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Color in the Garden How to Get the Best Out of the Different Hues

Jonathan Ya'akobi

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Designing color in the garden is not only a question of creating harmonies and contrasts, while avoiding clashes. It is also a matter of understanding the varying properties of the different hues, and by so doing, applying them in the garden to maximum effect.

Colors can be divided into the “warm" hues and the “cool" ones. Understanding the category to which a particular color belongs is crucial for creating mood. The warm or hot colors, (depending on how intense they are) such as red and orange, tend to excite and stimulate, while the cool colors, such as blue and green, relax and calm. Randomly mixing the two categories just creates chaos not interest.

The eye reacts in a certain way when stimulated by different colors. Red for instance, has the effect of coming towards the eye, while blue tends to recede. Designers often mass blues when the intention is to create the illusion of greater space in a small garden bed. A means of creating perspective is to place red flowers in front of blue ones, but the shades of red and blue have to be carefully chosen so as not to create a clash in both color and mood.

Unlike the interior designer, or the painter for that matter, the gardener has to contend with the varying light intensities in the garden. To compound the difficulty, these change throughout the day. This is important because hues like red and yellow look at their best in strong light, while the pastel colors; pink, sky blue, pale lemon, etc, appear weak and insipid in harsh light, but come into their own in soft light. That is why pastel color schemes that are so right for the soft light of England or Ireland, seem out of place in the fierce light intensity of the Mediterranean countries. A Bordeaux red, climbing rose for example, will look far better on a whitewashed Mediterranean wall, than a sky blue Plumbago.

Baring in mind that red, orange and yellow work best in bright light, while the blues and greens are colors of shade, a blue or pastel scheme can be designed in those parts of the garden that are partially in the shade at certain times of the day. So if the family tend to sit out in the late afternoon, when the light is considerably softer than at midday, the blues, pinks, and creams could form the heart of the color design, in that section of the garden.

My name is Jonathan Ya'akobi.
I've been gardening in a professional capacity since 1984. I am the former head gardener of the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, but now concentrate on building gardens for private home owners. I also teach horticulture to students on training courses. I'd love to help you get the very best from your garden, so you're welcome to visit me on or contact me at


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