worth having a go, even if we have to remove plants here and there to get the final result.

“The true worth of green lies in its refreshing quality and in the shades, tones and textures that change it so much.”

Jill Billington

Creating Colour schemes for the garden may seem daunting at first, but there are no hard and fast rules, and every colour can be successfully used with any other colour in nature to a degree. Specific colours in plants, both foliage and flowers, will create surprising colour combinations that can take your breath away and make you look twice. Well worth a bit of planning to create balanced spaces that are pleasing to the eye. The best tool for choosing colours in the landscape is The Colour Wheel.

When deciding on where a plant is going, consider the spare space, the plant’s growing conditions, the colour of the foliage and flower, and what plant it is sitting next to.

Some colours work well together because they sit next to one another on the colour wheel. The red with green foliage works in harmony, and the red stands out as a complementary colour to the green foliage.

Next to each other on the colour wheel

The red and deep apricot ( orange) above, although they are different colours, sit next to one another on the colour wheel but have different tints. They work well in the garden as a feature. The other plant – salvia, will be purple when it opens and adjacent on the colour wheel. In my garden, I limit too many true reds because I have many orange roses, but one of the few red roses I have growing really does stand out. It’s called Kardinal and is one of the best roses; it repeats flowers fast, more so than any other rose and blooms from October to May, no matter the conditions of each season. Kardinal in the garden looks fantastic and pops in the afternoon light because it is opposite the colour wheel to green.

Kardinal is available at Silkies Rose Farm and Wagners

Basic Colour Theory for Gardens

The colour wheel is based on the pure colours of –blue, red and yellow called Primary colours. All colours come from primary colours. Then Secondary colours are made by mixing these primary colours together like

  • Orange is made by mixing red and yellow
  • Green is made by mixing blue and yellow
  • Purple is made by mixing blue and red

Lastly, Tertiary colours are made by mixing one primary colour and one secondary colour together like

  • Yellow-orange
  • Red-orange
  • Blue-green
  • Yellow-green
  • Red-purple
  • Blue-purple

All colours come from mixing these three colour groups; primary, secondary and tertiary. Then by adding white, grey or black we have thousands of colours to choose from.

Colour tints are hues with the addition of White and the hue becomes lighter

Shade is a hue with the addition of Black and the hue becomes darker

A Tone is any pure Hue with Grey added.  The colour remains the same only less vibrant and can range from very light to very dark.

Colour Value is the darkness or lightness of a colour

The value of colours is important in the garden because we are naturally drawn to colour hues, shades and tints, and the garden has such an enormous diversity of foliage in varying tones close together. The rich visual combinations are endless and create interesting powerful landscapes.

Consider the colours of all landscape materials -Pinterest

When using a colour wheel to choose a colour scheme include all the other aspects in the environment like the specific colours of hard surfaces, buildings, pools, archways, furniture, pebbles, pots and containers. The colours will either contrast or complement one another. Harmony is created.

Lamb’s Ear’s with Peach Profusion and Erysimum, 

Complementary colours are opposite on the colour wheel and work together to bring out the intensity of each other. Colours on their own are less vibrant than when they are chosen from opposites and placed next to each other. This will make colours pop like purple and yellow or blue and orange in the garden. It can provide opportunities for year-round seasonal interest, 

Analogous colours are next to each other on the colour wheel and create a graduation of the same colour. They are naturally harmonious and will blend together in the landscape like Red and Orange, Orange and Yellow, Yellow and Green, Green and Blue, Blue and Purple, Purple and Red.

The triadic Colour Scheme is made by choosing three colours in a triangular pattern. For example, the primary colours of red, blue and yellow or the secondary colours of orange, purple, and green together.

The basic colour schemes above are used most for the garden and landscaping. The only tricky part of a colour scheme is sticking to it. Restraint is required to keep a palette clean. There are always desirable plants to add to the garden, but the colour scheme can be lost once you go off and think, ” Oh, I’ll just add this one” the colour scheme can be lost.

The French Garden pictured above from 2018 when first planted, shows the range of colours from creams to softest peach, apricot, salmon to deep pinks, gold and light orange; Opportunity Rose, Enchanting, Souvenir de Louise Amade, Paul Bocuse, Manam Cochet, Chartreuse de Parme, French Lace, Elodie Gossuin, Fantin de Latour, Celine Delbard, Papi Delbard (on the arch), Auguste Luise, Belle du Seigneur, Bordure Camaieu, Bordure Nacree, Daybreaker, My Yellow, Joyfulness, Perl d ‘Or and Versigny. These colour hues really sing all through Spring and Summer and are highly visible and like the rose name – enchanting.

...various shades of pink, rose, and salmon… scarlet, crimson, and maroon… yellow, apricot, maize, and lavender, buff, blush, orange, silvery grey, deep pink, purple, white, heliotrope, terra-cotta…

T.H. Cook, James Douglas, & J.F. McLeod, Carnations & Pinks, 1911 

The area in the garden I call the Tea Garden has a complementary colour scheme of mauves, lilac, purple, violet and lavender shades with warm colours of orange, gold, amber, saffron and yellow as it sits adjacent to a deep green orange tree. Twilight Glow roses grow across the arch seat, with Angel Face, Vol du Nuit, Blue Emotion, Graham Thomas, and Belle Parfume roses and lavenders, verbenas and various other perennials. It is not just the rose blooms that provide colour but the shades and tones of green foliage, groundcovers and fruits or seedpods like rosehips in the garden. Even the softest pale pink roses often have the deepest red rosehips.

“Yellow is highly visible, which makes many people nervous…”

Christopher Lloyd
Sage in flower with Lady Of Shalott Rose -Opposites on the Colour Wheel

 “Provided that one does not run the idea to death, and provided one has enough room, it is interesting to make a one-colour garden.”

Vita Sackville West, creator of Sissingshurst garden, England

White is neutral in the garden, and it also glows in the early evening and early morning light. If I had enough space or more space, I would add a garden room with just white flowers- decadent, I know. White is often useful planted towards the fenceline of the garden to make the space appear more extensive, and the fence hopefully becomes less noticeable. Unfortunately, fences are a necessary aspect of a rural garden on a working sheep farm.

Madame Anisette- It flowers the second year onwards and loves the heat.

In the Palm Garden is a Monochrome colour scheme with only hues of pink and white roses with the silver foliage of Lavenders, Lambs Ears, Liquorice Plant, Valerie Finnis, Autumn Joy Sedums, Alliums and Sages for groundcover and companion contrast planting. There are many pink roses to choose from; Cerise, Fuschia, Plum and Magenta to Carnation pink, Rose pink, Damask, the softest baby pale pink, Blush and every tint in between. My rule in this garden is there are no peach or salmon pinks, orange or yellow plants or flowers in this garden although, highlighted elsewhere. The Palm Garden is home to; Cinderella, Unconventional Lady, Beautiful Girl, Mothers Love, Ballerina, Marie Bashir, Mary McKillop, My Best Friend, Grand Siecle, Addictive Lure, Earth Angel, Belle Parfume, Duet, Eglangtyne, Sharifa Asma, Parfum de Paris, Manou Meilland, Felicia, Governor Mary Bashir, Princess Diana, Heaven Scent, Heidi’s Wedding, Moonstone, Olivia Rose Austin, Violina, Perfume Passion, Duet, and Parole roses. 

Our attention is drawn to bright colours, making a space appear smaller because they give the illusion of being closer to you. By using oranges, reds and bright yellows in the distance, visually, a smaller space is created. On the other hand, lighter colours, whites and creams will make areas appear more extensive and spacious.

Dusty yellows, with splashes of pink and touches of white and cream in Paul Cezanne Roses with trailing purple Petunias and Herbs underneath.

 “…the segregation of blue flowers is a mistake. They, more than any others, need the flash of scarlet, the cloud of white, the drift of apricot or buff to kindle them into life.”

Louise Beebe

There is a beautiful garden on a South Australia property called Al Ru Farm. When we visited, the owner Ruth told us that when deliberating on a plant position, she simply pulls a plant out, walks through the garden looking to see the best colour companion plant, and just moves it there- certainly an excellent way to do it.

Colours will change with the light, and some coloured plants may be lost in the shade or others far too bright and garish for bright sunlight, plus gardens and plants change dramatically from season to season, and so will the landscape’s colours.
The main criteria in choosing foliage and plants, secondary to colour are the conditions of the garden, the amount of space available, the required pH, the drainage, your water supply and the light requirements. There are always restrictions on what you can plant in your favourite hue and what does well in your own garden location.

Content Di Baker 2022

Title quote by Leigh Hunt

All Photos by Di Baker, taken in my garden, Marina Bay Gardens in Singapore or Giardino Della Gherardesca, Florence Italy

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