There are all different reasons to create a flower bed. Perhaps you want to showcase your favorite flower. Maybe you love spring gardens (or summer or fall) and are determined to have one of your own. Your garden may be the result of trying to soften a large cement wall. Whatever the reason, at some point you will have to consider what colors are going to be included or excluded. This is when some basic knowledge of color theory comes into play.

Color theory sounds somewhat intimidating and understanding a color wheel even more so. Keep in mind that every morning when you dress for the day, you are consciously or unconsciously using color theory. It’s no different when planting flower seeds or plants.

Let’s start with a basic understanding of color terminology.

  • Hue is just another word for color. Red, yellow and blue are hues.
  • Tints are hues that have the addition of white. This will lighten the original hue. Blue becomes sky blue.
  • Shades. Shades are hues that have the addition of black. So yellow becomes mustard, blue becomes indigo and green becomes olive.
  • Tone is a hue that has grey added. It is a duller color. Think of colonial colors. They aren’t bright or vibrant colors but dull colors.
  • Complementary Colors. Two colors across from each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors. When these colors are next to each other in the garden, each will look brighter and more prominent.
  • Monochromatic colors. Shades, tones and tints of one base color are called monochromatic colors. In the garden, using these different versions of one color give a pleasing, peaceful look.
  • Analogous colors. Analogous colors are next to each other on the wheel. Choose one as the predominant color and the other two as accents.

Color is also categorized by temperature. Warm colors are yellow, orange and red. Cool colors are blue, green and purple. Warm colors are intense and exciting. Cool colors are peaceful and calming. Warm colors appear closer and cool colors appear farther away. These factors may or may not influence the flower bed ideas for your garden, but they all will impact the effect of your garden on the viewer.

As you plan your garden, consider the location. Sometimes you can plan your garden to provide the conditions you want and sometimes the garden must accommodate the conditions of the site. In other words, if you only have garden space in a shadier part of your yard, the plants you choose will have to be shade-tolerant. The same is true if all the plants you want in your garden are sun lovers. The garden will require a location in the sunniest part of your yard. They won’t do well in a shady area.

Source: Cynthia Kidwell/

Another consideration is seasonal blooms. When you imagine the perfect flower garden, is it a spring garden full of tulips, daffodils, bleeding hearts and columbine? Or does your vision include black-eyed Susan and purple asters, chrysanthemums and blooming sedum in a fall garden? Maybe your flower bed idea includes a riot of color all season long with the best view during the summer months. All gardens should look great throughout the season, but most have a season when they really stand out. It is often because the gardener has more favorite plants in the season they prefer. That is okay. Just make sure you include enough flowers that will bloom at other times in your garden so it is still interesting and colorful. Make a list of all the flowers you love and really want to include in your garden. See if a pattern is forming and the majority are in early spring, summer or fall. Prioritize those plants and then fill in with plants that will bloom before or after. Ultimate Gray and Illuminating Yellow are the new Pantone Colors of the Year, so any yellow blooms or gray blossoms, like grey poppies, for your garden are on trend!

This is also the time to think about color. Are most of your favorites in a certain color? If you notice a lot of purple flowers, that is a cool color. Decide if that is the type of garden you want to have. If it is, you should concentrate on shades and tints of purple and blue with a little relief with some white flowers. Pay attention to the foliage as well. Green is a cool color, but there are many different greens that will add interest to your garden. If a monochromatic flower bed is too limited for you, add some analogous colors. Next to purple on the color wheel and therefore analogous colors are blue and violet. Choose shades or tints of each and stay with soft pastels of pinks and blues. The complementary color (directly across the color wheel from purple) is yellow. Again, use the tints and shades of yellow as well and allow purple to be the primary color.

If your favorite flowers include a lot of red, you could design a warm flower bed. The analogous colors are hot pink and orange. The complementary color is turquoise. Use white flowers or black leaves to tone down the heat in this garden, along with the green foliage which provides a restful background.

A monochromatic garden can be uninteresting, but one exception is the moon garden. A moon garden is all white flowers and is at its best when viewed at night. Not only can it be designed with a wide variety of white flowering plants, but for a moon garden, look for variegated leaves as well as silvery-white foliage like Lamb’s Ear and Dusty Miller. This garden is stunning with the light of the moon illuminating the whites at night.

Source: iloveimages/

Of course, your garden bed design can include all colors. One popular method for incorporating various colors and color temperatures into your garden is to divide it into zones and use the color wheel to transition seamlessly between each zone. One zone can be devoted to warm, robust and intense colors that transition via analogous colors to cooler, lighter shade zones for a meditative and reflective space. This also has the added effect of making your gardening space appear larger and more diverse, lush and healthy.

No matter what you decide to do, use your color wheel to help you create an inviting and beautiful garden for you to enjoy.