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All Season Garden Color with Bold Foliage Effects, Masterful Contrasts

Updated on March 21, 2017
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Ilona has gardened actively for most of her life, and been a writer and webmaster online since 1998. Homeschooled all 10 of her children.

Be Bold with Color

Geum 'Blazing Sunset' , Anthriscus s. 'Raven's Wing' , Streptanthus albidus peramoena "Jewel Flower" bring strong contrast, bright color together with pleasing effect. (Originally uploaded to Flickr as Spring Garden 08) [CC BY 2.0
Geum 'Blazing Sunset' , Anthriscus s. 'Raven's Wing' , Streptanthus albidus peramoena "Jewel Flower" bring strong contrast, bright color together with pleasing effect. (Originally uploaded to Flickr as Spring Garden 08) [CC BY 2.0 | Source

Coleus Bring Vibrancy To Shady Spots

Source

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

Rainbow spectrum or a carefully chosen palette, flowers are a main source of instant impact. They reign in Spring and Summer seasons.
Rainbow spectrum or a carefully chosen palette, flowers are a main source of instant impact. They reign in Spring and Summer seasons. | Source

Color Through Foliage - Great Accents or Garden No-Nos?

photo by bosela
photo by bosela

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

Berberis thunbergii var. Atropurpurea brings color contrast into the spring pallete
Berberis thunbergii var. Atropurpurea brings color contrast into the spring pallete | Source
Purple Berberis foliage
Purple Berberis foliage

Monochromatic

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.

Goldflame spirea

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.


Caryopteris Variety

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

Cotinus - Flowering Shrub
Cotinus - Flowering Shrub | Source

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

Distinctive shapes highlight the interesting range of  leaf color in a front entry.
Distinctive shapes highlight the interesting range of leaf color in a front entry. | Source

Entryway Accents

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

Winter berries bring much needed color to the landscape and stand out all the more. Additionally they attract birds .
Winter berries bring much needed color to the landscape and stand out all the more. Additionally they attract birds .

Don't overlook berries or fruits as colorful additions to your garden plan.

Witch Hazel Early Blooms

Shrubs which bloom quite early with the added bonus of fragrance. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
Shrubs which bloom quite early with the added bonus of fragrance. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], | Source

Sources Of Landscape Interest

  1. Leaf Color

    Whether it is the autumn color or foliage variations...remember to use leaves to create a great color show in your landscape.

  2. 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.

  3. Berries

    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!

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

Monet's garden at Giverny is a revelation. It was a master's use of  plantings that gave him inspiration for many of his most famous works. If you need color inspiration ideas, take a tour of his paintings.
Monet's garden at Giverny is a revelation. It was a master's use of plantings that gave him inspiration for many of his most famous works. If you need color inspiration ideas, take a tour of his paintings.

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?

Light Cue blog
Light Cue blog

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

Color Harmonies:

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:

All About Garden Color

Color Theory


One Example

Strong complimentary hues of the same saturation bring excitement wherever they are placed. Just don't overdo it.
Strong complimentary hues of the same saturation bring excitement wherever they are placed. Just don't overdo it.

Powerful Opposites


Purple and Yellow Complementary Colors

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.

Hidcote, the Quintessential All Season Garden

Garden Chat - How Does Your Garden Grow?

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      poutine 4 years ago

      I have discovered coleus a few years ago and love that plant in different colors.

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