All gardens are full of color, mainly various shades of green. The natural world offers us a rainbow of possibilities: flowers lure insects and brighten our lives with their colorful petals, while leaves provide backdrops of green, burgundy, yellow, silver, or glaucous blue.
Of course, color isn’t just about plants. Materials and paint are used extensively in gardens, too, adding to the kaleidoscopic effect. In countries that have the benefit of brilliant sunlight, walls are often painted vibrant shades of pink, blue, and yellow.
Renowned Mexican architect Luis Barragán, for example, created a famous stable yard in the 1960s at San Cristobal, where, instead of the usual stark Modernist white, he painted walls pink. Such daring use of color revolutionized people’s ideas, and Barragán’s style continues to influence contemporary garden designers, such as Martha Schwartz. In the past ten years, there has been a rush in cooler countries to use bold colors possibly more suited to areas with strong light, but the trend is now moving toward a more neutral palette.
The psychology of color—how it affects us emotionally—has long interested artists and gardeners alike. Gertrude Jekyll, working in the early 20th century, appreciated the power of color, and used her artistic eye to create evocative images by carefully combining flowering plants of different shades.
But you don’t have to be an artist to know that red is a stimulating color—its link with danger is no coincidence—while soft pastel blues are calming. The skill is to translate this innate knowledge into a garden design, manipulating colors to produce different looks. You can combine muted shades for subtle contrasts in naturalistic gardens, or mix vivid colors in a modern setting to startle and surprise.