Color in the Kitchen Garden

With spring in the air, our thoughts turn to the magic of colorful gardens, especially kitchen gardens that will nourish us, body and soul, through the warming months ahead. We can use the power of color to create special beauty in our gardens.

Find out how color affects the feeling and mood of your garden as you begin your planning. Even if we donít have a garden, we can revel in restful or delicious thoughts of color as we say goodbye to the endless gray of winter!

Much to a gardenerís delight, a vast spectrum of hues, shades, tints, and tones can be found in plants. For example, warm colors, including amber, orange, chartreuse, and scarlet, can be found in Swiss chard, carrots, golden beets, lettuce, marigolds, and calendula. Colors in the cool range include lavender, purple, blue-green, and fuschia, which can be found in plants such as red cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, pansies, and lobelia.

The use of warm and cool colors can affect the mood of your garden and even create the illusion of distance. For instance, warm colors such as bright yellow or orange, are eye catching and stimulating. They dominate the scene, appearing to advance and visually come to the foreground. Cool colors, on the other hand, such as pale shades of blue, are calming, tranquil, and subtle and tend to recede visually.

Monochromatic color schemes are based on one hue, including all its gradations of shades, tints and tones. For example, a blue-violet theme might include values ranging from deep shades of plum, through indigo, and on into light tints of lavender. Of course, in a garden itís impossible to achieve a totally monochromatic scheme because of the green foliage. To keep these schemes from becoming monotonous, use a wide range of shades, tints, and tones within the color and work in various textures and heights.

Complementary color schemes create contrast by combining colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, yellow contrasts with violet and blue contrasts with orange. Depending on the values of the colors used, the contrast can be either vivid or subtle. For example, the use of pale yellow and light violet gives a soft appearance, whereas a combination of bright orange and vibrant indigo is more exuberant. Another way to combine contrast in colors is to use the strong hue of one color, such as deep purple, and a much lighter value of its contrasting color, light yellow. To moderate bright color combinations in a complementary color scheme, add gray foliage plants, such as dusty miller.

Harmonious color schemes are created by combining two or three analogous colors. These colors are directly next to each other on the color wheel–for instance, violet and blue-violet or orange, red-orange, and red. Itís easy to create harmony with these color schemes because the colors are so closely related. Use gradations of color values from deep shades to light tints to energize these combinations.

Polychromatic schemes use any or all of the colors in the spectrum. These multicolored combinations can be bright, exciting mixtures of intense hues or subtle combinations of pale pastels. Random placement of color often reveals some unexpectedly pleasing combinations.

Keep in mind, the use of bright, multicolored schemes can look busy and chaotic in the enclosed space of a small garden. Use white flowers or silvery-gray foliage plants to help temper and separate clashing colors.

Adapted from The Art of the Kitchen Garden by Jan and Michael Gertley (Taunton Press, 1999). Copyright (c) 1999 by Jan and Michael Gertley. Reprinted by permission of Taunton Press.
Adapted from The Art of the Kitchen Garden by Jan and Michael Gertley (Taunton Press, 1999).


Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


mitchell dawes
mitchell dawes5 years ago


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez6 years ago

thanks! :-)

Monica D.
Monica D8 years ago

Thank you for this article. So many beautiful plants, so many possibilities!