Color in the Garden

By Connie Cottingham

There are so many factors that go into design, but one that we all notice and all have opinions about is color. Color in the garden can be in the blooms, foliage, bark, or a bench or container. It can change with the seasons or the position of the sun. Colors can be more pronounced or subtle depending on the color it is beside. Let’s look at a few colors with ideas on how they can enhance your garden.


White is clean and cooling in the garden. It glows at night, and so is a good addition to those who work long hours and enjoy their garden after the sun goes down and the day cools off.


Grey is a softener, blending other colors. It looks classy with white and glows at night too. It quiets brighter colors and blends beautifully with pastels.

Pastels and Brights

Pastels are seen more often in the spring blooms, while the brights are more associated with hot summers. Your choices of plants can create a garden that celebrates mainly pastels or brights. I like lots of color and change, so I celebrate the seasons and use my selection of annuals to change the color scheme of my garden. Brights are also much more visible to aging eyes.

Variegated foliage

Variegated foliage usually has white or cream in each leaf, and is very common in hostas. Variegated foliage is most useful in the shade garden, where it can brighten dark areas.


Masses of the same color can calm a landscape by giving the eye a place to land. This can be the lawn itself, or with groupings of one plant. This can be easy to do if you have plants that are ready to divide. This fall, you can dig up a healthy perennial, divide it into several plants, and plant near each other to create a grouping. Pink Muhly grass is a great plant to mass, but you may let it show off through fall and divide it in very early spring, before it starts to green up again.


Multicolor is fun, youthful, and easy to achieve with annuals and containers. And the fun thing about annuals is you can change those colors every season to suit your mood.


Yellow is the color that contrasts most with black, and is most visible from a distance. A little yellow stands out.

Red and Burgundy

Watch these colors against Georgia clay brick; they can disappear if there is not a contrasting color between. Burgundy leaves contrasting with grey, chartreuse, or green foliage can add much to a landscape; blooms become icing on the cake.

Blues and Purples

Blue is a cooling color (a big plus in Georgia summers) and blends other colors together. Red and orange together may be a bit garish, but add blue between and you have a lively symphony.


Green flowers are unique and treasured by floral arrangers. Green foliage is the backbone of our gardens and unifies the garden year-round. I firmly believe that any greens that Mother Nature created go together.

Play with color in your garden. Perhaps a few plants tucked into your landscape can enhance the existing colors you have!



Connie Cottingham is a staff member of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, a freelance garden writer, and a landscape architect. You can subscribe to her weekly Love Notes from the Garden at