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Garden Design Basics: Using Color to Set a Mood

by Suzanne DeJohn

Garden with Cool Colors

Many of the gardeners I've met fall into one of two categories: those that plan their gardens and those that don't plan. The planners evaluate their landscape, decide what kinds of plants they need and research the available varieties before they make a purchase. The non-planners see a pretty picture and can't help themselves — they buy the plant and, once it arrives, they figure out where to plant it. Whether you're a planner or an impulse buyer, you can have beautiful gardens if you stick to some basic garden design principles.

The first thing to remember is that you really can’t go wrong. After all, have you ever encountered an ugly flower? Even if a perennial bed doesn’t turn out exactly like what you had in mind, chances are it’s going to be attractive. And, unlike the wallpaper or paint color that looked great in the store but now grates on your nerves, perennial plants can be moved to a more suitable spot. It’s easier than repainting or re-wallpapering!

In the garden, the first thing that catches people's eyes is the overall color scheme. You can find nearly every color of the spectrum in the blossoms and foliage of perennials and bulbs. Most people are drawn to certain colors, so if there is a color scheme you’ve admired — whether it is in a favorite sweater, upholstery, or garden — keep this in mind when choosing plants.

The intensity of the colors will set the tone for your garden.

Gentle pastel colors set a mood of tranquility. They look best when viewed from relatively close up, and they can looked washed out in the harsh mid-day sun.

Compare the pastels with flowers in hot, bold colors.

Racy reds, vibrant oranges, hot pinks and brilliant yellows -- these colors invigorate and energize a garden. Bright colors hold up well to brilliant sunshine, and attract the eye even from a distance.

You can "cool down" a garden by adding plants in cool colors. Plants with blue flowers and silvery gray foliage are especially calming.