Using Color in Your Desert Potted Garden

The Potted Desert GardenBeauty is in the Eye of the Beholder… sometimes 

Color is the most prominent element in garden design and typically for DIY gardeners, the first one considered. Color does two things without us even realizing it.

1. Color draws us into a garden getting us out of the house onto our patio.  

2. Color has an energizing or calming effect, depending on the color palette.

Novice gardeners can be easily overwhelmed by the numerous color and plant choices on a trip to the nursery. They may choose whatever catches their eye, not able to consider what goes together well.

Consider this –

You are driving down a boulevard and a band of color catches your attention. Speeding on by, you are thrilled to see the array and think to yourself, “how beautiful!” The mass of colors draws you in.

However, if you were walking along the sidewalk adjacent to this bed, you have more time to see it and realize there is an overabundance of colors and you are no longer sure if you like it or not.

There is a bed like this in Tucson that I have observed over the years. The first glimpse catches my eye and I think, “that’s pretty.” I also remember saying to myself that I wonder who installed the flowers.

However, when stopped in traffic and I have time to examine the garden, something clicks in my mind that this is just not working. Picture yourself sitting next to a few pots, such as the picture below. Your coffee or cocktail is in hand and you are ready to relax after a long day. At first what you see is fun and exciting but, can become exhausting as you stare at it.


Too many colors makes a potted garden too busy

Why doesn’t it work? Too many colors in one garden. Purple Osteospernums, Red Dianthus, Blue Pansies, White Allysum, and more – Oh My!

In choosing color combinations, we know what we like when we see it. However, sometimes we think a selected color combination will work, but once they are home and planted, we wonder – what did I do wrong? 

What not to do in your pots – Yellow Violas, Orange/Burgundy & White Snaps, Purple, Purple/White, Burgundy, Orange Pansies, White Allysum

We tend to buy what we like in the store. The rainbow of colors and shades attracts our attention and unless we have a ‘color agenda’, we don’t put the brakes on and try to coordinate our selections.

In the image above, at first glance, you might think that the colors work well. First, you have yellow and white. Fine! But then there are burgundy and purple Pansies with an almost red Snapdragon. Additionally, the purples are represented by a two-tone purple, which adds lavender along with the white, deep purple flower. All of these colors are in the blue family. The burgundy pansy is in the red family. Just too much!

Combining Color in your Desert Pots

Start with the colors in your home.

  1. Choose a room that also has a view of your pots. Look at how you use color in that room.
  2. Pick a couple of the room’s colors that you know you can replicate with flower colors. Take a picture on your phone to take with you to the nursery.
  3. Choose a contrasting color, such as the color you would use as an accent pillow.

For instance, if you decorate your home in earth tones of rustic oranges, browns and greens, begin with an orange. Green will enter the picture with leaves and stems. Then add either purple or yellow depending on how exciting or vibrant you want your color combination to be. 

Critter Resistant Winter Planter Glasmann.The Potted Desert(1)

Another example – if your room is decorated in primary colors, choose primaries such as the blue and yellow and perhaps add red as shown in the photo below. 

Ahhhh, such a difference. Yellow in Calendula, Violas and Nemesia, Blue in Pansies and White in Kale. With a Burgundy/Yellow Center Diascia.

Now, head to the nursery.

Pro Tip: Measure the interior diameter of each pot that needs new flowers. Take a tape measure or piece of string marked with the dimension with you to the nurswery. Lay this out on your cart so you can see if you have the right number of plants to fill the pot. You want about 1″-2″ between plants.

Choosing Plants in the Nursery

Be sure you have made note of how much sun the pot(s) receive. Head to that part of the nursery to choose your plants. Make sure you take a cart with you!

Look around and select flowers that are in the palette you have chosen. Don’t get one of each different varieties. Typically, you should choose an odd number of each plant. You might get one stature plant and three of each of two or three other flowers.

  1. Place your selected plants for one pot on your shopping cart.
  2. Arrange them as you would in the pot.
  3. Step back to look at them. Look long and hard.

Stare at your combinations and see if it works as you view it with your critical eye. Pay attention to the colors and the textures. I did not discuss textures yet, but if something is off, it can be a busyness caused by an overabundance of various textures.

If something feels off, move things around. Substitute another plant or change the colors selected. Play with the arrangement until you step back and say, “Ahhhhh.”

The beauty of using potted gardens is that you can easily change your mind, try new combinations or take out one plant and substitute another without breaking the bank. Keep your money out of the compost heap.

Happy Potting! … Marylee