Eye-Catching Combinations: How to employ complementary colors in the landscape

Color creates drama in a garden, setting the mood and expressing our personalities. Color combinations impact how individual hues appear as well as the overall impression of a planting. By simply changing color schemes, a garden can be transformed, for example, from lively to serene. When skillfully wielded, this tool can yield a dynamic landscape.

Here, we demonstrate how to use complementary colors in the landscape, as well as provide plans for sun and shade gardens below.

Combining Colors

Complementary purple and yellow create an eye-catching combination in the landscape. These colors are opposites on the color wheel, but when used in close proximity, intensify one another. A complementary color scheme creates maximum contrast, which adds stability to a design.

Foliage is our greatest source of garden color. Within just the green family we find a great range of hues – from emerald to chartreuse and grey to olive. Even better, foliage provides just as much variety in nearly every color of the rainbow! And when it comes to purple and yellow, the Southern Living Plant Collection offers numerous possibilities.

Dynamic Pairings

The golden foliage of ‘Sunshine’ Ligustrum brings energy and warmth to a garden. Yellow grabs attention and evokes cheerful feelings.

Choose one of the following plant pairings to highlight ‘Sunshine’ Ligustrum in the garden:


Red Diamond™ Midsize Loropetalum
and ‘Panama Red’ Hibiscus provide a luxuriant stage of deep burgundy on which to feature the bold golden foliage of ‘Sunshine’ Ligustrum.


Provide support for ‘Sunshine’ Ligustrum with a swath of purple foliage or flowers. Underline the planting with Purple Pixie® Loropetalum.


Pair the fine-textured foliage of ‘Sunshine’ Ligustrum with the course leaves of ‘Black Ripple’ Colocasia for striking color and contrasting textures that create interest and depth in the garden. Other textural partners include 'Poquito' Banana and ‘Design-A-Line’ Cordyline.

Brightening Shade

Yellow foliage and flowers brighten shady areas of the garden. Again, purple foliage reinforces the power of yellow.

Try the following combinations:

Foliage and Flowers:

Set ‘Lemon Lime’ Nandina against the rich foliage of Purple Diamond® Loropetalum and flank with ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia. The purple foliage complements both the soft foliage of ‘Lemon Lime’ Nandina and the bright flowers of ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia.

Texture and Color:

For a powerful planting, place Evercolor® ‘Everillo’ Carex in front of Little Black Magic™ Dwarf Elephant Ear or 'Black Ripple' Colocasia. This pairing offers strong color contrast and textural juxtaposition with a dynamic result.

Learn more about using color in design in the Color Guide articles here.

Purple and Gold Combination for Sun Garden:

Purple and Gold Combination for Shade Garden:

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