How To Choose Color

Try these tips to coordinate plant selections with the color and style of your home.
Ellen Riley

It's overwhelming and intimidating. Stop by a garden center in spring and you're visually assaulted with color. There are so many to choose from, and each becomes a favorite. Whether or not those preferences are the best choice for your landscape is another matter. Many plantings miss the mark with color that's not quite right.

"Color unifies the house with the landscape," says Catherine Bowen Drewry, a landscape designer in Crawford, Georgia. "People spend a lot of time thinking about the colors inside their home and on the exterior. They need to factor landscape colors into the equation," she says.

Check It Out
Take cues from your architecture. Roof, trim, and house colors are all factors in determining the best palette. Make note of mature trees and shrubs that bloom throughout the year. Their flowers should complement the overall scheme as well. "If your house is orange-based brick, ask yourself how that hot pink crepe myrtle is going to look against it," Catherine says. "Is it going to pick up a little pink in the brick, or is it really going to clash with it?

"A lot of the landscape is seen from indoors. If the dining room is soft yellow and you're looking out into the garden, you might want to see more soft yellow repeated outdoors. It helps make the garden feel like it's part of the house," she says.

The Big Picture
An effective way to illustrate color is by example.

For a Victorian cottage, the front door and brick dictate the color palette. "The door is a rich color, chosen to work well with the old brick. We had to find flowers to complement both and not compete," says Bill Nance, a garden designer in Huntsville, Alabama. "The salmon impatiens lead your eye up the stairs to the door and mirror its shade. The green ferns add inviting texture and prevent color clutter," Bill says. The brick, door, copper light fixtures, and flowers are all planned to present a unified presence.

A Mystery Solved
One of the most illusive color concepts is working with brick. Many homeowners struggle with the perfect palette to complement this popular facade. "With brick, you need to determine its base color," says Bill. "Take red brick--some of it has an underlying yellow base. This makes the brick color go toward orange. Other red brick has a blue cast. You must look for the base color and see if it goes to the orangy side of red, or the blue side," he says.

"If your brick goes toward orange, choose warm-colored flowers such as oranges and yellows. If you have blue-red brick, go toward the blue and blue-violet flower family. It's when you combine the red-orange flowers with the red-blue flowers that you get into visual trouble.

"When you have a brick home, be careful using azaleas as a foundation planting," Bill says. It is difficult to find a blooming shrub that works well with brick. Instead, he suggests planting boxwood or another evergreen as a buffer between the brick and azaleas. "I like azalea color against green. It doesn't compete with the brick, and green makes everything look good," Bill says.