Colour My World

 In Garden Design, News

In a recent meeting with a client I asked them what they wanted in the garden and the first topic was colour. As a garden designer I hear this from many clients. When we are decorating our homes, we apply a lot of thought to colours, patterns and textures. Some will even engage a professional interior designer to get it absolutely right. When choosing clothes, we will look at colours, materials and prints. There are some who have developed this into a career. So why is it that we stumble when it comes to gardens and yet in most homes this is probably the largest room of the house. Is it because once a wall is painted the colour is fixed whereas in a garden colours are changing continuously through light and seasons as the flowers bloom and fade?

When we talk about colour what we are really talking about is the effects of light. Designers are in fact painting with the effects of light. Bright sunlight fades colours whilst pale colours stand out in grey light. Designers will often us the trick of using a dark colour to create a backdrop but also to make that backdrop recede so that what is in front really pops outs. Cool colours also recede whilst bright colours come to the fore. We all experience colour in


Credit: Design Facts

The robin egg blue has become synonymous with the luxury brand of Tiffany & Co. When people see this colour, they immediately associate it with the Tiffany brand. Pantone 1837 the date when Tiffany was established.

different ways. It is a sensation that we interpret in our brain. The human eye contains rods and cones. Rods respond to light and dark whilst cones sense colour and detail. Men’s eyes contain more rods. Women’s eyes contain more cones. This would mean that the information in men’s and women’s eyes is processed differently. Women are therefore better at sensing subtle differences in shades of colour and store visual detail better than men. Insects on the other hand don’t see colours like humans. They see colour as flights paths, so they know where to land to get nectar and pollen.

Colour is engrained in us through our language, traditions and culture i.e the phrases ‘green with envy’ or ‘feeling blue’. Brides in the west tend to wear white as it is considered pure and virginal yet in India the colour white is associated with death and funerals but still contains the meaning of purity. Brides in India and China wear red. Therefore, we also associate colour with a sense of occasion.

Brands use the language of colour to seduce us to their products. We recognise brands through their logos, colours and straplines.

Credit: Rodarte

This collection by Rodarte looks inspired by painting from the Renaissance period. The great masters are a wonderful source to look at for inspiration when putting together colour palettes for planting schemes.

  • Cadburys – Purple
  • Easyjet – Orange
  • UPS – Pullman Brown
  • Tiffany – Robin’s Egg Blue
  • Caterpillar – Yellow
  • Coka Cola – Red and White

Beneath a Mexican Sky at the Chelsea Flower Show 2017. A garden that is still being talked about. Inspired by the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragan, visitors said that it was a joyous garden that transported them back to their holidays in Mexico and it made them smile. This shows the profound and powerful effects colour has on us.

Colours are a form of seduction. I know my mouth waters at the sight and scent of a bowl of juicy red strawberries or saffron mangoes. When designing a garden, I am not only thinking about the peak moment of that space but also what happens once we are over the crest. As we head into autumn, we see the trees change colour. That peak has passed or has it? Imagine a carpet of golden yellow leaves clothing the ground. We maybe over the crest but another memory has been created. Use colour to create drama in a space.

It is that drama that will be instilled in people’s memories which will help to capture that particular point in time in their minds. Colour can affect our emotions and bring back memories. Pinks and oranges always remind me of India, the hustle and bustle of the dusty streets and the heat. When I created my award-winning garden ‘Beneath a Mexican Sky’ in 2017 at the Chelsea Flower Show, visitors commented that it reminded them of their time in Mexico. Three years later and visitors who saw the garden still talk about it. This made

me realise that as a garden designer I have the power to impact people’s emotions and memories through colour. Designers can create nostalgia, mood, atmosphere and ignite hidden memories through use of colour. This use of colour does not just refer to planting. It’s the walls, fences, hardscape materials and soft furnishings too. Using bright bold colours in the garden creates energy and happiness, soft pastel colours create a sense of calm and tranquillity, deep jewel colours create grandeur and opulence.


Photo Credit: Manoj Malde

This garden has used a colour palette of yellows and purples. Note how the squares and rectangles are repeated vertically and horizontally. They are also repeated the colour blocks of planting. This repetition creates rhythm and leads our eyes to journey through the garden.

Repetition of colour enables the designer and the garden to hold and control the attention of its visitor. Our eyes tend to follow light, repeating colours, shapes and patterns. Repetition need not be through using the same plant. Using same or similar hues of colour or repeating flower and foliage shapes creates rhythm in a garden.

There is an unnecessary snobbery about colour. Some consider bright bold colours garish and uncouth whilst dusky, muted shades are the epitome of taste and sophistication. I say this utter rubbish. People worry too much about making mistakes with colour in their garden. These preconceived ideas are tragic and an enemy of creativity. Colour is about throwing the rule book out of the window, having fun, making mistakes and using that as a learning process. Sometimes it is those very mistakes that become the wow factors in the garden.

Photo Credit: Manoj Malde

In nature we are surrounded by the colour green and yet it is a colour that is overlooked. It is calming colour and hence often used in hospitals. Andy Sturgeon’s garden M&G was made up entirely of various forms texture and shapes of foliage creating a very peaceful and tranquil place. Notice how the black charred organic shapes make the greenery in front really stand out.

Colour in nature is created by various methods. Plants with silvery grey blue tones have a layer of fine hair, some may have a waxy coating and others covered in a fine powder. These layers are creating those silvery grey blue tones but more importantly they are helping the plants from water evaporation. Some plants have developed textures, grooves and indentations that make the colours of the petals look lustrous, others have white granules under the pigment layer which helps to reflect the light. Light also has a profound effect on colour in the garden. At dawn colours may look muted, in strong bright light colours look washed out and at dusk they may look rich and saturated. This shows how many shades a single colour bloom can transition through in a day.

The colour green is all around us in its varying shades, forms and textures. Green makes a wonderful foil for other colours in the garden. It is for this reason that it has almost become invisible to us and is so overlooked and yet it is the colour that keeps us fed and alive. After a long winter who doesn’t look forward to the fresh spring chartreuse shoots symbolising the coming of new life and summer days.


Credit: Designer Steve Martino

Colour in a garden does not have to be all about bright shades. Here Steve Martino has used a soft pistachio to create a backdrop that highlights the zesty yellow form of the Aloe flower spike. Colour in a garden can be introduced through wall, furniture, soft furnishings, containers etc. It does not just have to come through flora and fauna.

Yellow is the colour we associate with the sun, sunflowers and summer. It is a colour that will light up dark areas of the garden. Yellow ranges from lemon sorbet, buttery tones to primrose and all the way to the spicey turmeric yellow.

Orange reminds us of dramatic Mediterranean sunrises, saffron coloured robes of Buddhists monks and pumpkins at Halloween. I remember visiting RHS Wisley on a cold early March day and coming across a mass planting of Cornus Midwinter Fire. The fiery glow immediately made me feel warmer.

Red is the colour of Love, Valentine’s day but also a colour that denotes danger. A hot colour full of energy and will make you stop and look. Red is a colour that we also associate with fields of poppies and therefore wars, heroes and the wonderful redcoats.


Photo Credit: Manoj Malde

Dark rich plums and purples are associated with extravagance and opulence. In this garden they create just that effect. The pops of chartreuse make the deep jewel colours really stand out.

Plums and Purples are seen as grand and opulent. Purple has long been associated with royalty, wealth and opulence. In the Roman empire it was only the royal family who wore purple. Purple pigment was very expensive so only the very wealthy could afford it. The colour black does not exist in the plant world and the closest one can get is through the darkest purples and plums.

Pink is a very versatile and comfortable colour. It is not very demanding. In its pastel form it can be very calming and helps to bring light into a dark shady area. The deep cerise and magenta shades are very energetic and striking and will stop you in your tracks.

Peach a mouth-watering colour but complex and only works in certain combinations and light. Peach is a colour that needs to be bolstered by other colours around it and these tend to be shades of its own component colours which are reds and yellows.

White is the one colour that out lasts any other when the light starts to fade. It glows in that half-light. The spectrum of white stretches from pure optic white through to creams and silvery grey tones


Photo Credit: Manoj Malde

Some people find this this sort of planting scheme vulgar and garish. I find this energetic and it makes me smile. Garden should bring joy to people and colour should be all about having fun. Don’t be scared. Create a splash.

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