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Colour in the Garden | Be subtle…or break all the rules!

Colour in the Garden | Be subtle…or break all the rules!


Colour can have a profound effect on our psychological experience of a garden. It can make a space feel larger, smaller, longer and narrower. Combining colour in gardens is much like creating a careful artistic composition with no garden ever being the same as another. The exciting thing about colour in the garden as opposed to in interiors or fashion, is the ever changing nature of plants themselves. As they grow, plants are by nature, constantly evolving in colour. Think about a flower that begins light or lime green, maturing to deeper shades of green over time and then a bud of colour emerges, deepening in hue as it opens. Then finally giving an explosion of saturated colour in full bloom. This process has always fascinated me and is one of the reasons I love flowers and plants and ultimately why I love what I do.

As a designer, much like an artist, one goes through phases of colours that one is drawn to. For example, when I started designing interiors I loved neutrals of whites and greys. Then on the next project I would find myself drawn to strong explosions of prussian blue and teal tones.  After trying out most combinations I can finally embrace the fact that there is no right or wrong, only what makes you feel happy right now, and what works for the design in question. Colour is intensely personal, no two people are the same so colour choice will differ between each client and each scheme.

When it comes to gardens, starting off in a planting scheme you have your greens, your base colours which can vary from deep, dark greens to limes and yellows. Green will always be the main colour in your garden no matter what. I love green with its infinite textures and movement and it is amazing what you can do with a simple mix of greens with the odd dot of colour.  Green is also associated as a colour with the feeling of safety, fertility and relaxation….no wonder gardens make us feel good!

The plants you add after this green base tell your story. What is it you want to say in the scheme that you are creating? Do you want to invigorate, soothe the senses or create a playful and fun composition?

Things to consider when choosing colours:

Hot or warm Colours 

There are rules in garden design, or what I like to think of as guidelines in garden design. For example, we tend to not have more than 10-15% of hot colours such as reds, oranges and yellows -those at the top of the colour wheel. The reason for this is that schemes can start feeling disjointed and stressful with too much warmth. These warm tones are great for adding accents and highlighting focal point areas of the garden.

Cool Colours

Green is one of the main cool colours in gardens but we have a big range of blues, purples, and lilacs. These colours have a soothing effect on a person experiencing this space. In research conducted across four continents and 10 countries blue has been found to be the worlds favourite colour. It is one often used in gardens as it works as well with complimentary colours such as purples and pinks as well as it does with strong yellows and oranges.

Creating moods with colour

Colour is one of the best tools to create moods within a garden design.



For me it gets really exciting once we start mixing up the colours. For my Bloom in the Park Garden in 2012 my main colour palette was varying shades and textures of green. I had the feathery lime greens of the Acers, the deep earthy structural  greens of the Carpinus hedging and the soft fluffy green of the grasses. What finished that scheme however were the dots of colour in between. Spikes of Salvia in deep, calm lilac, dots of Aquilegia in maroon pink and swathes of light pink Saxifraga from my own garden. The amazing purple foliage of the Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ gave it a little depth.

The main colour palette of cool colours was also represented in the hard landscaping of structure and walls with deep purple and light lilac being complementary hues to the planting

Contemporary Acid 

This mix of plants in the top picture is an exciting one and is very contemporary in feel. The sunset coloured Echinacea flowers teamed with spires of lilac Russian Sage (Perovskia longin) pop wonderfully against the acid yellow and lilac backdrop. The effect is surprising- fresh and very modern. A great colour combination for the contemporary city garden. The acid yellow would work well on furniture. Cuprinol Garden shades in Zingy Lime is a great colour for a bench or chair and would be a very fresh mix with these planting choices. Add in a few green sword like leaves such as these evergreen Libertia ‘Grandiflora’ and you have a wonderful mix.


A happy scheme 

This planting for a primary school in Sligo has a wholly different colour scheme. The warm orange of the external walls of the building acted as a starting point for the colour scheme and the mix of yellow Primulas, purple Nepeta, evergreen Vinca, Mexican Cosmos and many other pinks and lilacs were a playful and fun take on a summer meadow. The colours chosen represent the fun, free feeling of childhood and aim to give a little feeling of happiness to the staff and teachers every day.


A Psychadelic Meadow

Another project that has a fun combination of colours was an installation for the Dubarry of Ireland brand for their UK flagship store for the duration of Chelsea in Bloom a few years back. The brief was all about modern colour and yet not losing the Irish identity of the brand. Here I went all out with the colours which were a mad mix of yellows, blues, greens, purples, pinks, magenta. After choosing the plants at the amazing Hortus Loci nursery in the UK and driving down to London I panicked. I had broken all the rules! What if it did not work? But even though I chose all the colours on the colour wheel they somehow worked out perfectly proving that everything is possible, if combined carefully and of course as long as it makes you smile. We won an RHS Gold medal for the combination so we were delighted.


Leonie Loves

The first time I saw Susannah Grogan’s scarves I fell in love with them. The strong colours of the nature based designs are wonderfully detailed on silk. The award winning Irish designer, who studied at Chelsea College of Art and Design in London has a great range of silk scarves in every colour combination imaginable and the designs are a great mix of contemporary and natural motifs. It’s no wonder the designer creates scarves for the Anthropologie brand in the states. I love the Floral stripe design here which is so visual and my personal favourite is the ‘Bow Blue’ which is a new scarf with such a stunning mix of turquoise, heather and pink.  Susannah’s scarves are available Brown Thomas, Arnotts and on her website


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