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How To Use Blocks Of Color In The Garden

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How To Use Blocks Of Color In The Garden

You know those gardens you love that you’ve seen on Instagram? Chances are good—no, great—that one of the biggest reasons you love them is that they use color well. There’s a defined color palette, and the colors are carefully arranged to create the biggest impact. These “blocks of color” are cohesive and keep the eye moving, and we’re going to show you how to do it. Oh, yes, we are.

First … What NOT to Do!

Apologies in advance for beginning with a negative, but sometimes that’s what is called for. The opposite of color blocking in the garden is to use literally every color you can think of, and then mix them all in together. You’ve seen confetti, right? That’s a confetti garden. And guess what happens in a confetti garden? There’s no rhyme or reason, no real focal point, and your eyes dart all over the place. 

In short, it feels chaotic. Now, we hear you thinking, “But aren’t wildflowers all mixed in together? Is Mother Nature wrong?” We want to be clear that we don’t think Mother Nature is ever wrong (except we can’t quite forgive her for creating lima beans and squirrels, but that’s another conversation), but if you study fields of wildflowers, there tends to be an organic color scheme even in those wild places.

How to Use Blocks of Color in the Garden

Color blocking involves using larger quantities of plants in a select number of colors, then arranging them artfully to create a WHAM POW effect. (Are you worried that “larger quantities of plants” is equal to “taking out a second mortgage on my home”? Not if you use our 4” potted plants!)

Remember that flowers are an obvious choice when color blocking, but other plants like shrubs, trees, ferns, and ornamental grasses are amazing additions to the color-blocked garden. Bulbs are also no-brainers when it comes to color blocking (hello, tulip fields everywhere), so we want you to explore all of these options as well. 

  1. Choose your color palette: We like 3–5 colors to avoid overwhelm. You can certainly use more than 5 colors, but that gets a little more complicated, so if your color palette is more than 5, aim to include “shades” of the smaller number of main colors. Check out the Color Wheel below for ideas.
  2. Map it out on paper: Loosely draw the shape of your bed on graph paper (one little square = one foot), then use colored pencils to draw “bubbles” of color. Make the bubbles several feet around. Sometimes you’ll have lots of plants within that bubble, while other times it’s a one-plant-per-bubble kind of deal.
  3. Create a pattern: Or not! Patterns are fun ways to create repetition (pink, red, white, repeat), but you can also arrange blocks of color in a more organic and less formal way. Make some blocks larger, some smaller, some touching, others overlapping.
  4. Choose your plants: You can use all solid colors, some blocks that include a mix of two or more colors, and plants that have more than one color. And remember, green is a color, too! Vary the heights of your plants as well as the bloom time to extend your season. Hop on over to our Potted Plants collections to scoop up 4” plants to make your planting easier and less expensive!
  5. Experiment with placement: This is why we love graph paper planning. If it doesn’t look great on paper, rearrange your blocks to finish planning before you order your plants. Does it still look too messy, chaotic, or not cohesive? Take a look at how many colors you have and consider decreasing the number.
  6. Remember full-grown size when planning: That 4” pot can mature into an 8 x 12 full-grown plant, so keep that in mind when you’re planning. If your color blocks are large, consider using a plant spacing calculator to determine how many plants you’ll need.

Real Garden Examples

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but we think that’s a bit miserly. These images are worth at least two thousand, and are inspiring examples as you plan out your color blocking. And remember—some of these are obviously public gardens, so don’t feel you have to re-create that in your backyard. Don’t focus on how big or fancy these gardens are; focus on how they arranged the color!

  • Informal Color Blocking: While there is clear repetition of this garden’s purple, lavender, and white, it’s not in any discernable pattern. The plants are in a much more random placement with overall balance in mind. 

Plants for this type of color blocking: Bee balm, Grasses, Ferns, Butterfly Bush

  • Patterned Color Blocking: Patterns can be a fun way to plan out your color blocks, and they can also be a bit more formal in appearance. This example shows clear borders of all purple with blocks of yellow and red behind them. 

Plants for this type of color blocking: Dianthus, Delphinium, Bergenia

  • Monochromatic Color Blocking: You’re picking a color (say, red) and then choosing different shades of that color (pink, burgundy) to include. This garden example creates an ombré effect with the darker burgundy leading to the bright pink, which then leads to the lighter pink. Notice all the green around it—sets it off pretty nicely, doesn’t it? 

Plants for this type of color blocking: Foxglove, Poppies, Lilac

  • Mixed Color Blocking: You don’t have to use all solid colors (or solid-colored flowers) in each block. This is a great example of a hot color scheme, but the blocks of plants mix up shades of red, yellow, orange, and pink. Note: This is not the confetti garden we talked about earlier. Why? Because it’s a limited color palette mixed together rather than every color one can think of. 

Plants for this type of color blocking: Lupines, Coreopsis, Alstroemeria

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  • Jenny Peterson