Step-by-step guide to a glorious colour-filled garden
Did you see the RHS and Eastern Eye Unity Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show? Designed as a beautiful, uplifting space, it’s evident how colour has been used to full effect in the garden’s structure and decor. Whilst colour quite obviously alters aesthetics, it has been scientifically proven to viscerally impact emotions too.
Image: RHS and Eastern Eye Garden of Unity, designed by Manoj Malde for RHS Chelsea 2023 (image credit: RHS)
Post-pandemic the trend of “dopamine dressing” – clothing yourself in bright bold colours for a hit of feel-good hormones – took hold. This spirit has sashayed from the catwalk into our homes, and then out the back door to the garden. Dahlias firm position in the gardening zeitgeist is perhaps a reflection of this.
It’s undeniable that colour transforms a space and, against the green of a garden, you can afford to go stronger and bolder than indoors.
Image: The Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden at RHS Chelsea 2023 (image credit: RHS)
Colourful garden furniture… the cheat’s solution to year-round colour
Search for the most asked question on Gardeners’ Question Time and it’ll be ‘how do I get year-round colour in my garden?’ *
(*This is not strictly accurate - I haven’t checked - but year-round colour certainly features highly on a gardener’s wish list)
The most reliable route to consistent garden interest is through bright coloured outdoor furniture and décor. Traditional advice is to choose plain patterns and subdued hues for anything you leave outside - the fear being that months of sun and rain will leave anything else bleached and blotchy.
This is no longer the case with the fantastically durable fabrics available today.
Image: The Armadillo Sun stand at RHS Chelsea 2023 with an example of how colourful versatile fabric furniture can be used in a small patio or terrace space
Colour that doesn’t fade
At Armadillo Sun, our fabric is woven from acrylic or polyolefin yarn that is solution-dyed rather than piece-dyed. In short, this means that the colour of the thread is true all the way through – like a carrot – rather than sitting as a thin layer on the surface – like a cucumber. The result is colour that does not wear off.
At RHS Chelsea, a customer who bought a bean lounger from me 5 years ago remarked: ‘it looks exactly the same’.
Yes! And it will do for years to come.
As a side-note, words like acrylic sound plasticky and a bit too much like Chemistry class. Please can I reassure you that these fabrics feel like wool and stay as cool as cotton. Do order a fabric sample to test it out for yourself.
How can I embrace colour on my patio without slipping from glorious into gaudy?
Your heart wants all the colour, but your head shouts, what will the neighbours say.
It’s easy to be frightened of strong colours and bold patterns, but I encourage you to be brave and give it a go.
Here's my step-by-step guide to add the colour you want into your garden, without worrying that it’ll take over and scream at you.
Ultimately, to borrow the lesson Alice Vincent learnt from her mother in the book ‘Why Women Grow’: if you want to paint the kitchen pink, do it and be happy.
I think the same goes for paprika orange fences and bright blue patio tiles!
Five steps to choosing colourful garden décor (without creating an eyesore)
1. What’s the vibe?
We’ve established that colour transmits mood, so what feeling do you want your outdoor space to create?
I like to think about it in terms of how I see myself sitting when I’m there. Will I be curled up on a bean bag with a book? Lounging languorously in the sun? Belly-laughing with friends? Contemplatively admiring the view?
Whether you want to turn the energy up high or dial it down, is the place to start to ensure the colour palette you choose does not jar. For a zen garden space, you’ll focus on cool calm complementing colours and keep contrast to a minimum. Alternatively, add bounce with jewel hues and warmth. Find out more about colour and mood from garden designer Ann-Marie Powell.
2. Take inspiration
I’m a visual person and need to see an idea to decide whether I like it and to ignite my own creativity. Here are some people I follow who’d I’d recommend to give you courage to use colour in your home and garden.
Tricia Guild - an established lover of colour, her videos and moodboards are great inspiration.
Rachael Jackson at Banyan Bridges – Rachael’s murals are just WOW. Not everyone can create the things she does, but she’ll get you thinking right out of that box.
Wil from John Lewis – a new follow for me but his use of colour, especially in small spaces, is bold, and brilliant for ideas on how to break with tradition.
Sarah Raven - if you'd like inspiration for colour and planting combinations, then taking a look at what Sarah is doing in her garden is essential.
3. Choose ONE colour first
You’ve got a cornucopia of colours to choose from; it’s overwhelming. Be strict and choose just one colour first. Think about the vibe; about the amount of light your outdoor space receives; about existing unchangeable features (like the bricks of your house); but ultimately choose something that makes your heart sing.
Browse the wall of paint sample cards in a DIY store; or go old-school and cut pictures out of magazines. I even find that many a joyous hour can be spent searching Pinterest for inspiration. If you are creating an indoor-outdoor space consider pulling the core palette of your interior outside. However, you can go brighter and bolder in natural light, so I would counsel against being restricted by your indoor colour scheme. Use it as a starting point and build from it.
Image: 'Hurtigruten: The Relation-Ship Garden' at Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023. I love how the use of a single colour - yellow - makes the whole space pop. The garden cushion drawing out the edge of the decking, and reflecting the yellow daylilies and frothy Achillea.
To add a note of practicality, do be aware of your outdoor environment in terms of trees and birds - some of the cool linen colours, that are so wonderfully Mediterranean, look dirty quickly.
Avoid jumping on trends. Outdoor furniture and décor is an investment so you want something that you'll love long after what's 'in' has gone out of style.
4. Build a simple colour palette
Image Credit: Little Greene Paint Company
When you've made the decision to get colourful, the temptation can be to use all the colours in all the places. Unfortunately, this doesn't create a riot of chromatic joy. Instead the impact you're after will be diluted, or lost all together, in the maelstrom. Keep your overall colour palette simple; it creates space for statement.
There is a lot of theory and science you can explore in choosing a colour scheme and palette. I tend to go by gut and eye, rather than theory, but I do love having a bit of a play with the colour wheel - which represents the relationship between different colours and was first recorded by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666!
I'd suggest starting with three colours in a simple scheme:
1. your base colour;
2. a similar supporting colour that will give depth and richness to your base (if you like a bit of theory, this colour will be adjacent to your base on the colour wheel and create an analogous colour combination); and
3. an accent colour that contrasts wonderfully with the base (it'll sit on the opposite side of the colour wheel from your base and is known as a complementary colour)
You decide whether you apply your number one colour as the base or your accent.
5. Break the rules with bridging textiles
Saying all that, don't be afraid to mix things up. Choose what you love - the turquoise, the oranges, the greens, they all look great together.
I often use texture and pattern in fabrics to bring different colour combinations together. I chose the new range of designer outdoor cushions with this purpose specifically in mind. The Wave fabric cushion, for example, connects our ocean blue and pumice furniture beautifully and combines fabulously with both navy and turquoise.
The final step to a colour-filled garden is my favourite... GO SHOPPING! In a separate post I'll pull together some of my favourite businesses you'll want to explore in creating your colourful garden. What colourful furniture or decor have you added to your garden or your patio? Please do let me know in a comment below.
Once you've chosen the perfect colour palette for your outdoor space, you'll want to show it off to friends and family. Browse our expert recommendations on creating a garden that's perfect for entertaining.