Excitement. Heat. Intensity. Passion. Red makes a statement in small doses or big, bringing the drama to gardens whether it’s just a touch in a border, a highlight in a container, or full-on fiery swaths. As summer progresses in the Northern Hemisphere, the bright, direct rays of the sun can wash out cooler colors such as some pinks, blues, and purples; this is when hot colors keep the garden vibrant through July and August. Before you say, “hot colors aren’t my style,” consider that even weaving in just a few flames of red ignites the garden. Here are the best ideas we’ve seen for using this red-hot color in the landscape.
Made You Look
Red never goes out of style. It’s full of life — always fresh, always fun to look at. In landscapes where neutrals, such as these blowsy tan grasses, form the backbone, adding a wake-up call of big, showy pods of red (here kangaroo paw and leucodendron) rings in a happy note and makes this minimal, elegant garden sing. Give red a chance to shine by placing it front and center.
Perhaps the easiest place to use red in the landscape is a tropical scheme, but even then you have be brave enough to really go for it. Here, a red bougainvillea has been trained to drape over a persimmon-orange wall for a vignette that is magazine-worthy. Don’t live where this vine thrives? Just substitute a red climbing rose, honeysuckle, or crossvine for a similar effect. The lesson here to paint in bold strokes.
Reds take on varying personas ranging from soothing or vibrating with energy when combined with different colors. Need a color primer cheat sheet? Here are a few tips: red and green are elegant, red and white are refreshing, red and purple are rich, red and blue are calming, red and orange are electrifying. Cool, spring colors are the primary hues of this pretty combination of catmint, allium, and pink roses, but its the red roses that add depth and richness.
Create a Red Moment
In landscapes large or small, creating a red “moment” lets you feel the heat without committing to an entire garden of this dominating hue. In a meadow-scheme of grasses, adding this Grace Smoke Tree is the equivalent to placing a red chair in the corner of a room. It acts as a sexy accent, but isn’t the main story. This “moment” idea is easily accomplished with red-hued plants in containers (see the main image above) and demonstrates a confidence with color. Try it. You’ll see what we mean.
Finding the Right “Temperature”
Figuring the heat-index from cool to hot that works in your garden is key to success with red; let the environment, light conditions, and surrounding elements guide you in choosing the right red (note how the cool-blue undertones of this rhododendron play well with the painted porch). One garden designer trick is to grab a stack of paint chips from the hardware store and bring them into the garden to see what works in the available light; use this as your jumping-in point at the nursery.
Red foliage also wants in! The burgundy-red foliage of this ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple adds depth and warmth to an otherwise light, floaty, ethereal border. Other red-leafed shrubs including barberry, ninebark, and nandina would have a similar effect. The red astilbe playfully breaks up all the white and provides continuity of color. See? It doesn’t take much red to add interest!
Just try to picture this scarlet trumpet vine in any other color (pink, purple, white). While it would still be eye-catching, the impact would not be the same. It’s result here is so killer (like a slash of red lipstick) that this patio garden needs not one more plant to define the space. If you have an arbor, trellis (such as over a garage or upper story), or a blank wall, train a red vine on it and sit back and wait for the compliments.