Color is a highly important tool in garden design. It can affect our senses and the way that we react to our environment. With colors, landscape designers can express a mood, atmosphere or message. For example, cool colors have a spacious, calm and gentle effect while warm colors create a vibrant, lively and exciting atmosphere.

The Color Wheel

The color wheel is a device that is used by landscape designers and landscape architects to show the visible relationship between colors and the results of mixing different colors together. The color wheel can perfectly explain why some color combinations will be horrid while others will look lovely. It shows how a color can contrast another one or blend seamlessly with another color.

The Color Wheel in Garden Design

Primary Colors

Primary colors are the largest parts of colors on the color wheel. They are the colors from which other colors are obtained. The primary colors are red, blue and yellow. If you mix other colors, you can’t get these three colors.

Primary Colors flowers garden design

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are gotten by mixing two primary colors. Secondary colors are green, purple and orange.

Secondary Colors flowers garden design

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are obtained by mixing and adjacent primary and secondary color in various quantities until the wheel becomes a rainbow that is circular.

Planting Flowers and Plants with Colors

Landscape designers can create different color combinations with flowers and plants. The palette can be changed to create various colors for different seasons.

combination colors in Garden design

Hard Landscaping

Hard landscaping can make the garden colorful when there is no flower or plant in bloom. The effect of hard landscaping is usually unchanged though sometimes the weather could affect the colors.

Hard Landscaping in Garden design


For natural contexts, landscape architects use earthly tones which are gotten from natural pigments. To create the feeling of excitement, energy and optimism, they use bold and bright colors.

Paint color garden design

How Colors Can Be Combined Perfectly

Garden design could be a creative challenge as landscape designers can blend various shades and tints of different colors to create a beautiful landscape design. A color wheel is often used to showcase the effects of various combinations and select the best one. The most important thing is to blend each color and contrast them in a unique way that can engage the viewer. The dominant colors will be the colors that are given the largest amount of space. 

Opposite Colors

Colors that are opposite each other on the wheel are called complementary colors. Examples are green and red, purple and yellow. The contrast of these colors creates a vibrant look when used together. But care should be taken to avoid eye strain.

Opposite Colors combination garden design

Adjoining Colors

Harmonious colors or analogous colors are selected from adjoining hues. They match each other well, create a sense of order and they are pleasing to the eye. One color is usually selected to dominate the others. The others are there to support the dominant color while creating an ‘OR’ effect.

Adjoining Colors combination garden design

Triadic Colors

Triadic colors are a trio of colors that are uniformly spaced around the color wheel. They can be used together by landscape designers to create vibrancy in a garden design. Triadic colors are best used for foliage and flowers rather than hard landscape. They can look too noisy if they are used for hard landscape.

Triadic Colors combination garden design

Color Effects

In a landscape design, colors are never visualized in isolation. They are always visualized as part of a general design contributing to create an aesthetic effect.  Other compositions are texture, line, scale and form. Elements like shadow, intensity of sunlight and others can also affect the way colors are seen outdoors. Landscape architects must understand the use and effect of various colors in a landscape design to create the best effect.

Color Effects in garden design for landscape architects

Color Influence

Color can be used to influence a particular area or environment. An object can become more visible if it contrasts well with its environment. Saturated colors or hues are dominant and can create the highest levels of contrast when they are used together. Lighter tints or darker shades do not contrast each other that much. Small areas of light can be used against dark areas to create an accent. Recessive colors like green or cool blue can create an illusion of distance.

Creation of Highlights

Color highlights can be used to create bold effects in a garden. They can be achieved when adjoining hues are combined close to each other or one hue is contrasted with another. Plants with complementary colors will make each other brighter when they are placed close to each other. Plants with hues that are close to each other like purple, pink and red will mix with each other to create a harmonious effect.  When a single intensely colored plant is used in a recessive background like blue or green, the bright plant will be more visible. The use of cool and warm colors will create a lovely composition that will showcase the color that is more dominant. The quality of light could make white look dominant or recessive.

Creation of Highlights in garden design for landscape architects

Properties of Color

Cool colors like white or blue can make an environment look more open and larger. Warm colors like orange and yellow can make an environment smaller and more intimate. Green is neutral.


Reds and oranges create a feeling of passion, excitement, vitality and energy. They work best in sunny sites and they stand out against any neutral green. But if they are overused they can be oppressive.

orange red flowers landscape design landscape architect


Yellows are cheerful looking colors. Most yellows can work well with oranges and reds. Greenish-yellows are cooler and they can be used to create combinations that are delicate.

yellow flowers landscape design garden design


Light blues can make an environment airy while deep blue can make an environment very intense. Blues create a feeling of coolness and peace. Purples carry some properties of blues and reds.

blue flowers in landscape design and garden design


Greens are the most popular color among plants. They create a feeling of calm, freshness and fertility. Greens can come in warm yellow-green, cool blue-green and many other variations.

green flowers in landscape design and garden design


Whites are very common in nature. Whites exhibit harmony and purity. Whites combine all other colors. Whites look spacious in nature but they can also look stark or gleam.

white flowers in landscape design and garden design


Grays and blacks are created by an absence of color. They are created when light rays are absorbed but no color is reflected. Black should be sparsely used to create a glamorous effect. They could look depressing if they are used over large areas.

black flowers in landscape design and garden design


We react to different colors in various ways. We react to it in different ways just like taste and smell. The intensity and amount of light that is reflected in a color affects the way our eye reads the color. Shaded areas reflect more hues that are muted while colors will look bolder and concentrated in sunny areas. Therefore, a painted wall will look different depending on its location and other factors. The hues of leaves and flowers will also look different depending on the degree of shade, the location and the time of the day.


Colors that are mixed together are less vibrant while pure hues are more intense. Gray and black are rarely found in nature but they exist more in the form of shadows. A shaded color that has been with black will look nearer while a tinted color that has been with white will be lightened and look airier and farther away. When a color is cast into shade, tones usually occur. The ways colors are perceived can be affected by the quality of light in a garden like in a shady border at twilight or on a bright sunny terrace.

Application of Color  in Garden design

In gardens, we tend to experiment more with colors that when we are in our home. This is because the outdoor environment is less restricted and is brighter. The grays of the sky, blues, neutral greens of the foliage have an effect that is softening in nature on clashing or more strident colors.

Vibrant Colors

Surprise pockets of color that are separated by greenery, bright pinpoints that energize paintings that are quiet all contain bright colors which are used to create a sense of vibrancy. In the flower borders, landscape designers can build up from quieter purples and blues to peaks of oranges and reds. If you combine hot colors with dark bronze, lime green or purple foliage, they will stand out more.

VIBRANT COLORS flowers in landscape design and garden design

Relaxing Colors

Purples, muted-grays and blue-greens of Mediterranean herb gardens can be used to make a quiet atmosphere that is perfect for a retreat. A space can also appear bigger by the plantings that pick up the colors of distant hills. It is not every time that a calming palette has to be muted. It could also include pastels and fresh greens which all work well in most settings.

Relaxing Colors flowers in landscape design and garden design

Neutral Colors

Sandy tones and earthy browns can remind one of the harvest time and they look nurturing and quiet which makes for a relaxed and calm atmosphere. If you want a garden with a country look, you can use weathered wood elements. If you are in an urban area, landscape architects can make you feel close to nature by using raised beds, reclaimed timber and bamboo and wicker for screens. You can also use decking, and sandstone paving for flooring. Pebbles can also be used to create shingle beach effect.

Neutral Colors in landscape design and garden design

Monochrome Colors

Landscape architects can create soft and hard landscaping in a palette of gray, black and white. Green foliage can be added to create an elegant refined style. This is perfect for period gardens with a layout that is formal. For a modern city courtyard, metallic can be combined with silver foliage and white blooms. White flowers and cream can be used to enliven shade and they can be combined with lime-green and variegated leaves.

monochromatic Colors in landscape design and garden design

Textures can be blended into a design. When selecting materials and plants for a garden, one could easily be lured by color but also of great importance are texture and form. The design could look great depending on how well the various textures and shapes are combined on a detailed scale and also on a large scale. The contrasts can be emphasized by visualizing in monochrome the soft and hard landscaping elements that one is considering using and paying great attention to how light can affect various forms.


Various textures can be experienced in a garden as an important part of the enjoyment of a space. By looking at something, one can tell what it is going to feel like. But exploring it will reveal more surprises. Surfaces and certain forms need to be touched to fully appreciate the various forms and the textural contrast. There are different categories by which textures can be classified. Some of these categories relate to how light affects a material while the others relate to how something feels.


To get rough textures, dry stone walls, peeling tree barks, stone chippings, prickly plants and wattle hurdles should be used.


Shiny, mirrored surfaces include stainless steel, evergreens, glazed ceramic, still water, polished granite etc.


Matt surfaces are good for combination with glossy elements. They include sandstone, cut timbers and galvanized metal planters.


They are soft and felted and often pleasant to touch. They include grass-like stems, fluffy seedheads and furry-leaved plants.


Hard surfaces are non-pliable solid surfaces. They could be terrazzo pots, cast metal, concrete and stone walling, flint etc.


Textures can be combined to introduce various textures. They could include shiny with matt, plain with patterned, rough with smooth etc. But the number of materials used shouldn’t be too much else the garden stands the risk of looking too busy.  The contrast between two elements should be highlighted by marking the difference. Horizontal decking should be paired with strong vertical plants. A stainless glittering steel water feature could be paired with matt textured hostas and ferns.

Also read: Garden design inspiration.


Wikipedia Color Wheel