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Monday April 19 , 2021

Blue Daisy Blog

Blue Daisy blog written by Nicki Jackson & Jules Clark - for news, views, garden design, gardening and plant observations and thoughts.

Garden Design Quick Tip - Colour - Let's hear it for riotous red!

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using red in a borderRed – evocative of so many emotions, often extreme but always powerful; some find red a really difficult colour to use in a garden but when it is used well it can really add a zing factor to your outdoor space.

Red, of course, is one of the primary colours (along with blue and yellow) but unlike blue – a cool colour – which recedes, red – a hot colour – tends to advance, or look closer than it really is.  That quality can be used to great effect in a garden, for instance you can trick the eye into thinking something is narrower than it is by the use of hot colours.  For instance by planting hot colours at the back of a border with cooler colours at the front, it would look like the border wasn’t as deep as it is, and the reverse is true too – plant hot colours at the front and cooler colours behind to make a border look deeper.  Red will help you accentuate an area too because it will draw the eye and grab the attention of the viewer so if you want to bring attention to a certain area, swathe it with red.  

Sometimes, however, it is that attention grabbing effect that can be why some people struggle to deal with red effectively because if it’s in the wrong place, it can draw the eye away from an intended but less obvious attraction, or it can create a ‘stutter’ to the flow of a garden if the red element ‘stops’ the eye too severely and the rest of the garden doesn’t give the eye an effective place to move onto next.  In order to smooth out that stutter repetition planting, if the red is in the flower colour for instance, will help the eye continue along the red accent points of a border, as we can see in our main image.  The red accents stand out in the long borders at Hidcote Manor Gardens but they carry the eye all the way down the length of them. 

En masse, a red monochromatic border can look stunning and energizing.  The hot colours suit a sunny spot most in a summer garden but can warm up a winter wonderland too – think of the striking single coloured red bark of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ or the variegated red, orange and yellow bark of Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ as well as the beautiful red berries of the English holly – Ilex aquifolium, gorgeous with or without frost in a winter landscape.

Other plants we love that bring a red zing to your garden:

Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ – this is an autumn stunner when its dark green leaves turn a beautiful, blazing scarlet. Its distinctive orange-pink fruit lasts well into winter too, long after it drops its leaves.  It will grow to an eventual height and spread of 3m and 2.5m respectively so it can add a significant impact to the garden.  It will grow in partial shade but for the best, spectacular autumn display plant it in a sunny spot.

Hesperantha coccinea ‘Major’ – these deep red flowers will bring a late splash of colour to a summer border coming into their own in August/September when many other summer flowers are coming to a close. They make excellent cut flowers and are great performers in a sheltered, sunny, moist but well drained position. They grow to 0.6m high with a 0.3m spread.

Astrantia major ‘Claret’ – the flowers on this cottage garden favourite are a rich, deep ruby red.  They will flower June to August and grow to a height of 0.9m with a spread of 0.3m.  It will grow in full sun or partial shade and works just as well in a contemporary setting as in a cottage style.

As ever, these points also apply to non-organic elements in a garden, so red obelisks or fences, sculptures or walls, for instance, can all be used to great effect to add energy and zing – you’re not limited to using a specific colour just in the planting.


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Nicki Jackson is Blue Daisy's garden designer & owner. A former HR consultant Nicki still finds the time to run Blue Daisy, design gardens and planting plans, write a blog, keep our gardening clients happy and offer IIP advice and outplacement support through Blue Daisy Consultancy.

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