Color Wheel My World – Complementary Colors for Container Gardens

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How to Get Started with Complementary Colors

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Talking about color is an easy, and not so easy thing to do.  Let’s start with the “easy.”

There are some simple combinations you may use right off the bat, like pairing up the colors of Purple and Yellow, Red and Green (yes – green), and Blue and Orange in container gardens and patio pots.  These are examples of “complementary colors” made up of any two pure colors (hues) located directly opposite each other on a color wheel.  

Blue and Orange

See this example of a Blue and Orange complementary color HERE on my ‘Color Wheel my World’ Pinterest pinboard. I don’t know about you, but the minute I view my Pinterest boards on this topic, my eyes feel a flush of happy. Just look at that image of the blue and orange flowers, and immediately see the impact.  Isn’t it gorgeous? Doesn’t it speak to you and grab your attention?

A basic and easy tip is to go to the color wheel for help on using common complementary (opposite) colors.  Look at the color directly opposite of the flower color of your admiring and want to use, and then select its complement.  You would be amazed how this one simple step will enhance your color combinations in your container gardens.

Ever notice plants give you clues of combination. Take a look at a Bird of Paradise’s blooms – it shows orange and blue together. Imagine orange Tulips with Blue Hyacinth in the spring – now, that is just plain luscious!

Purple and Yellow

Also located directly opposite of each other on the color wheel are “purple and yellow”. These two colors truly pop when put together in a mixed planter or container garden. Grab a purple Petunia and add some yellow daisy like flowers – wow!

Take a close look at a pansy’s (viola) blooms – what do you see combined: purple and yellow. Plants naturally put these colors together to attract pollinators – they know the secrets.

My Pinboard, “Color Wheel My World” shows examples of color wheels of all styles, and examples of color combinations of plants to help inspire your coloring juices. I add images to it routinely when I discover a good example of a complementary color or other combinations being used in the garden or container garden.

One of my biggest tips is to look at a plant and “all” its colors, then pick your favorite color, and seek out a plant that may have a hint of it in a leaf, and hold them up together. If you feel the “eye candy color magic” – you have a winner to put together in your container garden or patio pot, especially if that “hint” of color in another plant is a complementary to the primary color in your specimen.


When you visit your local nursery, pick up your favorite plant and put it in your cart.

Then, don’t go for the old standbys, go visit the perennial section, shrubs, or tropical plants – even veggies and houseplants.  See if you can find a complementary color in the leaf of the primary plant you just selected and placed in your shopping cart.

Let’s say for example you picked a purple to blue Delphinium. What is opposite of blue on the color wheel?  Orange.  Go find a plant with foliage containing orange (Coleus is an example), or select an annual that will bloom orange (easy pick: Marigold) for a long period.  These are simplistic examples, but you get the idea. Once you have this mindset, you will expand it automatically to more sophisticated coloring combinations and plant types.

You might be thinking, I don’t have a color wheel handy or in my purse when I’m out shopping for plants. Use the kid trick: ROY-G-BIV (red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet) and make a circle on a scrap piece of paper.  Fill in the letters, using the ROYGBIV trick and use it as a guide, or even better yet – today there are many apps out there – search color wheel app on your smart phone, and load it up for free. What a great tool people have today to help them along in the palm of their hands.

When you use colors directly opposite on the color wheel, the impact is immediate.  It makes each color more vivid and strong. There is much more to consider, such as the tone – some colors are warm and some are cool, which is a follow-up post to this color post soon.

Keep in mind the personality of the color to ensure the complementary you choose works well with it. You may not want a cool blue next to a hot orange. For example, Agastache blooms are a soft blue, subtle, so you may want to pair it up with a soft orange bloom of another plant in your mixed container gardens.

We also have to consider the plants are “compatible” in regards to exposure – if they prefer hot sun or shade, but as I said, this is the easy way to get started with color combinations, and it may get more involved and challenging – but always FUN.  Yes, fun.  I love looking at colors and can’t imagine my world without them.


The seasons of bloom of your plant candidates matter as well as you consider your combinations of colors in container gardens.  There is no point in having a blue and orange combination if the blooms aren’t opening at the same time, right?

Consider the timing of bloom, but also remember, foliage is forever.  Pick some foliage colors of an opposite to a bloom color of your specimen, and the foliage will carry it through. And look for long bloomers, those which will start early in the season and repeat bloom to fall.

Imagine a fruit ripening to a vivid color which is complementary to a bloom in your pot.  Let me tell you – it really makes a combination breathtaking.  Even if that ripening fruit or other bloom is happening for a short period.

Don’t overlook how edibles add color to your combinations – and easy example is peppers!


Some fruit’s colors will transition. Think hot peppers – they start green, turn red, and even purple.

At the end of season, think of a bloom that will be complementary to the fruit color.  Fruit are the jewels in a mixed container garden.  Their shapes offer so many varied textures, shapes and their colors of many are bright, warm, and hot, but there are cool colors as well.

One of the things I appreciate about fruiting plants is they usually thrive in the heat of summer and last until fall, as do many container gardening annuals and tropical plants – they play nice together.

And, in the cool spring months, you can pair up cooler growing veggies with early season plants perhaps – if you start them early enough in your greenhouse.

Edibles are a big trend and popular now in container gardens, and I have spoken about how to consider them in my Garden Talks.

Remember to browse “all” areas of the nursery and consider every type of plant. Try to avoid using the same types or those you are comfortable with – expand yourself and you will be amazed. Don’t limit yourself but get courageous with those colors and plant types.


Every May, I offer Container Gardening Workshops – and the plant theme is changed each year. We are highlighting veggies, herbs, fruiting plants this year per the request of my regular attendees. Working with these from a design perspective will be covered in the workshops.


More information about designing with color in container gardens and patio pots will be posted here soon – Stay tuned!

Cathy Testa


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