How to put colour into your garden cheaply and easily
Colour is a major contributor to the atmosphere you create in your garden. This is true whether you have a large plot or just a few plants in pots on a balcony or a in a window box.
When deciding on a colour scheme, it’s worth knowing something about colour theory
The first colour wheel was developed by Sir Isaac Newton, back in the seventeenth century and has stood us in good stead ever since. It is based on the 3 primary colours, red, blue and yellow. These 3 can’t be created from other colours but by mixing these in different proportions all other colours can be created.
Using the colour wheel, there are basically three approaches to creating a blend of colours:
Go for harmony – with adjacent colours
You can go for harmony and choose colours that sit beside each other on the colour wheel, for example red with red-orange and red-purple. The adjacency of these colours allows the eye to make an easy transition between them.
Go for contrast – by choosing opposing colours
You may prefer contrast and a bit of drama, so go for colours that are complementary and sit opposite each other on the colour wheel. The marked contrast between these colours, where the eye can find nothing to link them, creates vivid and exaggerated differences. Think of red and green or yellow and purple.
Keep it simple and go monochrome
You can go for monochrome and choose only different tones of the same colour A good example of a stunning monochromatic scheme is the White Garden at Sissinghurst – but creating a successful all white scheme is a very difficult challenge and probably not to be recommended for the novice gardener.
Think about the mood you want to create
If you want to achieve a calm and restful effect, allow paler colours to dominate, with maybe a few brighter highlight colours as contrast. If you want to achieve a more dramatic and energetic effect let the bright colours dominate, with lighter ones used as contrast.
What’s the backcloth?
Remember in the garden, you will see the colours against a background of all the many different shades of green in the foliage, and against the brown of the soil. The impact of flower colour is also affected by what stands behind the flowers, such as the light brown of a fence or the red-brown of a brick wall. White flowers will look dramatic against a dark tree trunk or a creosoted fence but will disappear against a white picket fence.
Creating depth and perspective
Another factor to consider is that yellow, orange and red colours have an effect of advancing towards you, whilst blues and mauves recede. If you want to create an effect of depth put the brightest colours in the foreground and the softer ones further away.
Don’t forget, one of the most important colours in your garden is good old green. Having a good mix of green shades and plant shapes can provide interest and colour to your garden throughout the seasons, if you mix in some evergreens. The green of the foliage allows you to break up swathes of colour.
Leaves also can provide interest in their own right with variegation, with contrasting shapes and sizes and with colour, such as the red leaves of acer or flowering cherry or the silver leaves of sea holly.
Don’t be constrained by rules!
Colour choice is also a matter of taste. Whilst there is a school of thought that colours in a garden cannot clash, as they are all from nature, not everyone agrees! Some people prefer strict harmonies and base their schemes around only one or two colours. Others prefer a riot of different colours. Municipal gardens – especially the seafront type, often combine vividly contrasting colours but set in rigidly ordered patterns. On the other hand cottage gardens are usually informal and visually unstructured, yet with a rainbow of colours.
I had a recent experience eavesdropping on a husband and wife conversation in a garden centre that summed up for me the folly of slavishly following a theme in a garden. I fear many of the “instant impact” TV gardening programmes have made people obsessed with rules and too much discipline. If you love it – find a way to plant it!
Husband spotting a plant “I love these. Let’s get one!”
Wife, testily, “How many times do I have to tell you we have to stick to the theme.”
Husband: “I don’t understand the bloody theme anyway.”
Wife: “I’ve told you it’s Seaside garden and that plant is English Country Garden. How many more times..?”
Another alternative is to choose a harmonious scheme and then add an accent colour to inject some contrast and drama. But the best way is to experiment, to trust your own instincts and be confident in your own tastes.
How can you bring colour quickly into a neglected garden or if you are starting a new one?
At the time of writing (early May) there’s still time to plant seeds. These are inexpensive and will provide a large number of plants for a very small cash outlay. Now that most of us are past the risk of late frosts you don’t even need to propagate them – try just scattering them onto the soil where you fancy.
Easy-to-sow seeds for an abundance of colour are sweet peas (you can get these in single colours or mixed varieties to give a varied and vibrant display. Whilst the books suggest training these up canes and frames you can also just plant them and let them trail. I have planted some in the front of a tall container and will let them trail down the outside and tangle themselves in the other plants.
In this garden they both trail from the top of a wall and grow in the bed below, injecting contrasting colour into the background of varied green foliage.
If you are making up baskets or window boxes, think about tomatoes and strawberries. You can get lovely trailing varieties and as well as colour you will be rewarded with fruit to eat.
You may want to buy some bedding plants from the local nursery or garden centre to get some instant results now that the sunshine has started. Annuals will only last you the season, but if you buy by the tray they can be quite reasonably priced if you shop around.
Buy a tray of younger ones rather than paying through the nose for more advanced plants. Within a month they will have caught up anyway.
For colour and plentiful blooms, try petunias, trailing lobelia, ivy, marigolds and geraniums. All these if you water them frequently and dead head them, should see you through until September or even October. If you are willing to spend a bit more, you can get perennials rather than annuals: these will be a one-off investment as you’ll see them return each year. >> Buy plants
If you’re inclined to be neglectful, take care if you’re thinking of window boxes. These don’t get rained upon and so it’s vital that you remember to water them regularly. If you’re a bit absent-minded then go for tolerant plants like geraniums and petunias as these are more likely to forgive the occasional aberration on your part.
Another great way to get colour into your garden cheaply, is to keep an eye out for special offers for plants and bulbs in newspapers amagazines. These are often for a mixture of plants and can be a great way to get a herbaceous border started or revamped. I recently sent off for an offer for summer bulbs in the newspaper that cost me just the price of the postage. I had more than enough for my small garden and ended up giving loads away. Earlier in the year, again just for the price of postage and packing, I got a set of four lilies that are now starting to emerge. Fantastic value.
Right now, the most colourful contributor to my garden is the Clematis Montana. I have two plants that I put in last summer and they have really come into their own now, climbing over the fence and over neighbouring plants. Clematis are fantastic plants for covering ugly walls or bare expanses of fencing
May is a good time to plant Dahlia tubers. These flowers were considered unfashionable for a long while but, like hydrangeas, seem to be coming back into style. They have vibrant colours, make great cut flowers and provide a plentiful display.
Whatever your tastes, injecting colour into your garden or onto your window sills will bring you endless pleasure throughout the year – and what better time to start than now?
On the blog >> Top ten Perennials for the novice gardener