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Designing a garden with colour

Designing a garden with colour

Acclaimed garden designer Miria Harris shares tips on where to find inspiration and how to inject bold hues into your space

Where to start

Before you get distracted by other gardens you’ve seen, ask yourself what you want most out of your garden? People often refer to the idea of the ‘90 per cent room’ when designing a house. This is the room that has to work for 90 per cent of the time people are in the house – often it’s the kitchen, sometimes the living room. When I’m designing a garden, I apply a similar thought process, asking: what is that 90 per cent garden factor? Is it the view from the house, is it being able to sit out in it or play in it, is it being able to garden every day? Whatever the answer, this should be the priority in your design.


When you are looking for inspiration, look far and wide. I like my gardens to tell stories and I often take cues from outside of horticulture, whether it’s a favourite book like Mrs Dalloway, a work of art, a particular piece of architecture or a film. A few years ago, I took inspiration from the 1967 film Far from the Madding Crowd and the textiles of Celia Birtwell to make a garden with lots of big flowers, clashing colours and tall grasses.


Many gardens are square or rectangle plots, effectively outside projections of the house footprint, bounded by some sort of fence or wall. Blurring the boundaries is a great way to disrupt that standard garden form, and greening up the perimeter by planting lots of climbing plants or using hedges instead of fences or walls, is an easy way of doing this. Be bold with tall, diaphanous planting near to the house to veil a view and invite mystery. Don’t be afraid of creating a sense of a journey through your garden – create a reason to go to the back of the garden, so you don’t just hang around near the house.

How to keep things colourful

Planting spring bulbs or late-season flowers like dahlias, Japanese anemones or meadow rue can really help extend the seasons of interest in a garden and add colour when you need it most, but what you can’t do with flowers can sometimes be done with things like furniture, materials, pots or paint. I designed a roof terrace with a collection of brightly coloured planters that give colour all year, allowing the plants to be textural and mainly evergreen. And a bright turquoise chair in my own garden helps to lift the gloomy winter months.


Top plant combo

I used the combination of bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Giant Bronze’), Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ and Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii (pictured top left) in a garden I designed in Hackney and I just love how they smack of sunshine and joy and are brilliant for pollinators.

Landscape and garden designer |


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This article was adapted from issue 7

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