How to use paint to add colour to your garden

Give your garden room a new emphasis with statement-coloured walls

We British tend to be pretty restrained when it comes to choosing paint colours to use in the garden; we prefer to let Nature herself do all the talking, with a riot of pinks, reds, yellows, orange, purples and blue bursting forth from our pots and borders throughout the spring and summer months before dying back, to leave our gardens quiet and dark, unassuming and asleep.

Of course, our flat, grey-tinged light conditions have quite a lot to do with it – the brightly painted facades of Miami and those of the favelas in Rio would look rather overpowering beneath British skies – but follow our garden design and colour experts’ advice, and you can add a lick of bright colour to your gardens this summer without scaring the horses.

Why have painted walls?

“Coloured walls create exciting effects and bring a contemporary element to a design; the trick is to use strong colours in moderation do they don’t overpower the space,” says garden designer Catherine Heatherington. Fellow garden designer Patrick Wynniatt-Husey, of Wynniatt-Husey Clarke Garden Design, explains that a painted surface will draw the eye to an area or feature, adding: “In our designs, we also use coloured walls to create a sense of depth or foreshorten a space, and as a foil to planting.”

Using colour in traditional gardens

“Subtle shades of green work well in traditional settings, or try pale lilac or terracotta,” says Kathryn Hibberd, designer and member of Crown Paints Colour Influences Panel. Catherine adds: “You have to use colour carefully in a period garden but I’ve contrasted a dark purple wall with a brick wall to great effect, linking a contemporary garden with the traditional surroundings.”

Which walls should you paint?

Patrick Clarke says there are no rules. “We would paint the house if circumstances called for it and the clients agreed. But take care when painting walls in eye-catching shades as they can create eyesores, and try to link them with the walls inside the house. For example, we used an orange wall in a small garden that could be seen from a kitchen which was decorated with tiles of the same colour; the finished effect was fantastic.”

Which colours work best in British light conditions?

“Subtle colours work well in the low light levels that we enjoy in the spring,” says Catherine. “But in summer, when the sun is stronger, try bolder colours; I’ve used aubergine, purples, and pinks, but make sure you choose hues with some warmth; cool colours such as icy blues can look rather too stark.” Why not try Colours Brick Red, available from B&Q.

“Sandtex has some a couple of shades that work well under British skies,” says Kathryn. “Purple Frenzy is a blue-purple colour that looks great set behind pale flowers, while Evening Shadow is dark grey and a good foil for lively colours.”

Inspiring places to visit

“I love Steve Martino’s inspirational gardens in Arizona. Many are private residences but take a look at his
website for ideas,” says Catherine. “Colourful walls often feature in the designs at RHS Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows,” says Kathryn, while Brighton-based Patrick recommends a visit to Blaker Street, famous for its colourful houses.

Which plants work with which colours?

“Fresh spring green foliage set against red walls is very dramatic,” says Patrick. “We used a tree fern in front of red and deep purple walls in a city garden and the effect was fantastic.” Kathryn suggests that “Grey walls work really well with orange roses, or use shades of one colour, such as Sandtex‘s pale pink Ramblers’ Path with dark red Cotinus leaves.”

Which paint should you use, and preparing wall surfaces

Kathryn advises: “Buy good quality exterior masonry paint that’s easy to clean once it is on the wall; remove dust and dirt from all the surfaces before you start to paint.” Patrick says: “Use test pots to trial colours, but not on obvious surfaces as the colour patches can alter the texture of the wall or ground, and may show through even after you’ve applied the final coats. Also, make a note of the code of special mixes so that you can buy the correct colour when needed, and make a point of repairing any cracks before you start painting as coloured paint will highlight any defects. Finally, never apply masonry paint when the temperature is lower than 10°C or it won’t dry.”

Colour combinations to try

Kathryn recommends a cool white, such as Snow Angel, with soft pink for a traditional garden, or dark grey and white for a dramatic effect.

“Try a pale blue to highlight a darker blue,” says Patrick; we suggest Echo with Deep Space Blue, both by Little Greene. “We also like to use vibrant oranges with natural wood.”

Catherine uses lush planting in her designs, so colours have to work with green. “Try off-white walls with a panel of mauve, or dark grey slate floors with pale pink walls.”

For more gardening ideas, visit the Homes & Gardens website.

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