How to Use Blue in Your Flower Garden
Gardeners find it hard to resist the allure of blue flowers. Delphiniums, muscari, lobelia, Himalayan blue poppies, plumbago, hydrangeas, or morning glories — we crave them all.
In the horticultural world, blue is an unusual color and that’s surely one reason we are so drawn to blue flowers. But there’s more to the power of blue than novelty. Read on to learn how you can put this heavenly hue to work in your garden.
The Personality of Blue
The color blue has always had a special role in art, textiles and jewelry. From lapis lazuli to ultramarine, cobalt to cerulean, blue has been used to represent qualities of the sublime such as truth, humility, purity, faithfulness, and heaven. In contemporary times, blue is also associated with harmony, confidence, infinity and the imagination.
Though blue flowers are uncommon, the color blue is everywhere in the landscape. On a sunny day, there’s a dome of blue sky over our heads. Oceans, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and even glaciers echo a thousand variations of blue. Distant mountains beckon us with their hazy blue peaks.
Blue is one of only three primary colors. We perceive other two, red and yellow, as warm, while blue has a low “color temperature.” We experience blue hues as cool and calm, soothing and relaxing. In a garden, we can use these qualities to play with light, space and mood.
For example, in a garden of mixed colors, red and yellow flowers seem to come toward us. Cool, blue hues recede and can be used to create a sense of expansion and openness.
Understanding Blue in the Color Wheel
On the color wheel, red, yellow and blue form a powerful triad. Each of these primary colors is pure and distinct — as different from each other as can be. This is why there’s no better way to accentuate the color blue than to place it near red or yellow.
To see how well this can work, consider the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, among the most admired of all Dutch artists. Vermeer’s use of primary colors was masterful – especially his combinations of blue and yellow. In garden design, it helps to think like a painter. Blue is a rare and special color that deserves to be used with intention — to delight the eye and soothe the soul.
Examples of Vermeer’s work shown above. The Geographer, in the collection of the Staedel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany. Woman in Blue Reading a Letter in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Tips for Using Blue in a Flower Garden
Vermeer was precise and sparing in his use of red, yellow and blue. He knew that too much of a primary color can be tiring on the eyes. In most of his paintings, the primary colors appear in a muted form as tints (diluted with white) or shades (diluted with black).
Gardens call for the same restrained approach. As a general rule, it’s best to use blue flowers as accents. Nature makes this easy, because so few flowers are a pure, true blue. More commonly they are tints or shades of blue.
Blue Can Be Daring or Demure
During the last half of the 20th century, most gardeners tended to favor pastel colors. Today, we are drawn to more intense colors and bolder combinations. If dramatic hues appeal to you, pairing blue with its complementary color, orange will give you a look that’s both modern and electrifying.
The influential British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, was known for her sophisticated use of color. She wrote, “blues will be more telling – more purely blue – by the juxtaposition of rightly placed complementary color.”
To experiment with this vivid color combination, take a seasonal approach. In spring you could plant blue grape hyacinths (muscari armeniacum) with orange Sun Lover tulips. Fill a summer container with Salvia patens and orange tithonia. In fall, pair blue asters with orange mums.
In her book, Color in the Flower Garden, Gertrude Jekyll included plans for a blue garden, with recommendations for specific types of plants and their placement. She excluded flowers with a purple-blue hue, specifying only pure blues accompanied by white and pale yellow. This made for a narrow list of plant choices, but the effect would surely be stunning.
Another way to accentuate the restive nature of blue is to pair it with silver or grey foliage. These cool, neutral colors make pure blues look more brilliant. You’ll find that silver and grey foliage also reflects just a hint of blue to create a harmonious color bridge.
Combining blue with an analogous color is yet another option. Analogous colors are adjacent to each other on the color wheel and have a pleasing visual harmony. Purple and blue are analogous colors and you can count on them to work well together.
Some of the Best Blue Flowers for Gardens
If you’re inspired to begin “painting” your garden with blue flowers, here’s a list of candidates to get you started. You’ll find annuals, perennials, bulbs, shrubs and other foliage plants. If you know of others, please leave a comment so we can add them.
Annuals and Tender Perennials with Blue Flowers
Agapanthus, Borage, Bachelor Buttons, Lobelia, Morning Glory. Nigella, Phacelia, Plumbago, Salvia
Perennials with Blue Flowers
Agapanthus, Amsonia, Brunnera, Campanula, Centaurea montana, Clematis. Delphinium, Echinops, Eryngium, Gentian. Geranium. Iris, Linum, Meconopsis, Mertensia. Myosotis, Periwinkle, Phlox, Platycodon. Pulmonaria, Rosemary, Salvia, Viola.
Bulbs with Blue Flowers
Shrubs with Blue Flowers
Ceanothus, Hydrangea, Lilac, Wisteria
Foliage with a Blue Hue
Agave, Blue oat grass, Euphorbia. Festuca glauca, Fothergilla, Hosta. Juniper, Lavender, Sedum
Blue Color Accents for Your Garden
One of the easiest ways to introduce the color blue into your garden is with paint. Consider repainting an arbor, trellis or tuteur in a pretty shade of blue. Give your garden a lift with a blue door, gate or fence. Change the color of a garden bench or chair. Add a splash of blue with an accessory such as a blue-glazed pot, gazing ball or even a blue watering can!
To learn more about using color in your flower garden, you can read about: