University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer Article

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

For a new twist on flower gardening, consider planting a monochromatic or single-color garden.  While using massive displays of one color may seem to go against basic design principles, the overall visual impact may astound you.

In fact, famous garden designers such as Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West have made gardens of one color quite popular in the past.  Probably the most famous was created by Sackville-West at her English garden of Sissinghurst--the famous all white garden.

One of the most memorable monochromatic gardens I've seen was a yellow one in Scotland.  Surrounded by a high hedge, the whole garden of bright yellow flowers and foliage was almost overwhelming when you rounded the corner and first saw it, even in the dusk of evening.

Using a single color scheme is one way to make a garden that is small or in partial shade seem larger and more open.  To brighten up a shady spot, select whites or light pastel shades.  When planting in a sunny spot, avoid white and light hues as these can look faded or washed out in direct sun.  Instead choose bright, bold colors, such as red, blue, or dark purple.

When choosing your color, keep in mind the effect you want to achieve.  "Cooler" colors such as blue, green, and violet create a more serene, calming effect, or one of distance.  "Warmer" colors such as red, orange, and yellow elicit a vibrant and exciting feeling and make a space seem smaller.  The effect on space is especially important if you are working in a very small garden.

You also should consider the bloom time if using perennials.  If you want blooms throughout the season, visit your local full service garden center or perennial nursery every three weeks or so to see what is in bloom in your chosen color range.

There also are many books with ideas and colorful photos showing some of the many specific plant combinations that work well.  Just be careful when looking through such books, and prior to buying, that the plants mentioned are hardy in your area!  One way to check is to see if they mention hardiness zones.  Another way is to see if the author is from the South, Great Britain, or other area outside your region.

Annual flowers, of course, are useful by themselves for full season color.  Or intersperse them among perennials if you have periods when some may not be blooming.

While using only one color may seem boring, once you start shopping for flowers, you'll probably be surprised at how many slightly different variations of one color are available.  If a basic color has darker tones as if black was added, it is called a "shade."  If a basic color has lighter tones as if white was added, it is called a "tint."  As an example, pink would be a tint of red, burgundy a shade of red.

If your color scheme is purple, for example, you can create visual interest by grouping lavender, violet, and deep purple flowers.  In the orange family you will find everything from pale peach to fiery orange blooms.  Pinks range from a pale pink that's almost white to a deep rose.

For yellow or white flowerbeds, include foliage plants with appropriately colored leaves, such as wide-leafed hostas with white patterns or margins that are ideal for a shade garden.  Add variety to any garden by choosing plants of different heights, shapes, textures, and bloom times for a succession of color.

You also might want to try a variation on the single-color theme by choosing a dominant color then complimenting it with a contrasting color.  For example, if yellow is your primary color, plant flowers in hues of cream, pale yellow, lemon, and gold.  Add a deep blue flower variety for interest, taking care to use this accent plant sparingly so as not to upset the overall impact of the garden.

For the finish, and often a dramatic effect, think about matching the "hard" elements of a garden, such as the mulch and paving materials, to your color scheme.  If you have a Mediterranean garden with orange and terra cotta colors in flowers and foliages, consider using similar colored tiles along a walk.

Or perhaps you might use rose-colored pavers in a walk or patio to match similar colored flowers such as autumn joy sedum in the fall.  One of the most dramatic effects I've seen was the use of crushed black charcoal as a mulch to highlight silver foliage, and contrast with yellow flowers.

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