Take your cue from this year’s strongest colour palettes and use paints, stains and accessories to add new character to your garden, quickly and easily
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. But in summer, when the sun is stronger, try bolder colours, like aubergine, purples, and pinks, but make sure you choose hues with some warmth; cool colours such as icy blues can look rather too stark.
Use soft, subtle shades to create a sense of quiet and calm, a place that is restful, a million miles away from the hectic pace of daily life.
Available in preservative as well as emulsion paints, apply powdery hues to timber and masonry surfaces and furnish simply with pale hued garden furniture with lean lines and matt surfaces. Lift the look with touches of mirrored and watery-coloured glassware.
Alternatively, sumptuous shades of peacock green, purple, dark red and egg yolk yellow add rich, deep tones that complement foliage plants and pale-hued flowers. Like sparkling jewels, these colours draw the eye and are best used as focal points.
Always centre stage, these vibrant, neon colours shout ‘Look at me’ so use them sparingly, to add dramatic touches to modern designs. Try painting a feature wall in hot pink or sunshine yellow – both colours combine surprisingly well with a wide range of plants. Or add a lick of bright blue to chairs or walls to create a Moroccan theme. Liven things up with neon planters, and dress tables with vibrant tablelinen and lime green glassware.
Which plants work with which colours?
If you are going for paler hues, plant lacy-leaved Thalictrum delavayi, the white or pink Astrantia major and the pale violet and white petalled Anemone ‘Wild Swan’.
Flowers with jewel-like colour abound in summer, but take care not to overindulge and limit your palette to three or four complementary shades. Try purple penstemons and salvias, with yellow dahlias, against a backdrop of dark-leaved foliage plants, such as Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’. Pick up the theme with ceramics in jewel shades and cushions in opulent fabrics.
You can go either way with your planting; either tone down the heat with cool green foliage, or add to the thrill with flowers that bolster your zingy shades. Bright pink Geranium psilostemon makes an eye-catching partner for the lime-green flowers of euphorbias, while orange red hot pokers dazzle against magenta.
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, 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.’