Gardening with colour, light and texture

©Sarah Pannell 2022

We can let our creativity loose in the garden. The most important thing in gardening is pleasure – pleasure in what we grow and the wonder we find. Colour, shape and texture are the three ingredients we can play with as we garden. As with your home, your style will shine through in your gardening choices. It is where your heart lies, so there is no combination of colour, texture or shape that is right or wrong – it is an expression not a rule.


A range of perennials to add colour and interest.
Centranthus ruber, Achillea ‘Terracotta’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’, Hordeum jubatum, Linaria purpurea and Geum ‘Mrs J Bradshaw’

Colour is one of the most amazing aspects of our relationship to plants and how we see beauty. It is hugely influential in how we cultivate and compose our gardens. Our love for a particular colour will influence the blooms we grow. There is so much nuance to colour, such as the endless shades of green to be found in the garden. If you were to move through an abundant garden and take one green leaf from every plant, you would notice a vast spectrum of green in your hands.


Foxgloves in summer light
Foxgloves in golden hour

Light does mysterious and wondrous things to our perception of colour and form in our gardens. The colour of a flower transmutes as it moves through the different light stages of the day – as the dawn lightens, in the glare of the midday sun, as ‘golden hour’ approaches in late-afternoon, and in the softening of dusk and into the night. The nature and quality of light is specific to the region in which we live.

The colour of a flower will fluctuate not just throughout the different times of the day, but in different parts of the world. Images of flowers often do not reflect how they will look in your garden. It is through the experience of growing that we learn the true colour of plants in our garden.

Finding and bringing colours

© Sarah Pannell 2022
Experiment with colour in the garden. Sarah Pannell, 2022

Our love and appreciation of certain colours in the garden is fascinating and deeply personal. It is informed by our culture and society, our personal history, nostalgia and personality. It is our personal creative expression of beauty. Colours evoke a particular feeling in the garden and are part of creating joy and pleasure. Remember, you are not bound by what plants are available at stores, or by what your neighbour is doing. Go for a plant hunt to discover whatever you are drawn to and would love to grow. Colour can be found in the glorious blooms of plants, but also in the stems, buds, seed heads and leaves. These colours may come and go in the garden as the plant grows and responds to the seasons.

The blaze of autumn foliage or the bright green shoots of spring are seasonal examples. We can combine different colours of different plant parts at different times of the year. Like a painter, you can apply colour in your garden in bold brushstrokes by planting large drifts or clumps that flower in a mass display, or by smattering your favourite colour through the garden so it twinkles like fairy lights.

Echinacea flowers
Echinacea ‘Summer Cocktail’

Need some help to find colours you love? What colours do you like to see in other people’s gardens? What colours do you gravitate towards in your clothing, home and life? Your preferences may be consistent or change as you and your garden grow. There is no perfect minimum or maximum amount of colour in a garden. You have permission to create your own palette. Perhaps go to a paint shop and choose colour cards you love, or snip colours out of a magazine. Create a reference of the colours you want to use together – in a journal, on a board or in an app. There are no rules – this is play.

Experiment. You will be drawn to some colours instantly. Choose quickly; it’s better not to overthink it. Do you still like the colours the next day or when you’re back home? Yes? Now you can keep your eyes out for plants that display those colours.

Gardening as an art form


Canna leaves add texture to the garden
Canna ‘Striata’

Texture is the look and feel of a plant. Together with colour and shape, it brings a dynamic into the garden. Examples of texture include the lacy, delicate flowers of Orlaya; the glossy, verdant leaf from a Canna or the soft, fluffy seed heads of the Ptilotus. A plant may have the same texture year round or appear to transform through the seasons as flowers bloom and fade.


Sedums growing on a rockery
Sedums growing on a rockery

Plants and their parts (flowers, bracts and petals) form individual and collective shapes in our garden. They have a distinctive shape when grown individually, referred to as their form or habit. Think of the vase shape of a young artichoke, the upright column of a sunflower, a clump of sedums in flower or the rosette-shaped flowers of roses or dahlias.

Shape is another element we can experiment with when we choose plants for our own super bloom. There is also the shape of flowers as they bloom to consider. The reflexed petals on some plants form a darling skirt around the upward-pointing dome, like echinacea and helenium. Other flowers form distinctive trumpets in their flowering season, like hollyhocks. Flowers can take on personalities of their own with characteristic beaks and noses and jaws, like the distinctive flowers of snapdragons, creating visual delight.

A note on floating flowers

Geum 'Totally Tangerine'
Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

One of the truest moments of beauty I experience in my own heartland is the appearance of floating flowers. So many of my cherished perennials can look as if they are hanging in the air and defying gravity. Geum, windflower, Knautia, scabious, echinacea and Billy button (to name a few) have long, thin stems that rise from the foliage and hold their flowers aloft. As your eye is caught by the beauty of the bloom, the foliage seems to disappear leaving the flowers suspended. I can watch them for hours and sometimes find myself standing in the garden, tool in hand, captured by this wonder.

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Extract taken from Super Bloom by Jac Semmler, Thames & Hudson




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