How to use colour in a small garden

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. 

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. 

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.

In the small Blue Garden that I designed for a client in London, we used Francesca’s ‘Mali’s Green’ limewash. This courtyard garden gets lots of direct light so this worked well, and the texture on the walls gave more character to the space. Anything paler or with less depth to it risked being washed out in bright sun. 

Despite the small space (the garden is only 3m x 5m), we brought in lots of different plants in a whole range of colours. As with the walls, we went for depth of colour. Salvia ‘Beyond Blue’, Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, Achillea millefolium ‘Red Velvet’, Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Tanna’, Penstemon ‘Blackbird’ and Clematis ‘Rouge Cardinal’ – to name just a few – introduced a range of light pinks, deep reds, electric blues and velvety purples to the garden.

Whilst using this many colours may scare you a bit, I’d say that with garden design, fortune favours the brave! And the best thing is, you can always take things out, move plants and edit the scheme over time. 

With that in mind, 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). 

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