How to use colour in a small garden


When it comes to colour, there is so much to explore in an outdoor space; colours react totally differently in natural light; light which changes from minute to minute and day to day depending on the weather and the position of the sun. Here are some tips on how to use colour in a small garden, from planting palettes to wall colours.

What are the conditions like in your garden?

The first thing to consider in your garden is the light, for a number of reasons. If yours is shady and north-facing this will limit your planting palette. This is not necessarily a bad thing; there are plenty of beautiful plants that have vibrant flowers that do well in a shady spot. Alternatively, if your garden is a bit of a sun trap, more cooling colours would work well and help balance the temperature of the garden, as it were.

There are so many plants out there that it’s really easy to become quickly overwhelmed. Having some restrictions in place will help you as you navigate various online catalogues and magazines.

Going light, dark or in-between for the boundaries

While light colours can make a space feel bigger, if your garden is small you may want to amplify the feeling of being enclosed in a mini oasis, in which case there’s no reason not to use darker colours to create atmosphere.

Francesca Wezel from Francesca’s Paints – a brilliant place to find both interior and exterior paint – sings from the same hymn sheet. “Normally if there is no light and it’s dark then I like to use dark colours,” says Francesca. “Instead of pretending that there is light and using a light colour that might look grey, it’s better to use a colour with some depth.”

If you’re painting timber fencing (and this is especially useful if you have three neighbours with different fences on each side) think about whether you’d like to still be able to see the grain (in this case, maybe a stain is better) or if you’d like a matte effect. Dark painted fences have been popular in recent years and they’re great for acting as a backdrop to dramatic plant colour combinations.

Choosing colours for your planting scheme 

I’d urge you to go big on the colours, either through repeating similar shades for big impact, or using exciting colour combinations. A bright blue-and-orange scheme is vibrant and energetic (again, think about the atmosphere and vibe you want in your garden).

Choosing colours that fit with your interiors

“You don’t want to be matching what’s inside your house, but it’s worth looking at what’s inside and seeing if any of that is relevant,” suggests garden designer Jo Thompson, whose book on colour, The Gardener’s Palette is released on 5 July. “Don’t try and pack too much in – have one colour theme. If you imagine looking at a paint chart, and you use colours on either side of that colour, it’s going to be a lot softer.”

If you do go for all one colour – for instance, just using white flowering plants – you can add interest through the shape and form of your plants, and the texture of their foliage. For instance a simple scheme of ferns, hakonechloa, hydrangea and geraniums all have really varied leaf and frond shapes.

You can then use planters to bring in different colours throughout the year. This lets you experiment and switch up your scheme over time using annuals and bulbs to introduce pops of colour.


By Tabi Jackson Gee