Walking through a nursery or flipping through the pages of a catalog to buy plants can be very overwhelming. Where to start? What to buy? One thing that helps to guide your choices is a color scheme.
Color is the aspect of your garden that people will notice first. A simple color scheme can tie many different plants together into a cohesive picture. Too many different colors can look chaotic. Big blocks of color are most effective in large gardens or areas that will be viewed from far away. Small areas or those that will be viewed up close can be planted with smaller areas of each color.
Color also influences the mood of the garden. Warm colors such as yellow, orange and red feel cheerful and invigorating. Cool colors like blue, purple and green feel calm and restful. With all those green leaves around, it's no wonder that gardens are relaxing places. Of course there are exceptions to these catagories: cool pale yellows, warm lime green or turquoise, etc.
Colors that oppose each other on the color wheel often look great together. Purple and yellow are one example. Or think of how wonderful deep red roses look with deep green leaves surrounding them. Orange and blue would create an adventurous garden. The primary colors - red, yellow & blue - make up a bold scheme. Perhaps a more common garden scheme is a pastel version of the primary colors - pink, pale yellow and pale blue (which often ends up lavender in the garden). Personally, I love combining the deep jewel tones of red, magenta, purple and blue. The famous English gardener Gertrude Jekyll was known for combining a hue with its pastel version and white together - ie. purple, white and lavender.
Don't forget leaf color when desiging. New cultivars of many shrubs and perennials come in maroon, grey-blue, lime green, pink, orange, etc. Heucheras are an excellent example of a plant with leaves in a huge range of colors.
I'm currently helping a friend with a design in the following scheme: white, blue-violet, and accents of maroon leaves all set against the dark green leaves of otto luyken laurels and candytuft. It should come out very sophisticated. A few touches of magenta would really add some pop - perhaps she can try that in her pots.
There are a few color combinations that really don't work, in my opinion. I especially dislike pairing two similar but clashing colors together. For example, mauve next to salmon pink is just ugly. As is light neon yellow next to golden-orange or turquoise next to dusty country blue. Blech.
And what is the best way to choose your color scheme? Think of flower arrangements, or even go and visit a floral shop. It's easier to see which colors move you when they're placed close together in an arrangment. When you find something that takes your breath away, translate it into your garden.