We spend a lot of time and money planning our interiors and exactly how we will decorate each room in our homes, so it makes sense to do the same with our gardens. Most gardeners like to use colour – no matter how bright or muted – to make a statement in their garden. By treating the plants in your garden as you would paints on an artist’s palette, you can combine and interweave your own personal canvas. Each colour you use has an influence on the plants around it and gives you the opportunity to be as dynamic as you like to create energetic or harmonious areas in your garden. Don’t just consider flower colour, also look at foliage, stems, fruit, seedheads and bark for your pictures. Borders, beds and even containers are awaiting your creativity. Here are some tips and suggestions to help you design new areas or augment and edit existing combinations.

Great British Life: Harmonious colours are dreamyHarmonious colours are dreamy (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Classic combinations

Green, the colour of nature, is calm, soothing and serene. It acts as a foil or background to other hues, or can be used as the main theme. A landscape design of various shades of green, emphasizing tone, shape and texture, can be subtle and beautiful. Apparently our eyes are able to detect more nuances in greens than in any other colour and nature gives us a multitude of greens to play with – from soft greyish greens, tangy limes, to deep emerald or cooling jungle greens. A restrained palette of neutral whites against lush greens is timeless, serene and sophisticated, with a freshness and purity that is hard to achieve with other monochrome schemes. The luminous, pale blooms add light to shadowed areas, shimmer like ghosts in the moonlight, many are highly scented, and work well when combined with stunning foliage in varying tones of greens to silver. A tip to make sure there is interest in the simplicity of a white garden is to include a mix of heights, sizes, textures and flower shapes.

True blue is a rarity in the plant world but it’s worth hunting out these illusive jewels to add a touch of cooling elegance to the garden. Most flowers described as blue are actually shades of violet or purple, but there are some that are pure blues. Blue extends the view as it recedes, so plant at the end of a border to make it appear longer. For the real thing some of the most stunning choices include stately delphiniums, iridescent salvias, massed agapanthus and voluptuous hydrangeas. With a bit of creativity you can find options to add interest through the year, from soft pastels, through colours of the sky to dazzling electric blues. Blue is a colour that is always popular and one that you are unlikely to tire of as it blends or contrasts so readily. For a fresh, clean combination that gives a sense of distance, echo delft china with blue and white blooms. Add some grey foliage to complete the effect. Blue will stand out against other colours but take care with mixing blue-mauve tones with clear blue as it will throw off the colour, better to put blue with definite purple, mauve and pink for a pretty and harmonious combination. Colour opposites orange and blue make a rich complementary combination that is sure to stand out and hot reds and yellow will jump out against cool blues.

Great British Life: Pretty in pink Pretty in pink (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Pretty in pink offers up possibilities in a wide palette of hues, ranging from deep magenta to the palest shades. Cool pinks have a hint of blue; warm a hint of yellow, and pink can be used boldly or subtly. You can choose to be monochromatic with varying shades of pink to lift a space, using a succession of pink blooms through the seasons. Perfectly at home in romantic, old-world cottage gardens, mixed with pastels or blues and mauves, or if you’re feeling brave go for a surprising eye-popping combination pairing scarlet pink with orange. Purple is a rather special colour; hot and cold at once, being formed by a balance of red’s stimulation and blue’s calm. Luxurious, rich purples add the glam factor to hot border schemes and its softer tones are perfect for romantic, harmonious schemes. It’s a colour readily found in nature and in fact most of its varied shades have names derived from flowers or fruits – just think of lavender, violet, lilac, mulberry, plum and aubergine. Purple flecked through golds or particularly with astringent lime greens is eye-catching; tonal mixes of mauves are soft and soothing and lavender mixed with crimson roses evokes romance.

Great British Life: Contrasting colours on the colour wheel make stunning combinationsContrasting colours on the colour wheel make stunning combinations (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Hot combinations

Hot colours give energy and warmth. Reds are passionate and add strong focus to an area. They work well with opulent purples or their complementary greens. The tonal range of reds in nature is vast – from the young foliage of roses, berberis foliage, through to clear red poppies or claret and burgundy toned heucheras.

Orange is a colour that more than any other elicits a strong response from the viewer - maligned by some as too garish, and loved by others for the vibrant energy it brings to a space, think of kniphofias (hot pokers) adding life to a sea of parchment grasses. Whether looking back to the 1970’s and retro design, or even further back to the likes of Gertrude Jekyll who used it as an eye-catching way to add life to her borders; orange in its full range of tones, from high-impact flamboyance to pastels, is seeing a renaissance in the garden. The strongest hues work strikingly set against complementary rich blues and purples, or its softer apricot tones combined with gentle mauves are more subtle. Not as aggressive or fiery as red, it adds tropical, sunset tones to combinations.

Great British Life: Bright tones stand up to sunny areas wellBright tones stand up to sunny areas well (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Cheerful yellow, the brightest colour to the human eye, can work well in golden borders, mixed with oranges and bronzes, or contrasted with blues or purples it really draws the eye. It can be bright and vivacious or toned down to creams, which blend with most colour groupings. Keep your design simple as yellow has lots of impact and bear in mind the angles of light and the glorious transparent effect of backlighting yellow for a radiant glow, especially when the sunlight is low in early spring and autumn.

Great British Life: The ever-popular Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff The ever-popular Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff (Image: Leigh Clapp)

You can’t think of hot borders without a mention of the late Christopher Lloyd, one of the world’s most adventurous and outspoken authors, and the exotic border at his garden Great Dixter in Sussex. Digging up the 80-year-old rose garden designed by Edwin Lutyens and replacing it with lush tropical-looking foliage of bananas, ricinus and Colocasia esculenta with brightly coloured late season flowers such as fiery orange, scarlet and red dahlias, cannas, begonias, wafting purple clouds of Verbena bonariensis and salvias may have caused outrage at the time, but has continued to influence garden design. This can be seen at many gardens across the county, with vibrant double borders at Pashley Manor, rich, textural tones at Parham House, and in many smaller home gardens you are bound to see combinations with the ubiquitous red Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ Lloyd used at Great Dixter.

Great British Life: Pashley Manor's hot borderPashley Manor's hot border (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Top tips for hot coloured borders from Pashley Manor’s head gardener David Johnson-Cloves

• Use analogous colours in reds, oranges and gold

• Look for true reds and dark reds, not pinky reds

• With yellows and oranges choose bright, strong colours, not pale

• Start with spring bulbs, such as tulips in the colours

• Select roses with red flowers and hanging red and orange hips

• Dahlias, lilies, crocosmia and kniphofia carry the show summer through to autumn

• Consider also the foliage with shrubs such as red-tipped photinia and dark leaved cotinus

Great British Life: An all white border lights up shaded areasAn all white border lights up shaded areas (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Get the look

• Good prep is essential – weed thoroughly and prepare the soil

• Know your light level and conditions

• Have a plan before you go shopping for plants

• Many flowers change as they age so take into account from buds onwards and what they are paired with

• The best linking colour comes from foliage as it will last through the time,

• Remember bright, warm colours, such as red, orange and yellow, come toward you and cool ones, blue and purple, will recede

• Hot colours work best in sunny gardens and as they appear closer they make a garden feel more intimate

• Cool colours are calming and because they blur into the background can be used to make an area feel bigger

• The light through the day and year affects how colour works, for example pastels look their best in morning light and whites at dusk

Great British Life: Geums add sunshine coloursGeums add sunshine colours (Image: Leigh Clapp)