All Season Garden Color with Bold Foliage Effects, Masterful Contrasts
Be Bold with Color
Coleus Bring Vibrancy To Shady Spots
Ways to Introduce Color Into Your Garden
Everyone thinks of spring and summer for color in the garden... but who plans their fall garden for bursts of color? And most of us decide that we need flowers to brighten up the garden views, but who puts colorful foliage plants first on their list? Or brings berried trees and shrubs for winter beauty?
The smart gardener like you, that's who!
Foliage color is a fine way to introduce variation in all seasons; so consider the addition of variegated foliage, purple tinted leaves, golden and some of the other types of leaf color. Which is not to say we would forget the blooming hues of the flowers or of berries or seedheads! Even twigs may add some color to the garden landscape, whether bright green, yellow, or coral red.
Using color in your garden is much like creating a painting, with easy to learn concepts of color harmonies as the basis for making a gardens that gives visual joy to all who see it.
Find ideas on creating all season beauty in your yard, and keep reading for a primer in color theory for the garden, all included in this page.
Flower Power - Any Color of the Rainbow
Color Through Foliage - Great Accents or Garden No-Nos?
The fall color of the Gingko biloba tree is a golden clear yellow. Choosing such trees and shrubs give the autumn a richness that shimmers against the clear blue skies and surprises the eye after the summer of green background.
Because of the drawing power of colorful plants, especially when pattern plays a part, these are plants to accent, and not overdo in your garden plan.
The Garden No-No?
Too much of a good thing can tire the eye or create a heavy imbalance which is more disturbing than delightful.
Color can be subtle.
Variegated plants are those with color variations along with the usual green: green and gold, green and cream, pink, green and gray. When introduced into a mostly green backdrop they provide a lift to the whole picture.
Many plants have variegated mutations. Some I really like are the large shrub Cornus elegantissima, variegated hollies, and the many types of hostas with beautiful gold or cream streaking the green or bluish-cast leaf color.
Berberis thunbergii var. Atropurpurea
Monochromatic color mutations of leaves are loved by gardeners for good reason. Golden leaves or purple ones create a new way to add color that lasts much longer than a plants blooms, and may have seasonal variations as well. They don't have a spotty, too-busy look that the variegated leaf plants may contribute to a view.
Take, for instance, the Goldflame spirea. The original form of this spirea shrub is very nondescript (although I like it). It has pretty pink flowers in season, but the rest of the time is a fairly dull green plant with small leaves. In its 'Goldflame' form the spring leaves start out with a range of dawn colors of pink, reddish tinge, and pale gold, become a deeper golden color for summer and turn tints of yellow, pink, and orange for fall...while the bright pink flowers will bloom in their season, as well. It grows best in part sun/part shade where its colors is most welcome, and the contrast with green leaved plantings becomes a brilliant spot of color even when nothing is blooming.
Two Golden Beauties
Golden Spirit Cotinus Coggyria and Sutherland Gold Elderberry
Because of the possibility of combining different types of foliage, purple and gold plants together are a popular combination. Too much of this is what I call a garden no-no. It looks harsh and unnatural to the point of being annoying.
So you like hot pink, leopard prints, red heels, and dangling chandelier earrings all at once? Yes, and some people like the garden equivalent. It is your garden, after all, but most of us viewing it don't like such strong color contrasts en masse as well as you, in that case.
There are always those case which break the rule, so I rarely make hard and fast ones for the look of a garden; there are people who have an unfailing artistic sense who can create even the most garish elements into something appealing. But this is my warning: they are few.
What do you like?
I love a touch of contrast, a golden accent here, a grove of purple-leaved trees there, a large amount of gray foliage and purple foliage with grays.
I like the combination of golden and glaucous foliage- glaucous being a blue effect that some leaves have.
I like purple foliage with red and bright orange flowers for a "wow" effect in a sunny spot. And there are many other quite amazing color effects done with either only leaves or leaves and flowers.
Try some of your most adventurous ideas in containers- they last for the one season and if you love the effect you can use it on a grander scale at a future date. If not, it was fun to see your idea for a time and to change it up the next year.
Color can also be bold
Try two or three plants of the same kind to give a bold splash of foliage color in a garden.
Do Use Colorful Foliage
...as part of the color plan in your landscape. Remember the colors of your house when choosing colors for your yard.
Flower Colors with Brick Houses
Smoke Tree - Interest through foliage and bloom
Plan For Fall Leaves
Color can be seasonal.
Plan for an autumn garden with spectacular color. Plants take on a whole new look when the first cold temperatures of fall touch their leaves. What flower can compete with the golden, scarlet and glowing orange hues of the trees in their autumn garb?
Don't let your garden be dowdy when the October fling of color comes around. In any other time of year such competition is gaudy, but not in the fall! Choose some of your shrubs and even perennials for their end of season tints.
Some trees are grown only for the beautiful leaf colors they turn in the fall. Look for those to brighten your yard. Note in a journal the plants that have beautiful fall color like hostas and balloon flowers, then combine them to good effect for this season's show.
The golden autumn leaf color of the Ginko tree in the photo at the beginning of this section is a wonderful example of autumn leaf color at its finest.
A Gallery of Great Plants for Foliage Color
Employ Shape, Color, Contrast, and Texture
Whether it is the large swathe of a perennial border or a small addition of containers by the steps, flowers can deliver color in any hue you desire.
Or a group of flowers can bring a combination of colors to create moods of harmony, calm, or excitement.
There are certain places that most people like to have some color, and that is at the entry or closely surrounding the house.
Just like the glint of jewelry around the neck or upon the ear, the closer to the home's entry the colorful accent of garden color, the more pleased the owner and their visitors seem to be. Perhaps that is due to the idea that a special spot of color bids welcome and speaks of the anticipation of the hospitality within.
I don't know if that is simply an idea we have cultivated with flower arrangements and houseplants or if that is something hardwired into the human psyche, but it seems to work in that mode.
"Bright plants or flowers do a lot to enhance the entry.
Think "yellow" when adding accent plants to your home's entry. Yellow is a great color for this purpose. It draws the eye and makes people feel at ease, which is exactly how you want them to feel when entering your home."
- Home Staging
Remember These Sources Of Color - Each has its season to shine
Don't overlook berries or fruits as colorful additions to your garden plan.
Witch Hazel Early Blooms
Sources Of Landscape Interest
- Leaf Color
Whether it is the autumn color or foliage variations...remember to use leaves to create a great color show in your landscape.
- Flowers In Your Plantings
Annual and perennials flowers, yes, but remember trees, vines, shrubs, and groundcovers may all have bright beautiful flowers during three ( in some places four) seasons of the year.
Berries are king in winter, and they give color and a wildlife food source. Often overlooked when planning garden plantings, but one of the secrets of a really great garden. Remember to plan for colorful berries, they can be red, but also yellow, orange, even blue or purple.
Bravely Make Your Garden Colorful!
Gain confidence in your use of color, learn from experts.
Cues From Your Favorites
Think about your own ideas of color and how those from your environment or even your wardrobe could cue the design of some color additions to your yard for landscape interest and visual pleasure. There is something to be said for those small joys of the day, such as looking out the window to see a picture of something colorful and bright.
Monet Was a Master of Garden Color Effect
Garden Color Tips - Choose your colors like a pro
- Warm colors, red, orange, yellow stand out and draw the eye; cool colors, blue, purple, green, tend to recede into the background.
- Gray foliage is a great mixer- use it to separate colors that don't look good together.
- Too much contrast is not a good thing, choose your contrasting effects wisely, and use them sparsely.
- Strong contrast can make a statement, so at times it is good to go bold. But remember the previous caveat: don't overwhelm your garden with too much contrast, but don't be so afraid that your garden becomes boring. You can always move plants around, or even take them out altogether.
Don't Use The Most Garish Color
...that you can find, or combine the most contrasting colors available unless it is small doses. Instead, why not have less color but more change in texture? Coarse large leaf plants combined with small fine-leaved ones?
The Nature Of Color
Color theory for the garden
Here is just a little about color to get you started, learning more about color theory is one of the best ways to improve your design sense for inside AND outside the house.
Warm colors: red, orange, yellow
Cool colors: blue, purple, green
Complementary colors: opposites on the color wheel
Analogous color scheme: colors that are next to each other.
Monochromatic colors: colors all in the same family; i.e. all blues.
Triadic Color: three colors evenly spaced on a color wheel.
More on Color Theory and its use in the garden:
Colors also speak messages to us- depending on our experience and culture, but also sometimes by the effect on our physiology.
Color can be calming or exciting, it can whet our appetite or soothe our irritability. Consider this when designing a garden for yourself.
A serene garden is almost always done in soft pastels or shades of green and white, while hot color gardens create a feeling of convivial cheerfulness.
What do you wish to be surrounded by? Don't allow your yard to be simply a backdrop, but make it into your preferred environment with the use of color.