Shouting Out With Red In The Garden-Part 1

– Posted in: Garden Design

Red is the color in the garden that most titillates my senses. It’s a color dripping with passion, power and boldness. When used with great abandon as in the red garden at Hidcote or what was once the red border at the now defunct Hadspen Garden (but that can still be viewed in Nori and Sandra Pope’s book Color By Design), red rules! 

The sight of a crisp, blood red jolts our senses and makes us feel more alive. The color red says ‘Notice me. I’m a diva and a force with which to be reckoned.’ After all, why does someone choose to buy a red car or a red cocktail dress? They are giving off signals that unabashedly say: ‘I’m one sexy siren. Touch me and you’ll sizzle!!’ In order to pull off a red garden successfully, you need to be fearless! When a red garden works, there is nothing quite as magical and powerful.

Because I don’t consider myself a precise colorist, I have found two ways of using red successfully in my garden. First, as with any color, the range of the red family begins with the deepest of burgundies to vermillion /bluish red transitioning to orangish/reds morphing into what is almost a pinkish/red. The subject of ‘how to use red’ in the garden is such a mammoth one that I’ve decided to break it down into sections. In Part 1 of ‘Shouting Out With Red In The Garden’, I have chosen only photos of tulips to show how the use of red has the ability to significantly change the feel of a composition. So, let’s start simply with a few red tulips, ready to bloom in dappled shade with some blue violet wild violets nestling at their feet. Simple and sweet. Even that snippet of a calm red pleases the eye with promises of what’s to come.

This next photo is of another grouping of tulips surrounded by green foliage. On the color wheel, red is the direct opposite of green: when grouped together they resonate. Because of the orangish/red color of these tulips along with the sunlight streaming its way throughout these plants, one is embraced by the warmth the tulips convey.

The two photos below are groupings of tulips from my cutting garden. These are good examples of how red works when juxtapositioned with other colors. In the first photo, the red tulips are complementing their softer red and pink and counterparts: whereas in the second photo, we get to see how these red tulips stand up when coupled with the orange/apricot family (which I actually love). Placing colors together in a garden is very similar to composing music. The note ‘C’ has a unique sound (for anyone who has studied or knows some music) but when you use it in context with a slew of different notes, it often takes on an entirely different tone and sometimes it becomes difficult to even recognize that it is a ‘C’ (I hope that makes sense for those of you who are not musicians).

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
10 comments… add one

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jodi February 5, 2008, 1:42 pm

Delicious, delicious, especially on a grey day! I love red in the garden, and it can be so hard to find ‘true’ red (or to photograph it digitally)…I did a couple of posts in Dec on red-flowered plants at and at

Hopefully they work. I have problems including links in comments. I’m such a luddite, by times!

Pam/Digging February 5, 2008, 2:18 pm

I especially love reds with purples and greens. Thanks for showing us your racy tulips.

Yep….reds and purples may be just one of the ‘best in show’. Even if you take the leaves of Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and have them planted at the feet of Salvia ‘nemerosa’ or Salvia ‘guarantica black and blue’…well, it just doesn’t get much better than that!!! fran

kate February 5, 2008, 2:27 pm

I like certain shades of red, but it is definitely not my favourite colour. It seems as if few gardens use red in good ways, so that the effect is often jarring on the senses. If that’s the look one is going for, then fine.

I used to dislike red and in fact, was totally overwhelmed by it…except in a plantings of crocosmias drifting lightly throughout the garden. But something happened and I slowly have added more and more to my garden. I do agree with you though that it is terriblly difficult to use in a ‘big’ way successfully. Thanks for your thoughts. They’ realways appreciated! Fran

Frances February 5, 2008, 3:32 pm

I loved seeing all those vibrant colors together. In my new black garden, red is the accent color. Can’t wait to see the rest of the story.

Frances at Faire Garden

Black garden, eh? Sounds pretty mysterious. Tell us what you’re planning to plant in this garden. Believe it or not, I’ve never heard that term before! Fran

Mr. McGregor's Daughter February 5, 2008, 3:39 pm

I’m not a fan of pure red. I much prefer my red with a little blue in it. I find it much easier to use & to wear!

I am a lover of red in clothing and make-up and totally agree with your philosophy of red with a bit of blue in it. But I gotta tell you, in the garden, I’ve learned to love the yellow toned/red flowers and use in conjunction with yellows, oranges, apricots and yes, even that dark jeweled burgundy. fran

Ken from Sweden February 6, 2008, 4:19 am

I like dark red flowers best, and darkred leafs is a good way to make some differens i the garden.
We bouth everiting that we can here in Sweden of darkred perenials,buchies and trees.
We also like varigeted leafs bouth in white and yellow.
We think it is not always the flower who does the garden it is the different leafs in combination whith the green leafs.

Always great to hear from our favorite blogger in Sweden! Couldn’t agree more with you about the power of leaf color in the garden. You MUST check out my fellow blogger and gardening pal’s book ‘Foliage’. Nan Ondra does a masterful job of showing us how to use foliage effectively in the garden!! Fran

Dee/reddirtramblings February 6, 2008, 7:58 am

Great post. I love red. I often use it for punch in my landscape. If I want the eye to go somewhere like the end of a lane, I plant some red poppies there. I also have some red ‘Dynamite’ crape myrtles that I planted with bright yellow daylilies. I haven’t seen all in bloom yet, but I bet it will knock my socks off this summer.~~Dee

A field of red poppies dotted with bright blue cornflowers may just about be my most favorite of all plantings. Your red crape myrtles with bright yellow daylilies sounds like they will be divine. Please send a picture this coming season when in bloom. And you’re right…at the correct angle, red can really draw you in!! Fran

Lisa at Greenbow February 6, 2008, 9:35 pm

I love reds too. Red is a happy color to me. Poppy is my nemesis flower. I don’t have luck growing them.
Yes, poppies can be difficult to grow but once they take off, they are one of the great of all flowers. When you sow your seed, make sure to scratch it into the soil and water lightly (I do it even in cold weather unless there is snow). Fran

mss @ Zanthan Gardens February 6, 2008, 9:45 pm

The red border at Hidcote was one of my favorite gardens there, although when I visited it was mostly plums.

I have a lot of red in my garden, not from design (sadly little is by design in my garden) but because I have a passion for oxblood lilies and they happen to be red. I just have to be careful when the plumbago and Chinese chives are blooming at the same time lest my garden look like a 4th of July display.

mss@Zanthan Gardens-
your oxblood lilies are stand outs…thanks for sharing. And I did check out your story on your visit to Hidcote and saw the photo of the red garden….it looked pretty tame but beautiful when you visited. But it’s still a good study in how combining just one color, that deep burgundy/plum with green makes for a stunning visual effect. Fran

Curtis February 7, 2008, 9:36 pm

I like dark reds and deep purple colors in plants. How stunning!

Thanks for chiming in. Yes, just thinking about those color combinations makes me feel steamy. How about something as simple as
Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ with Salvia nemerosa to get things moving??? Ah well….it is fun to dream this time of year! Fran

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