How we see and experience colour, is for a large part dependent on the type of light. The type of light that we have (or should have) in the garden is of course sunlight.  Sunlight allows us to see different colours throughout the day. In bright sunlight, all colours turn more yellow.  At the end of the day, fading sunlight tends to make colours redder and warmer.

When you take these (subtle) effects on colours caused by normal sunlight into account when designing your garden planting scheme, you can make colours work better for you.  Those lucky enough to have south-facing gardens, tend to have natural sunlight throughout the entire day and should therefore choose “warmer” colours, as these normally come out better in bright yellow sunlight.  This is because warm colours naturally absorb almost all light.

If your garden only gets sunlight part of the day, or if it is almost always in the shade then you better off opting for “cooler” colours, such as blue, purple and pink. Rather than absorb, these colours reflect almost all light and therefore come out better in these slightly more challenging environments.

Creating the most beautiful colour combinations for your garden is one of the most difficult, but also one of the most enjoyable things to do. Roughly speaking there are two types of colour combinations, namely harmonious combinations and contrasting combinations. With harmonious colour combinations you choose colours that are close to each other in a colour palette (such as for example the one shown here from the well-known Johannes Itten) and with contrasting colour combinations, you actually choose opposite colours.

The easiest thing to do is to choose two or three colours for your garden.  Green is always present, so try choosing one or two additional colours.  This will create the basis of your planting plan for the garden.  Once you have the base colours, then you can decide whether you want a harmonious or contrasting border.

The easiest way to see which colours work together well is to combine your shrubs and perennials with flower bulbs.  In addition to your base colours you can then experiment with spring bulbs and summer bulbs, and see which colours do and perhaps do not work well together in your border.

For example, if you have chosen to create a harmonious garden with blue and purple as base colours, then you can keep the border “quiet” by adding pink and white flower bulbs.  If you instead want to add a contrasting colour, then try orange or yellow flower bulbs.

Because bulbs are mostly annuals, relatively cheap and easy to remove, you can experiment often with many differently colour combinations.

If you would like more information on using spring-flowering and summer-flowering bulbs to add colour to your garden then please send us and email at or visit our website at

This is the first article of a monthly series written bij Cor-Niels van Duijn.  Cor-Niels has been a successful garden designer in Holland for over 15 years.