Tips for co-ordinating colours in your garden

Put the pastels aside – co-ordinate your garden with earthy, dark hues.
Tips for co-ordinating colours in your garden

Colour in the garden comes naturally to some people. I am not one of them. A friend remarked to me the other day that my shoes always match whatever I’m wearing on top – which you might think necessitates lots of shoes, but in fact merely limits the number of tops.

Anyway, it makes the point that I am unadventurous and conservative when it comes to colour. Most of the garden areas around our place are colour themed, and certain colours are not allowed to get close to each other.

Conveniently, coleus comes in a variety of colours, so you can be quite specific in your choice.

The recent swathes of lavender-coloured plants are a long way from the orange garden, and the pink camellias on one side of the driveway are matched by – surprise – pink plants on the other side. So I was pleased to read somewhere the other day that combining shades and tones of the same colour, or limiting yourself to using a related group of colours, is an accepted way to create a harmonious garden


The Northland Regional Council did it during the “Paint it Red” promotion for the Rugby World Cup, sourcing thousands of red bedding plants for the city’s flower gardens. There are other advantages.

This funny little euphorbia is able to take centre stage with its amazing plum colour.

A predetermined palette precludes dithering at the garden centre. It liberates you in your choice of plants. Because all the colours are going to be much the same, you can be less rigid about heights, textures and foliage types. And there’s no question that single-colour gardens focus attention on the detail of the plants and the other elements of the design.

I’m about to start on a plum-coloured area, inspired by a very dark red astelia I found at the nursery the other day. I’ve always eschewed dark red plants and whenever the partner has tried to introduce purple flax and coleus I’ve made a fuss. But I adore astelias so this one will form the basis of an elegant garden anchored with grey, lichen-covered rocks and an old, concrete pond.

Line your path with different colours to liven it up. Mix up the shapes and sizes too.

Other plants on the wish list are a variety of smaller flaxes in a range of reds (Red Fountain is pretty startling), right through to almost black, the aforementioned coleus, a euphorbia I would never have in the garden but for its amazing colour, and possibly even a coprosma called Karo Red.

I will probably leaven the darkness with a mulch of crushed shell or a narrow, lime-chip path, and a white concrete sculpture or urn will also provide contrast. Interestingly, very dark reds with white accents can create quite a cool look. If your preference is for a really hot garden, colours from the orange palette will be your best friends.

Flax is brilliant in a purple-toned garden because of the variety of colours available from the red section of the colour wheel.

In a hot-themed design, don’t limit yourself to vividly coloured owers; also look for plants with flashy leaves and seedpods, and if you have room, make use of dwarf citrus with orange fruit.

Three of the most colourful plants can make a hot-palette garden all by themselves: coleus, crotons, and cannas. Add some day lilies, a mass of mad nasturtiums and an edging of marigolds, and nobody will ever accuse you of subtlety.

You can sustain the whole thing right through autumn with bright, bronzy chrysanthemums. And don’t forget grasses – there are rust, orange, bronze and blonde varieties that’ll provide a foil to traditional flowers and foliage. Blended with tawny, rust-toned rocks, they can almost make a hot orange garden on their own.

Add depth and warmth to cool tones with a dash of red.

Keep it cool

We can’t all be hot, so if you’re a cool dude, choose silver, gray and blue foliage with flowers that are subtle hues of the same colours. If you want to inject just a hint of warmth, add blue with a touch of red in it, such as ceanothus and salvia. A subtle, silvery garden relies heavily on foliage. Good plant choices include lamb’s ears, catnips and wormwood (Artemisia Powis Castle is a good one) and blue ornamental grasses. As a ller, try licorice plant, which will spread out and cover the spaces between the other specimens.

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