Discover your true colours

Unleash your creativity, with flowers and foliage that match your personality – and suit your site and soil

A GARDEN ALWAYS reflects the tastes and whims of its owner, especially when it comes to our choice of colour scheme. Whether we go for delicate cottage-garden pastels, or the vibrant parrot hues of a tropical rainforest, colour-themed planting schemes provide us with a unique way of expressing ourselves.

Like picking out a favourite blouse, or tie, the colours we choose for our gardens are incredibly personal, but putting a whole, colour-coordinated ‘outfit’ together is surpisingly tricky. Not only do you have to think about how the colours of flowers and foliage work together in proximity, but also how they’ll change over time.

It’s not just flowers that come and go; foliage matures from its bud colours to juvenile leaves, to adult foliage, before (in the case of deciduous plants) making a flamboyant swansong and promptly falling off. And then there are colourful seedheads, berries and stems to consider too. That’s why it helps to plan your colour schemes and adapt them as the seasons progress, sticking to an overall ‘colour style’ that can help to guide the way.

Jungle Planting – Ricinis communis lends brooding drama

Dark opulence

Use brooding purple or fiery bronze foliage to create this rich and sultry planting palette.

Hot borders always have a rich drama and an edgy, jungly appeal, with plenty of dark bronze and purple foliage. If this style appeals to you, well, you’re probably a risk taker, a self-styled colour adventurer, like the late, great plantsman Christopher Lloyd. You won’t be told what works and what doesn’t – you need to see it for yourself. (So you’ve probably stopped reading already!)

Your main colour choice here is whether to err towards the cooler blacks, purples and pinks (think: Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’ in flower) or the warmer oranges, reds and browns (such as orange dahlia ‘David Howard’). The warm and cool colour tones don’t mix all that well.

To get this dark and brooding look, go for a few statement architectural plants such as purple-black phormium ‘Black Adder’ or purple-brown ricinus ‘Carmencita’ to set the scene. The sensuous fronds of bronze fennel make a lovely contrast. Canna ‘Tropicana’ will add a fiery flourish, and at the front of borders, vibrant heuchera foliage in your choice of reds, oranges, purples and greens will look very much at home.

Against this opulent backdrop, choose flowers in sumptuous colours – regal purple and hot pink, or chocolate brown, berry red and fiery orange.

Many of these sumptuous ‘sizzling hot’ plants prefer a border in full sun, and won’t bloom until late summer. Add in a few annuals (poppies, cleome, zinnias and cosmos) and lupins in zingy cocktail colours to tide you over.

Key plants

Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Lecester’

Salvia ‘Amante’

Phormium ‘Black Adder’

Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’

Sambucus ‘Eva’

Lupin ‘The Page’

Centranthus ruber (red valerian)

Fiery orange palette

Bronze fennel

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

Dahlia ‘David Howard’

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

Canna ‘Tropicanna’

Ricinis ‘Carmencita’

Achillea ‘Paprika’

Orange lilies

Persicaria ‘Firedance’

Romantic pastels

Blue border at Docwra’s Manor

Soft pinks, white and baby blue flowers create a gentle effect that’s ideal for a nostalgic cottage garden.

Soft summer rain, bees fumbling in foxgloves, skylarks singing, kittens, doorbells, sleighbells. This look is unashamedly girly and romantic; the jostling melee of pastels is so lovely that there’s no need to apologise for it! In fact, our favourite telly gardener, Chris Beardshaw, often does a tip-top version of this in his Chelsea show gardens – late May is the ideal time for these soothing hues.

For best results, give your pastels a neat and glossy evergreen backdrop, or include some Ilex crenata topiary shapes to act as an anchor. Silky, billowing grasses such as Stipa tenuissima and Deschampsia cespitosa can be threaded among the flowers, while iris foliage will create upright definition to lead the eye.

Go for all the cottage garden favourites – roses, aquilegias, astrantias, foxgloves, forget-me-nots – and boost the froth with Thalictrum delavayii, ammi, lychnis and bobbles of persicaria.

Keep your palette to soft blue, pink and white and they’ll all rub up together in a friendly, coordinated fashion. Warm, lilac-blue flowers such as sweet rocket Hesperis matronialis will help bring the pink and blue together.

Key plants

Iris ‘Jane Phillips’

Digitalis purpurea

Rose ‘New Dawn’

Lavender ‘Hidcote’

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Anemone hybrida

Campanula medium

Hesperis matronalis

Jewelbox brights

Get a bold, modern ‘neon’ effect using the brightest paintbox hues of fruity purple and red with citrussy lemon, orange and lime.

This bright and dazzling modern look exploits contrasting zingy flowers and foliage for maximum colour blast. It’s a planting style that’s not for the timid – a rainbow disco for those who are easily bored by matchy-matchy colour schemes, and for those who like to ring the changes in a small garden each year. It’s a Sarah Raven catalogue, on steroids.

Spring is the ideal time to get this colour scheme started. Bring together the zingy foliage of Choisya ternata and Nandina domestica ‘Lemon and Lime’ with billowing clumps of Euphorbia characias wulfenii and, wait for it, red geums. Yes! It’s all about making a deliberate colour pop. All you need is a bit of confidence to go for maximum wower-power.

Summer brings more colour options, with plenty of purples, blues and pinks to choose from. Forget the baby-soft hues; here you want the tarty lipstick pinks – Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Hot Pink’, paired with zesty Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’. Don’t hold back!

Take the colour wheel and dial up the saturation and contrast. A pair of sunglasses may help.

Key plant partnerships  

Lupin ‘Masterpiece’ + Angelica gigas

Purple aquilegia + geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

Euphorbia characias wulfenii + geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’

Cosmos ‘Hot Pink’ + Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’

Cool monochrome

Disciplined. Minimalist. Uncompromising. The green and white garden is ideal for those who prefer to keep life simple.

White gardens are modern, sophisticated, cool and crisp. While many gardeners dismiss such apparent austerity as ‘boring’, the true monochrome minimalist will be happy to detail just how many greens and whites there are to choose from, and the many challenges this presents. 

Within this restrained colour scheme you can achieve an amazing array of different visual effects, chiefly the layering of foliage shapes, textures and different shades of green. Contrasting greens make a fascinating story in their own right, but take care with variegation – don’t plant cool silver and warm gold variegated plants side by side or they’ll fight. Bring in silver-grey plants such as artemisia ‘Nana’, stachys, helianthemum ‘The Bride’, Convolvulus cnoreum and white lavender, and you can brighten up parched, sunny parts of the garden too.

Rise up to the challenge of getting something in flower all year round and your borders will wax and wane. In spring there are white crocuses, tulips and foxgloves followed by white Clematis montana, lupins, astrantias. In autumn there are white dahlias and elegant Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’.

By day your zen-like white and green garden will afford a cool santuary; at dusk it will be transformed into a shimmering, magical space where white flowers seem to float in the gloam. *

Key plants

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’

Digitalis purpurea ‘Alba’

Hosta ‘Fire & Ice’

Brunnera manicata ‘Jack Frost’

Ammi majus

Astilbe ‘Bridal Veil’

Rosa ‘Iceberg’

Lamprocapnos ‘Alba’

Astrantia ‘Shaggy’

Aquilegia ‘Green Apples’

Crambe cordifolia

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’