Colour is probably the most difficult aspect to consider when designing an outdoor space, whilst also taking into account surfaces, furniture, decoration and of course, plants. Colours create atmosphere, influence our mood and play with available light. Clearly, appreciation of colour is subjective and depends on personal taste, and also our cultural heritage. Using colour from plants is particularly difficult to manage, as foliage and flower colour change through their lifetime and with the seasons.
The colour circle
A good way to start is by using the colour circle. There are many different representations of this. The circle can be divided into two equal parts, with hot colours on one side (pink, red, orange, yellow, acid green) and cold colours on the other (blue-green, blue, purple). Colours can also be sub-divided into bright, vivid, dynamic and deep tones, or pastel and soft shades.
Hot colours are the ones we see first, particularly when they are far away. They have a dynamic effect.
Cold colours have a soothing effect, they invite calm and contemplation.
Like shade, black adds depth when used as a background, and sets off the colours in the foreground.
Grey sets off blues and greens.
White illuminates and enlarges spaces and adds brightness to the surrounding colours.
Black, grey and white evoke elegance and modernity. They bring out surrounding colours and play with their tones. But using just these colours on a large scale can create an impersonal or cool effect.
Brown, beige and green evoke nature, earth and hardiness.
The colour circle is a useful guide to creating harmonious colour combinations :
opposites : colours at opposite sides of the circle are complementary
triad : 3 colours equidistant from each other
shades: 3 to 4 colours close to each other on the circle
These combinations create brightness, contrast and dynamism. Do not use overuse as they can be dazzling.
These gentle colour combinations elicit harmony and tranquility.
Plant combinations of this type provide a feeling of balance and energy. However, if used for hard landscaping (paths, furniture) the effect can be very artificial.
NB: If you want to include a plant with different cultivation needs in an arrangement, you can put it into a pot where it can be treated appropriately (soil, watering, over-wintering etc). You can either bury the pot in the ground or use an attractive planter to protect the plant in its pot during the winter (see the phormium in the picture).
NB: The plant associations we have presented as examples are for illustrative purposes only. Each growing environment has unique characteristics, so results will vary according to local weather conditions, soils and care regimes.