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Color Theory in Landscape Design

Influence How Your Yard Looks and Feels by Implementing Color Theory


Tertiary colors in a simple color wheel.

Tertiary colors in a simple color wheel.

David Beaulieu

A brief overview, at least, of color theory is indispensable to any introduction to landscape design. Meanwhile, for the practical application of color theory, flower photos are immeasurably helpful. I provide both in the present article: on the first two pages, a brief look at color theory, and on Page 3, links to flower photos that will give you ideas for using reds, pinks (a tint of red), yellows, blues, purples, lavenders (a tint of purple) oranges, whites and silvers in your landscape designs. You may wish to skip directly to the Flower Photo page if you are already familiar with color theory.

Color, along with form, line, texture and scale, is one of the basic elements of landscape design, while proportion, transition and unity are some of the principles that rely on those elements. Your choice of colors to be used in the yard should not be considered in isolation. Rather, always keep in mind how color interplays with the other basic elements, with the principles of landscape design, and with the overall objectives of your plan. In Landscape Design for Beginners I discuss the elements and principles of landscape design at greater length, while I illustrate them using pictures through the resources I link to in Landscape Design Photos. A good book on the subject that I have reviewed is the "Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations."

Examples of the Application of Color Theory

The spectrum of colors is often divided into 4 categories:

  • Primary: reds, yellows and blues.
  • Secondary: greens, violets (purples) and oranges.
  • Tertiary: Blends of the primary and secondary categories.
  • Neutral: White, grays and silvers. Gray is an unusual color for blooms or berries, but you can view an example by clicking on the color wheel picture (above right), which opens a mini-photo gallery.

The secondary colors can be thought of as an even blending of two primary colors. Thus red and yellow produce orange, yellow and blue produce green, and red and blue yield purple.

The blends known as "tertiary colors" add a further element of complexity to the color wheel. I have numbered them on the illustration to your right. The numbered colors are as follows: 1.yellow-green, 2.blue-green, 3.blue-violet, 4.red-violet, 5.red-orange and 6.orange-yellow.

Using color theory as your guide, you can match the colors you use in your landscaping so that they "go together." The tertiary colors can serve as transitional colors to this end. For instance, let's say you want a color scheme using reds and violets. If you can find a plant that has a red-violet color, it will help bridge the gulf between your red plants and your violet (purple) plants. The addition of the third plant in such a case makes the difference between a slightly jarring effect (i.e., with just reds and violets) versus a smoother, more harmonious ensemble.

Color can also alter mood and perception, allowing you to:

  • Create a relaxing corner in your yard where you can meditate.
  • Make small spaces seem larger.
  • Attract attention to a particular area.
  • Tie different areas of the yard together.

For explanations as to how you can accomplish all this by applying color theory, please continue onto Page 2....

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