Use color in the landscape

Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C.  |  3/4/2008 8:54:13 PM

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Get It Growing News For 02/22/2008

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Color is very important to us. We use it everywhere in our surroundings, including in our landscapes and on our bodies.

Generally, we carefully consider the colors we combine and use in our interior decor. We also take our time (sometimes way too much time) deciding on the colors we will wear for a day or even for a few hours.

Yet, how many gardeners spend time carefully considering and developing a color scheme for their flowerbeds and landscapes?

Plan your color scheme

It is not hard to introduce color into the landscape. A trip to the local nursery will convince you of that.

Many different trees and shrubs provide color through flowers or foliage, and you can find annual bedding plants and perennials in every color of the rainbow (plus some).

But in all the excitement of introducing color into the landscape, it is easy to forget the colors themselves require careful consideration in their use, placement and combinations.

You can combine colors that suit your taste in the landscape. It isn’t any different from picking out the clothes you are going to wear in the morning or choosing drapes, carpeting and furniture for the living room. But just like getting dressed or decorating a room, you need to give it some thought.

Nature provides a great source of inspiration and example when placing color in the landscape. One of the first lessons is that color needs to occur in drifts or clumps large enough to make a visual difference when viewed from the farthest vantage point. Nothing is more insipid than a few individual spindly flowers of different colors spaced out across the front of the house. Instead, look at the drifts of wildflowers along the highway for your inspiration.

If your budget won’t permit purchases of large numbers of plants, concentrate what you can buy in smaller, strategically placed beds and areas where they can be viewed at closer range.

Nature may display colors riotously or subtly, but green will always predominate. In our more colorful home landscapes, green still will be the major color.

This can be monotonous – even when other colors are added – if all the greens are alike and the shapes are similar. That’s why you should vary the greens in your landscape from the lightest yellow-green to dark blue-green and vary the leaves from broad and large to thin and tiny.

Choose a dominant color

One of the most important (and rarely done) steps in using color in the landscape is choosing a dominant color.

A dominant color can be chosen for the entire landscape, or individual, separate sections may each be assigned different dominant colors. For example, the front yard may have yellow as the dominant color and the backyard pool/patio area have blue.

Plan to use major masses of flowers in light tones or pastel variations of your chosen color. Augment that tone with related colors. (If yellow as the chosen color, those could be shades of chartreuse, gold, yellow-orange, orange and orange-red.) Use pure, brilliant hues sparingly, even of your chosen color.

The dominate color idea can be taken to the ultimate degree by planting a garden totally in variations of one color.

This might sound like it would lack interest and energy. But this approach, if carried out properly, can produce an effect that is harmonious and anything but boring.

White gardens are written about in magazines and books fairly commonly, and the yellow garden at Longue Vue House and Gardens in New Orleans is always a delight.

Color accents

A more typical approach to using color in the landscape is to make use of color accents. They function like the addition of a contrasting scarf or necktie to an outfit or colorful pillows on a couch. Color accents relieve the monotony of masses of related colors and add interest to your plantings.

Generally, colors complementary or near complementary to the dominant color are used as accents – yellow to accent the violets to purples; red to accent the blue-greens, greens and yellow-greens; bright blue to accent peach to orange and rusty red.

Accent plants will stand out in the landscape and become important parts of the composition.

Balance the colors so your composition invites the eye to linger, to find something interesting to see, but then soon to be tempted to move on to something else just as pretty.

Final colors

You will make some mistakes (as do we all). If that happens, a certain amount of resolve is necessary to make corrections.

When what seemed a perfect color combination in your mind doesn’t work in the garden, don’t be shy about digging up and moving plants. Don’t live with a planting that doesn’t thrill you just because it’s there.

Despite the many recommendations for using color in this article, there is really only one bottom line. I believe we all have an absolute right to our own tastes. If you enjoy and are comfortable with a color combination, go for it. But just be sure to think about it first.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.


Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or

Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-2263 or

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