Single-color gardens are pure delight

 Single-color flower beds make planning a garden easy. You just pick a color and stick with it.

Monochromatic gardens — particularly white gardens — are classically elegant, but you can still plant to suit your style: A monochromatic garden can be crisply formal or exuberantly informal, and the layout can be of any scale. You can even plant a striking single-palette combination in a flowerpot or window box.

Restricting a garden to just one color “helps you focus if you’re a plant nut like me,” says Mark Weathington, curator of collections at the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.

The arboretum’s Klein-Pringle White Garden is one of its prettiest and most popular spaces. White flowers bloom from spring through fall against deep green backdrops of evergreen and deciduous trees. Hostas with creamy-edged or white-splashed foliage light up the shadows. A white gazebo rests at the edge of a cool green lawn. A striking red-leafed Japanese maple is the strongest contrasting plant in the garden.

No garden can truly be of all one color, of course. There are endless variations of intensity and hue in a single-color garden, and green foliage forms the underlying warp and weft of the pattern. Sometimes adding spots of another color actually emphasizes the basic color scheme you have chosen. In the Klein-Pringle White Garden, “The dark burgundy of the Japanese maple actually makes the garden look even more white,” Weathington says.

Tim Pollak, a horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, also likes a note of contrast to emphasize the monochromatic theme. “You don’t appreciate a solitary color if you don’t have something to compare it to,” he says. “Just remember, a little bit goes a long way.”

Monochromatic gardens seem to work best when they are planted in an enclosed space, to emphasize the palette and limit views that compete with them. Within that space, try planting great sweeps of color, says Danielle Ernest, spokeswoman for the Proven Winners and Proven Selection brands of petunias, verbenas, phlox, and other annual and perennial flowers and shrubs. “A mass of one color is very impressive,” she says.

The Proven Winners Web site ( helps visitors plan garden color schemes. “We asked people how they shop for plants, and they told us they shop by color,” Ernest says. The company has learned that purple is the favorite color of almost 40 percent of visitors, followed by pink, red, blue and yellow.

Jim Sutton, a horticulturist who works on special displays at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa. (near Philadelphia), has had fun designing gardens with a predominately purple palette. “It’s an inviting color,” he says, “and it really makes things pop in full sunlight.”

If you’re planning a monochromatic garden, start with a list, Sutton suggests.

Sutton likes to use just a touch of contrasting chartreuse in his purple-theme designs. Red or orange also works, or even a spot of yellow. A splash of white is always appropriate, but don’t overdo it. “Use just enough to make it look planned,” Sutton says. “Otherwise it makes a hole in the landscape.”

Brad Kemp, a gardener in Lawrence, Kan., worked with his garden designer on a stylish white garden laid out in crisp squares defined by grass paths and planted with white tulips, peonies, roses, stock, sweet peas and silky white cosmos for summer. Kemp was an inexperienced gardener when the design was planned, and says he appreciated the limited palette because it made it easy to buy plants with confidence. “When I found something I liked, I just asked the staff if they had it in white,” he says. When he took his purchases home, he always had a perfect match.