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How to create a vibrant garden with these colour combinations

Landscape designer Franchesca Watson explores the nuances of combining colours in your outdoor space

By House & Garden South Africa | April 11, 2022 | Gardens

The matrix of a garden is usually green foliage with pops of colour provided by flowers that come and go through the seasons.

Photograph: Elsa Young

For permanent year-round drama, consider working with hued foliage. Variegated and tinted leaves are very much back in vogue – try the Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ or Arabian lilac now available.’ White and blue colour schemes will always have a cooling and calming effect, and reds, oranges and yellows are wonderfully exciting. Fiery tones can, however, dominate and combining them requires more thought than cooler shades, which are more forgiving.

I combine hot colours that are close together on the spectrum, such as red, burgundy, pinks and orange roses, as opposed to reds and yellows. Blocks of solid colour make a striking statement and are best in specific positions, such as entrances and terraces. I prefer them close to the buildings for a more considered look and not jumping out of the middle distance in a garden.

Photograph: Elsa Young

Balance of colour in the garden is a big consideration. Large, single ones, such as showy Hibiscus flowers, offer a different experience from a mass cluster such as a Bougainvillea. Take this into account when considering where you place flowers, especially those with hot colours that draw the eye. When I need large brushes of colour in the garden, I tend towards mass planting a delicate flower or fine foliage and intersperse this with smaller groupings of a more robust graphic at the same end of the colour spectrum. For example, masses of dainty, orange-coloured Geum create a wonderful haze of apricot in the garden, which I would then combine with punchy Dahlias in soft yellow or cream.

Consider balancing colour in the garden. Are you after bursts in certain areas and quieter, greener areas elsewhere, or perhaps you would prefer a soft colour that rhythmically weaves through it with no contrasting splashes? Alternatively, hues can sweep through the garden in a progression, for example, starting with purple, shifting into tones of mauve, then shades of blue and finally lilac.

Photograph: Elsa Young

At the moment, I am loving the shock of clashing colour, having recently mixed yellow Coreopsis with purple Lobelia, and blue Petrea with yellow Carolina jessamine, to good effect.

My approach to using colour in a garden is to create relatively colourful areas with plenty of greenery for harmony. It usually ends up about 65 per cent green and the remainder colour. Of course, you need to understand when the plants will come into flower seasonally – there is no use planning a great blue and white display if they are not going to flower at the same time.

Photograph: Supplied
Photograph: Elsa Young