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Color is often what makes or breaks a garden. According to the National Garden Bureau, colors go in and out of style just as clothing fashions do. Yet other principles of color remain constant, such as the pleasing contrast between complementary colors (those colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel). The following tips may help you to color more effectively in the garden.

- To brighten shady areas use light-colored annuals such as white, pale yellow, and light pink. Dark colors tend to get "lost" in shady areas. You can still use deep colors in a shady area, but be sure to use lighter colors around or behind them to provide contrast so that they can stand out and be seen. Amethyst-colored impatiens surrounded by lime green coleus or white impatiens, for example, will stand out due to the contrast.

- The above principle also applies to sitting areas that will be viewed in the evening. White flowers virtually glow in the twilight, while deeper colors become invisible in the fading light.

- For maximum effect, think about how the colors of plants will blend or contrast with their surroundings. For example, deep red flowers planted against a red brick wall or redwood fence will not stand out as well as white or pink flowers. And white flowers will not stand out dramatically against a white fence or white siding. Think of using a more dramatic color scheme, such as purple or magenta, against a white or light-color background, and something lighter, such as peach or pink against darker surfaces.

- Borrow the notion of ‘theme colors’ from interior decoration. Theme colors used with repetition will unify different garden areas just as they unify the rooms of a house. For example, bordering all your garden beds with a row of white alyssum can tie different garden areas together for a unified look. Repeating the same colors in plant with different heights and textures can also create a unified look. If red is your theme color, for example, combine tall red hollyhocks, the spiky red flowers of bee balm, and a low-growing scarlet verbena. Do the same thing with your accent color, which might be white or lime green.

- Use color in a way that enhances the emotional effect of the garden. Bright colors such as red and golden yellow are exciting; they may be put to use indoors in a room used for entertaining, in order to create a sense of drama. For the entrance to a home, you may want to create a feeling of warmth and excitement, and could choose stronger, more exciting colors. Shades such as blue, lavender and pink are considered cool colors and they tend to be calmer. Around a patio, you may want to create a more relaxing and serene mood by choosing cooler or softer colors such as these. Shades of green are perhaps the most restful colors of all. That’s why Japanese gardens rarely include flowers at all, relying instead on foliar effects to create a place for meditation.

- Bold color combinations can give your garden beds a distinctive look. Instead of something as ordinary as blue and white, consider orange and purple. Coral and blue can also be dramatic. And for an attention-getting effect, the new yellow-greens, from screaming chartreuse to a bright lime green, are currently all the rage. Many plants in this color range are foliage plants like coleus.