Container Gardening Help: Color that Communicates

We all need gardening help when it comes to color . . . because color speaks, sometimes loudly!

It can make us feel happy, energized, and warm, or it can communicate cool aloofness, dignity, and reserve. Color speaks to our emotions and our intellect—to our hearts and our minds.


What Colors Say
Since we’re working with small space design, it’s even more vital to understand the power of color.

Why? Because you want your container garden to reflect decisions you make and not appear random. Or worse, aggressive when the mood you’re going for is cool and restrained. Or monotonous when this means “boring” to you, not understated and refined.

Do you need gardening help to make your colors say “bold” and “striking? Or would you rather create a soft, loving feeling in your garden planter?

Are you stressed out and in dire need of a small garden that refreshes and soothes, rather than energizes?

Here’s my first gardening tip on color. We’re generally prone to think of color as either only coming from blooms or being “pretty” sorts of colors–pinks, lavenders, yellows . . . but take a look at the seasonally offered Hellebore below from Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

This Lenten Rose Onyx Odyssey (Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Onyx Odyssey’) and it’s slate purple to near black in color. The cool thing about this flower is it grows in part to full shade and where I live, blooms in what you might call “late winter”–sometimes in the snow!

Think about the striking contrast this big, nearly black bloom would make in a late winter landscape! Click here to search the Nature Hills website for this and other seasonally available flowers.

Lenten Rose – Onyx Odyssey

Check out more gardening help below. See how you can achieve any of these feelings—using color alone.

Strategic Color Choices

Green will be present in most all color combinations. It functions to absorb and soften some of the stronger colors. It also presents a calming presence since green, especially in the deeper shades, is very soothing.

Monochromatic: To create a soothing, restrained statement, pick a monochromatic scheme of one color and its variations (with limited spots of accent if you chose). Here violet pansies in a restrained cool color range work well on this white front porch rail.


Gardening Help Tip: Try using different leaf textures, flower shapes, and color shadings to create a lovely, sophisticated outdoor planter.

For example, summer flowers in pinks might include pastel or hot-pink tall lilies and nicotiana above non-trailing petunias. The surface of the pot will stack upward. Nicotiana has smallish flowers on upright spikes while lilies present a larger profile. The petunias can have large or small blooms.

Need a tad more gardening help? Add trailing verbena and petunias and you again include contrasting flower shapes since verbena blooms are tight heads of small color nodules while petunias have larger, uniform flower heads. The upper and lower regions of this display mirror each other, reinforcing the monochromatic design. This color palette is the easiest one to manage. Find out more about the plants mentioned here in the Plant Finder.

Complimentary: Think striking and bold. Since yellow and blue are directly across from each other on the color wheel, this combination would be considered complementary.


Here the bright yellow pansies contrast well with blues and lavenders, and even the little white allysum brings something to this clay flower pot coloration.

A spring example of complimentary colors would include yellow daffodils combined with blue hyacinth and bi-colored pansies or crocuses.

Gardening Help Tip: Alter the impression of this color scheme by softening to or away from the pastel. Delft blue hyacinth, for example, would blend well with a small, softer-colored jonquil (a smaller flower size than the daffodils) to make a less-assertive impression.

Also be alert to the amounts of each color you plant. In this spring example, you want blues to predominate, with the stronger yellows coming in as accents.

And since the larger hyacinth will singly make a stronger statement than one daffodil or jonquil, plant accordingly.
Analogous, blending colors: Maybe you prefer a softer look and feel—plant flowers with colors next to each other on the color wheel. Green, yellow-green, and yellow would make an analogous planting.


This basket blends from purple to the nearly icy-blue trailing dichondra.

In fall, you can plant analogously colored chrysanthemums: yellow, gold, rust, magenta, and burgundy chrysanthemums convey a sense of uniformity because you’re using the same flower. An important gardening help tip: Select hues carefully. Make sure your pots reflect decision and don’t appear haphazard.

Emotional Effect of Color:
We know color makes us feel something. But what, specifically?

Generally, blues, and purples recede, or seem to be farther away from the viewer, and present a cooler, more reserved presence. Yellows and reds come forward and are much more assertive, creating a “hot” emotional climate.

Gardening Help Tip: To warm up a cool color, move it toward the red or yellow shades. Blue becomes warmer as you move it toward the lavender shades, for example. The opposite is also true. Cool down hot colors by moving them toward their opposites—yellow becomes cooler as you move toward the yellow-greenish tones.

You can also use plant texture and proportion to add even more beauty to your container garden design.

Three Vital Design Rules

Repetition. Repeat colors and flower shapes, types, and forms.


Here’s an example of a monochromatic green topiary repeated in a formal knot garden. The effect is calming and satisfying.

Even a bi-colored palette in greens and white/creams comes alive with the tiny white flowers of bacopa trailing over the pot’s rim planted with variegated cream and white ivy. And this is primarily a foliage pot—the bacopa flowers are very tiny.

Top this with a rounded hummock of the much larger hibiscus. Plant two other pots in the overall display with bacopa to soothe the eye with repetition.

And there are lots more ways to use repetiton and add drama. to your container garden design.

A dollop of white. In my experience, even in very small amounts, white brightens up a display—it tends to draw the eye and allow the liveliness and vibrancy of the colors around it to come forward.

Odd numbers. For some reason, we humans like odd- numbered groupings. They’re much more satisfying than even-numbered ones and send a message of “completeness” to the viewer. Plant pots in numbers of one, three, five, or seven (etc.) for best effect.

Light in Dark Places
Gardening Help Tip: How to add color to your shade garden:

Variegated foliage, ones that contain shades of white, stand out in semi-or full-shade locations.
Impatiens, in the pastel colors especially, seem to glow in the shade. They’re a really easy flower to grow and thrives in shade. Use them!

And below is another foliage idea you might not have thought about. In addition to variegation, think about the foliage color itself. Notice this Coral Bell’s interesting, pinkish-salmon foliage?

Coral Bells Southern Comfort’s pastel leaves add a pop to container gardens–the eye travels right to it. And to boot, it has really pretty white flowers held high above the leaves.

There are lots of Coral Bells colors–check out Nature Hills Nursery, Inc. for a wide selection.

Coral Bells – Southern Comfort
Coral Bells – Southern Comfort

Color Your Home
Think of your outdoor planters as part of another “room” of your home. It’s an extension of your interior décor (including your color choices and style) and how you’ve landscaped and designed the outside of your home. Decorate this outdoor “room” with this in mind.



This example shows how the bright double hibiscus in orange picks up the orange accents in the ornamental door. The limey green sweet potato vine also blends well with the muted green palette of the focal point in this urban entrance—notice the three colors in the door, all with overtones of green.

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