Color Repetition in the Garden

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Color Repetition in the Garden

I love my garden in the winter.

No, not because it’s spectacularly show stopping but because it’s finally QUIET and I can have some time to THINK!!! Sort of like having a toddler– you know, that hour when they’re finally taking a nap and you can sit down for a moment to catch your breath? In the spring, summer and fall a garden is constantly begging for your attention “Look at me! Look at me! I need your help! Over here!” But in the winter? Ahhhh…time slows down to a manageable pace. Take advantage of your garden’s ‘nap time’ this winter and spend some time thinking about your garden, perhaps trying something new or improving what you already have.

As a designer, one thing I notice is that people tend to have lots of different colors in their garden with no real unified design. This can result in a chaotic look, as the eye doesn’t know where to go and has no real place to rest. An easy way to bring these colors together in harmony is to introduce the concept of Color Repetition (or Color Echoes) into their garden. When using repeating colors throughout a garden, several things happen: you create a ‘flow’ that the eye can follow, several colors can be unified by a ‘filler’ color, and specific subtle colors can be highlighted, that might otherwise be lost.

Subtle Color Echoes

An ‘echo’ color is a subtle variation of the main color of a nearby plant. It doesn’t scream at you, it whispers. The echo color picks up on an aspect of the main color and emphasizes it while still able to stand apart on its own.

Photo E

For example, the soft pink-tinged flower spikes of the Lamb’s Ear echoes the bright pink of the nearby rose. Not only that, but look beyond and you’ll see they also echo the softer pink of the rose in the distant background.

In this planting bed you’ll notice the tiny white flowers in the very front are also echoed in the tall white flowers in the back. The color white is very subtle against all of the green, yet it still draws the eye downward then leads it up. This color is subtle yet powerful, creating a woven tapestry effect rather than a harsh block of color.

‘Make a Statement’ Color Echoes

Want to make more of a statement? Then choose a color that’s not so subtle and vary the way in which it’s repeated. Instead of using only flowers to repeat colors, use the leaves, stems or berries of surrounding plants.

Photo C

For example, in this small planting bed a continuous ribbon of burgundy and deep pink are echoed not only in the flowers, but also in the leaves and stems of the surrounding plants.

Creating color drifts, or swaths, is another way to reinforce a color throughout your garden. This can be done by using large quantities of a single plant - such as the blue succulents in this garden.


Photo D

Or, instead of using just one type of plant in a drift, consider using groupings of different plants with similar shades. For example, combine the deep and moody colors of the ‘Rozanne’ geraniums with the equally rich petunias, or the vibrant yellows of the Rudbekia and Yarrow.

Photo F

Both create eye-stopping drifts of color while simultaneously using several different varieties of plants.

Color Echoes in Containers

Containers are an excellent way to reinforce a garden’s repeating color, and can act as a ‘filler’ color when plants are no longer flowering.

Photo G
Photo H

Even when the garden is quiet in the winter months, the containers continue to add visual interest.

The color of a container can also be effective in accentuating shades of the plant that’s contained in it. The terra cotta pot in this photo echoes the shades of the ornamental oxalis, creating a very pleasing and interesting vignette.

Photo I

So take advantage of the slower months of winter! Evaluate your garden to decide how it will ‘wake up’ in the spring. Certainly introducing color repetition should be part of this plan, providing both year round color and interest.