Color is a crucial element of garden design and, perhaps, what most people notice first in the garden. Like all design, color preference is very personal. As you read about gardening and visit gardens, you will begin to develop an eye for how colors harmonize and contrast and what you personally find appealing. To choose colors that provide both interest and harmony, use the Color Wheel you first encountered in elementary school. You will probably remember that the primary colors: red, blue and yellow can be mixed to form the other 9 colors on the wheel. The secondary colors derive from the primary: red and blue make purple; blue and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green. Tertiary colors are a mix of adjoining primary and secondary colors. The reds, yellows and oranges are termed “hot colors” and are generally considered to be energizing and exciting. Hot colors tend to pop out at you. Cool colors are the blues, greens and purples and are thought to be calming and serene. Cool colors tend to recede. Of course, in nature there are infinite gradations and variations of color. Two other concepts are useful in combining colors in the garden. The first, intensity, is the purity or saturation of a color. When a pure hue is diluted with white, it becomes a tint. If black is added to a hue it becomes a shade. A tone is a hue that is dulled by gray. Shades and tones tend to recede; tints can wash out in full sun. When combining plants of different colors it is best to select the same intensity. A saturated color will tend to negate the impact of another color of less intensity. Color combinations of similar intensity will be more satisfying. Value is the second concept and can be defined as the lightness or darkness of a color. Yellow is the lightest (lowest value) and violet is the darkest (highest value). Your eye is naturally drawn to the lowest value first. To get a real sense of how color values are placed, study a black and white photograph of your garden. Color schemes can be either harmonious or contrasting. Harmonious combinations include adjoining positions on the color wheel. A monochromatic scheme uses various shades, tints and tones of a single hue. This is a simple but subtly sophisticated approach that is orderly and focused. Variations in size, shapes and textures prevent monotony. Analogous schemes combine several colors that are positioned together on the wheel. These colors naturally blend since they share primary colors. It is relatively easy to produce a pleasing combination even with vibrant colors. The contrasting color schemes can be a little more challenging. Complementary colors are directly opposite one another on the color wheel. This is a vibrant and exciting look with a lot of visual tension; it can be jarring if colors are at full saturation. A split complementary scheme uses a base color plus the two colors adjoining its complement. The visual tension is reduced but the contrast is still strong. Everyone has their own preference when it comes to using color. Practice produces satisfaction, but you may be hesitant to experiment. If you love a color scheme represented in a painting, a piece of fabric or an interior design, don’t hesitate to replicate that in your garden.