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Vegitables and Herbs

Garden Design




Elements of Garden Design - Working with Color

Most garden design advice begins with a discussion of color, texture and form. Color is arguably the most prominent factor in a garden design and often the first one considered. Color is what most gardeners are drawn to. We know what we like when we see it. Good garden design involves knowing how to combine colors so that the final product will be one we like. Only practice and experimentation will develop your eye for color and allow you to see the differences between colors, but a good way to start is by studying the color wheel used in art.

On the wheel, colors are arranged by their relationships to each other, in a progression. Violet-red to Red to Orange-Red to Orange to Yellow-Orange to Yellow and so on, in the same order as they appear in the spectrum. Most modern color wheels only contain 12 colors, while there are many more subtleties in nature.

However, it is a good tool to begin to train your eye to see the relationships between colors and how they transform and play off of one another.  

While knowing color vocabulary isnít necessary to successfully working with color, learning some key terms can help you make sense of color combining.


The Primary Colors on the wheel are: Red, Yellow & Blue
Blending these 3 colors gives us the rest of the rainbow.

Secondaries and Tertiaries round out the 12 colors shown on the wheel.
Secondary: Orange, Green & Violet
Tertiaries: Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green & Blue-Violet


Basically, it breaks down to 2 choices:
  1. Harmonious (colors that are next to one another and share some value) or
  2. Contrasting (colors that donít)

Harmonious Combinations


  • Choosing one hue and using it in its various shades, tints and tones.
  • Less is More
  • Can be a good beginners approach, as it avoids the chaos of too many colors
  • Requires an eye that can see the differences within a color
  • Also a very sophisticated approach in its subtlety
  • Texture and repetition become more noticeable and important
  • Green makes a good transition from one shade to the next
  • Can also be employed as a progression, moving from one hue to the next on the wheel, the next...


  • Working with 2-3 colors that are adjacent to one another on the wheel (red, orange, yellow)
  • Makes for an easier, less jarring transition for the eye

Contrasting Combinations


  • Uses two colors opposite each other on the color wheel (red/green, orange/blue, yellow/purple.)
  • No common pigment means maximum contrast.
  • Can be a bit jarring if there is too much contract used
  • Try to favor one color and use the other as an accent or focal point
  • Again, use texture and form for variety, rather than too much color
  • You could also work with 3 equidistant colors (Triads) or
  • One color and the 2 colors on either side of its complement (Violet with Yellow-Orange and Yellow-Green) (Split Complements)


  • Using every color
  • Actually requires as much thought and experimentation as the other approaches
  • Can become a riot of color
  • Neighboring plants need to be considered throughout the garden

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