Color Schemes for Flower Gardens

Guidelines for combining colors in your landscape design

contrasting color schemes
What is the best color scheme? The one that's most pleasing to you!
color wheel
Color wheel

Color is usually the first thing people notice when they see a flower garden, and choosing plants in pleasing color combinations can be daunting to a new gardener. The color wheel is a helpful tool. It's based on three primary colors — red, yellow, and blue — and also depicts the colors in between.

The concentric bands show the colors in different degrees of saturation. Fully saturated colors are the most intense; as you move toward the center of the wheel, the colors become softer, more pastel.

Warm colors. Yellow, orange, red, magenta — these "warm" colors bring energy and excitement to a planting. When planted at a distance, they draw the eye in.

Cool colors. Purple, violet, and blue tend to be soothing and quieting. They can get lost at a distance and so are best for close-up viewing.

There are no hard-and-fast rules in choosing colors. A bold chartreuse green might fall into the "warm" category, while a softer, pastel shade of that same green might fit right in with a cool-color palette.

The most important design tip? Choose plants and colors that you love!

Designers use specific terms to describe color combinations. To help you get started, here are a few examples:

The most important design tip? Choose plants and colors that you love!

Complementary Color Scheme

complementary color scheme in flowers
Left: bright pink yarrow (Achillea millefolium 'Saucy Seduction') contrasts with chartreuse-green Orpin stonecrop (Hylotelephium telephium 'Autumn Charm'). Right, the bright red flowers of maltese cross (Silene chalcedonica) pop against the backdrop of green foliage.
sage and yarrow
This yarrow (Achillea 'Terracotta') and woodland sage (Salvia nemorosa) offer more subdued complementary tones.

In complementary color schemes, two colors on opposite sides of the color wheel are combined.

  • Brings energy and excitement to a planting
  • Examples: blue and orange, yellow and purple, red and green
  • Use varying hues (shades of blue, for example) to keep it interesting
  • If needed, tone it down with quieter colors and foliage

Analogous Color Scheme

analagous color scheme in flowers
Left: Zinnias, geraniums, and marigolds in shades of red, orange and yellow create a vibrant planting. Right: Knapweed (Centaurea 'Caramia'), smooth phlox (Phlox glaberima 'Triple Play'), and sea holly (Eryngium planum 'Blue Glitter') offer a pleasing palette of pink, purple, and steely blue.
orange and red marigolds
Orange and red-orange marigolds and chartreuse lady's mantle is a traffic-stopping combination.

To create an analogous color scheme:

  • Select three neighbors on the color wheel (colors that are adjacent or near each other)
  • Makes it simpler to choose plants that are attractive together
  • Examples: yellow, orange and red; blue, purple and red

Monochromatic Color Scheme

monochromatic color scheme in flowers
Left: Foamy bells (Heucherella 'Fun and Games Red Rover'), with coppery-red to peach-colored foliage and tiny white blooms, combines beautifully with Diascia 'Towers of Flowers Apricot' to create a pleasing monochromatic planting. Right: This pink-themed border includes coral bells (Heuchera 'Dolce Silver Gumdrop'), geraniums (Pelargonium 'Marcada Pink Purple'), calibrachoa, and petunias.

Another option for a monochromatic color scheme is a "moon garden." Gardens featuring all white flowers are especially beautiful when viewed by moonlight. Good choices include moonflower (Ipomoea alba), night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), and evening stock (Matthiola incana).

Last updated: 09/14/2023