Picking the Right Garden Color Scheme

If you’re thinking of narrowing down the color palette for your garden, you’re already headed in the right direction! A limited selection of flower and foliage colors makes a garden easy on the eyes and even easier to plan. You can decide on a color scheme whether you’re just getting started or you already have an established garden. Having a palette in mind makes it easier to choose from the vast number of plants available and to edit what you already have.

Because plants come in almost any color you could want, we’ll start with 12 hues to keep things simple! Throughout the article, we’ll use a classic color wheel to discuss fundamental color combinations you can make and break it down from there. There are three types of colors on the wheel:

A color wheel filled with plants or foliage in the corresponding colors.

1 – PRIMARY – red, yellow, blue

2 – SECONDARY (each primary mixed with one another) – orange, green, purple

3 – TERTIARY (the primary mixed with the secondary) – red-orange, pale orange, chartreuse, blue-green, periwinkle, magenta

You’ll notice some classic garden colors aren’t on this initial color wheel. Think pink or burgundy. Those are tints and shades, respectively. You can play with them in the same ways you’ll play with these main hues (scroll toward the bottom to see an example of that).

Triadic Colors

The classic. A triadic color scheme is a tried and true method for combining colors in a way that will always look good. You’ll choose colors that are three spaces apart in each direction and get a selection of hues that are quite different from each other, but not in a jarring way. 

Triadic garden color schemes:

  • The primaries – red, yellow, blue
  • The secondaries – orange, purple, green
  • A combination of tertiaries – blue-green, magenta, pale orange (pictured)
A color wheel is made from flowers and foliage, and three pieces are highlighted showing what a triadic color theme looks like.

Abelia grandiflora
USDA zones – 6-9

Rosa
USDA zones – 4-8

Clematis
USDA zones – 4-9

Complementary Colors

To get the most eye-catching garden, plan to use a set of contrasting colors. These colors directly face each other across the wheel. 

Classic complementary garden color schemes:

  • Blue + orange
  • Magenta + chartreuse
  • Yellow + purple (pictured)
If two colors feels too limited, give this color scheme some visual interest by adding white. White flowers go with anything!
Yellow and purple straight across from each other on a garden color scheme wheel.
A large cheerful Show Off forsythia blooming in a spring garden.

Forsythia x
USDA zones 5-8

A very large purple mophead bloom on Wee Bit Grumpy hydrangea.

Hydrangea macrophylla
USDA zones 5-9

A dozen double creamy white roses on Reminiscent Crema rose in the summer garden.

Rosa
USDA zones 4-9

Analogous Colors

For a calm view, choose a set of three colors that are all side by side on the color wheel – any three. This combination technique creates a garden that looks kind of like how a string quartet sounds. Every plant has its own look, but they all come together in a harmonious way. 

Possible analogous garden color schemes:

  • Blue, blue-purple, purple
  • Chartreuse, yellow, pale orange
  • Orange, red-orange, red (pictured)
Three analogous colors highlighted on a color wheel of flowers.

Chaenomeles speciosa
USDA zones 5-9

Shocking red-orange blooms on an Estrellita Scarlet bouvardia in the summer garden.

Bouvardia x
USDA zones 8-10

Creamy orange blooms on Chicklet Orange tecoma.

Tecoma fulva
USDA zones 8-11

Monochromatic Color

Choose one color and find flowers, and foliage if desired, all in the exact same hue (or as close as you can get). 

Common monochromatic garden schemes:

  • White – not on the color wheel, but it’s a popular option for moon gardens
  • Green
  • Purple (pictured)
A color wheel with the color purple highlighted, emphasizing a monochromatic purple garden design.

Clematis
USDA zones 4-9

Syringa x hyacinthiflora
USDA zones 2-8

Buddleia
USDA zones 5-9

Hibiscus syriacus
USDA zones 5-9

Monochromatic Color Range

Remember when we talked about the colors burgundy and pink not being included on the main color wheel? This is one of the situations where they come in. Pink is a tint of red (red + white). Burgundy is a shade of red (red + black).

To give a garden depth, but keep it one note, choose a color and use its three main possibilities. 

Potential monochromatic color range schemes:

  • Yellow, pale yellow, mustard
  • Purple, pale purple, purplish black
  • Red, pink, burgundy (pictured)
A color wheel with the red slice extended outward to include pink and burgundy flower colors.
A mature specimen of Pink Chiffon rose of Sharon filled with frilly light pink blooms.

Hibiscus syriacus
USDA zones 5-9

Three mature specimens of Double Take Scarlet quince full of blooms in the springtime.

Chaenomeles speciosa
USDA zones 5-9

A close view of the burgundy tinted foliage on Midnight Express redbud.

Cercis canadensis
USDA zones 5-9

These are all tried and true color theories, but if nothing strikes a chord, just go with your gut. There are many well loved garden color combinations that adhere to no theory at all! Here are some of our favorites:

Unexpected Color Combinations

Light Blue + Chartreuse + White

Close view of light blue pointy star shaped blooms on Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha hydrangea.

Hydrangea serrata
USDA zones 5-9

Side view of a mature Sunshine Blue II bluebeard flowering with pale blue flowers on chartreuse foliage.

Caryoperis incana
USDA zones 5-9

A close view of the fluffy white blooms on Diamond Ball clematis.

Clematis
USDA zones 4-9

Hot Pink + Burgundy + Apricot (Light Orange)

A dark burgundy Center Stage Pink crapemyrtle planted in a sunny garden.

Lagerstroemia indica
USDA zones 6b-10

A side view of a mature At Last rose blooming beside a home.

Rosa
USDA zones 5-9

A close view of the ruffled dark hot pink flowers on Perfecto Mundo Dark Pink azalea.

Rhododendron x
USDA zones 6b-9

A close view of a long branch of Double Take Peach quince filled with peachy flowers in the springtime.

Chaenomeles speciosa
USDA zones 5-9

Dark Pink + Green + White

A side view of an abundantly blooming Invincibelle Sublime hydrangea in the summer.

Hydrangea arborescens subsp. radiata
USDA zones 3-9

A split photo with one side showing TEmple of Bloom seven son flower's very dark pink bracts in the fall and the other showing dainty white flowers in late summer.

Heptacodium miconioides
USDA zones 5-9

A mature Paraplu Pink Ink rose of Sharon flowering in the summer garden, showing off its starkly contrasting pink and white flowers.

Hibiscus syriacus
USDA zones 5-9

A mature rounded specimen of Double Play Doozie spirea flowering abundantly in the summer garden.

Spirea x
USDA zones 3-8

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose a color scheme for a garden if I already have an established space? 
Take cues from what’s already there. Do you like one of the flower colors better than others? Keep it as part of your palette. What color is your house, and what would look nice against it? Add that to the palette!

How do I start choosing a color palette for a garden if I don’t have one yet?
There are a few ways. Think:
– What color combination brings a smile to your face?
– What colors will complement your home color or other decor outside?
– What kind of garden style do you like? Find a quintessential plant in that style and use it as a jumping-off point. Include that color in your palette and add what complements it.

Are there colors that shouldn’t go together in the garden?
Nope! It’s your garden, you get to decide what your idea of beauty is.

Can a garden have too many colors? 
Visually, sure. But when it comes to our hearts, not really. If you can’t decide on a color scheme, just call it a Skittles® garden and enjoy it.

For more garden planning information and inspiration check out these resources:
How to Choose the Right Shrub
What is Visual Texture in a Garden
How to Create a Four Season Garden

If you have a favorite garden color combination, share it (and your plant recommendations) below! 

Written by
Kristina Howley

Kristina Howley

I am all in when it comes to gardening. Almost every part of the experience delights me – new leaves emerging in spring, pollinators buzzing in summer, birds devouring berries in fall, and the somber beauty of seed heads in winter. Thanks to a background in horticulture and gardening my own clay-filled, flowery USDA zone 5b plot, I’ve learned plenty of practical things as well. I like sharing these joys and lessons with my fellow gardeners and soon-to-be gardeners any way I can.

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