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How to Garden With Multicolored Flowers

Picture a garden where all the flowers are solid in color. I’m not sure I’ve seen one. Perhaps we don’t think about it much, but many—or maybe even most—of the blooms in our gardens show some degree of variegation. Stripes, shadows and freckles occur naturally to draw pollinators toward their target, and plant breeders have worked these details into fanciful creations to catch the gardener’s eye.

There are the obvious ones, like multicolored bearded irises and heavily freckled lilies, but there are also plenty of flowers with subtle marks or simple shading that we may not notice without a closer look. Bold and quiet patterned flowers alike help build a dynamic garden design. Here are five tips for displaying patterned flowers to best effect:

1. Keep it simple.

Most of us wouldn’t pair a polka-dot shirt with plaid pants. Similarly, combining lots of plants with multihued flowers together doesn't allow for any one plant to really shine. Ditto for mixing fancy flowers amid multiple companions with variegated foliage. Try to use just one or two patterned blooms and striped or splotched leaves per vignette or container. 

Below, Supertunia Mini Vista Pink Star and ColorBlaze Velveteen coleus are the lead actors in this ensemble thanks to the Supertunia's candy-striped flowers and the coleus's pink-and-purple leaves. Upright 'Golden Delicious' sage and trailing Lemon Coral sedum provide a neutral backdrop with their chartreuse foliage.

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2. Calm with unity.

Flowers that use shades or tones of one hue create an elegant effect, even when combining multiple patterns. The effect is doubled when the blossoms also share a common shape.

Below, the purple-and-white petals of Superbells Holy Smokes! ring a bright gold splotch at the center of each flower. In shape as well as color, the Superbells echoes the purple-blue, yellow-eyed flowers of its larger companion, Supertunia Blue Skies.

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3. Combine for friendly competition.

For a bolder statement, find flowers that share some characteristics but also noticeable differences. Below, Vemillionaire cuphea and Heat It Up Scarlet blanket flower both possess shifting red tones accented with yellow. But the cipher flowers are tiny and tubular while the blanket flowers are large and round.

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4. Put patterns in plain sight.

Fine details are most apparent up close, so place intricate flowers at the front of the border, alongside a seating area or in prominent containers. 

Set at the top of the porch stairs, this container places the small flowers of Catalina Pink torenia at eye level as a visitor approaches. The two-tone pink petals and bright yellow splotch within each flower can be better appreciated. Muted foliage companions—Sweet Caroline sweet potato vine (middle), purple-brown Color Blaze Newly Noir coleus and silver-and-green Pegasus begonia—also play up the vibrancy of the flowers.

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5. Match a material.

Designing with patterned flowers doesn’t stop at companion plants. Play off a color in a variegated flower by using an element, like a pot or paint color, of the same shade. 

In the combination below, the dramatically dark throats of the Supertunia Latte flowers pick up the deep pewter color of the container. The purple foliage of Dolce 'Wildberry' coral bells enhance the purplish streaks in the Supertunia, while silver foliage from 'Queen of Hearts' bugloss (top), Angel Wings senecio (left) and Silver Bullet artemisia (front) further unite plants and pot.

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Images courtesy of Proven Winners