A blaze of colour

Kirsty McLean shares how to bring colour into your garden…

Recently, I was asked if formal borders still had a place in the garden. I’d say that the concept of a border has certainly changed. A succession of adventurous garden designers have pushed the boundaries and taken us from rectangular lawns with landing strip paths and borders adorned with regimental rows of highly-coloured annuals to the antithesis of this in wild flower meadows and prairie style planting. I think for most city or suburban gardens however, the border will always survive as it’s such a great way of packing a lot of colour and interest into a relatively small space.

Colour is a huge element when it comes to planning and the enjoyment of the garden but colour in isn’t necessarily restricted to plants. It can also come from paving, walling, furniture, planters, structures, fences and can be used to create mood, stimulation, focal points, temperature and style.  

Understanding colour and how to use it gives you control and helps you to achieve whatever effect you desire. By understanding the colour wheel and the relationship between colours this can provide helpful direction when choosing planting schemes.  

Green and different shades of green can produce a very calming effect, throw in whites and creams to contrast against this and you create a sophisticated, cool feel that can be pulled toward an informal design when used with flowing shapes of borders or give a contemporary look where the structure of the design is more geometric. One of my favourite combinations is a beautifully clipped Prunus Lusitanica hedge or pleached
Hornbeam trees as a back drop, underplanted with a solid planting of Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ edged with clipped box.  If you want to create a subtle introduction of colour within this scheme, then add Alliums and Agapanthus through the border to create a fresh look.

Pastel colours evoke a peaceful, soft feel that creates a relaxing atmosphere. Combining soft tones of pinks, purples, blues, creams and greens can’t help but take you to a country cottage garden feel. If you add a strong evergreen structure such as clipped yew or box to edge then you can create something more contemporary. The position of the border – in sun or shade – will dictate the choices of plants.  

If you have a sunny border then consider the following combinations:

Back of border: Lavatera, Thalictrum delavayi, dwarf Delphiniums, Hollyhocks, Campanula glomerata Superba, Phlox paniculata 

Middle of border: Eryngium ‘Blue Hobbit’, Anemone huphensis, Salvia  x superba, Salvia Nemorosa, Monarda, Astrantias, Penstemons

Front of border: Stachys Byzantina, Geranium Rozanne, Sedum Spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’, Origanum Vulgare, Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’, Dianthus deltoides, Thymus x citriodorus, Saxifragas

It’s best to plant in groups using odd numbers. A group of three or five plants, looks better than four or six. Borders that have fewer varieties of plants, but bigger planting groups can be more impactful that lots of single plants. 

Where colour is concerned, the same general rules can apply to shrubs and trees, where you will create colour through their leaf or blooms. Mixed borders are also very successful where you create a ‘back-bone’ of shrubs with a healthy percentage of evergreen’s and fill in the spaces with perennials and edging plants.

The main thing to remember when you are looking at colour is that bright colours can draw attention and make spaces seem smaller, dark colours tend to make areas look larger than they are.  But don’t be afraid to break the ‘rules’ and just do what you feel good about.  As long as you do it with confidence, it will look fabulous!


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