Red and yellow kill a fellow?

‘Santa Rita’ Opuntia flower

Gardeners often have strong opinions about using red and yellow together. Linda at Meadowview Thymes wrote in a comment here that she loves yellow with red. Chuck at My Back 40 (Feet) reacts with antipathy when that color combination appears accidentally in his garden.

So how do you feel about pairing red and yellow? Do you like the energizing contrast? Does it remind you unpleasantly of ketchup and mustard? Does it work if the tones are muted? What about if the red and yellow naturally occur together, as in the prickly pear flower shown above?

‘Wilson’s Yellow’ daylily is another example in my garden of a natural red-and-yellow combination.

The clearer, cooler red of rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius ) paired with the soft yellow-orange of Bulbine frutescens appeals to me. But maybe it makes you want to avert your eyes?

Another look at the ‘Santa Rita’ prickly pear flower

If red and yellow combos are non-venomous for you, are there other colors that you intentionally separate? For me the unforseen combination of soft-pink ‘Belinda’s Dream’ rose and screaming orange-red pomegranate made me wince every time I saw it, and I had to move the pomegranate at once. But I rather like hot-pink and orange together (witness the coneflower in my header photo). So maybe it all comes down to the intensity of the color pairing.

What do you think?

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

40 Responses

  1. cindee says:

    I love the colors together. The bolder the better! If you put a silver or grey foliage plant in there some where it softens the blow too. I like summer flowers to pop and I especially love red flowers. My prickly pear has not bloomed yet. I just got it last year so maybe it takes a few years to bloom. Yours is stunning!!!

    I’m with you, Cindee, though I more often use hot pinks with my yellows. I like deeper reds and yellows inside my home—that French country look.

    I think it did take a year or two for my prickly pear to start blooming. It’s worth the wait! —Pam

  2. Mary Beth says:

    The red and yellow combo looks best viewed threw a large picture window, with the A/C cranked down, and a cold diet coke (or better yet, mojito) in your hand . . . it’s such a hot combo it makes me sweat!

    I see what you mean, Mary Beth. Hot colors in the summer can make you feel hotter. And yet, look at Mexico’s resort towns—they wash hot color not only over their gardens but over their houses and walls, and it makes for a festive vacation mood. Maybe it just depends on the context? —Pam

  3. Totally ketchup and mustard.
    I don’t do yellow and red together…but as always, I give the flowers their due respect.
    Actually…I took an interesting yellow & red flower photo…I’ll post it on my blog for you to check out.

    The Rock and Roll Gardener

    I just visited and saw, ahem, admired that red-and-yellow tulip. I have to agree with you on that one, R&R Gardener. The red and yellow are too bright, but if they were more subdued…maybe. —Pam

  4. Gail says:

    I love them together, especially when they occur naturally, like Aquilegia canadenses. I am more likely to pair it with hot pinks and purples of a native Verbena. Just moved my prickly pear and it is taking off. Tennessee has one prickly pear native. It’s nice to think I will have those lovely blooms. I think I need to reassess where he is living, he could grow enough to take out a tire.


    You do have to watch those cacti—they often grow faster than you expect, especially in a garden where they get more TLC than in the wild, and they can certainly take out a foot if not a tire. ;-) —Pam

  5. Layanee says:

    How could nature be wrong? Great fifty mile per hour plant combos (you can see them clearly when driving at that speed)! Love the daylily. The only red and yellow combination that I think should be banned is red salvia and yellow marigolds. It is trite. Just an opinion!

    Maybe the reason red with yellow offends some people is because it is so effective an eye-catcher that it’s been overused, like those salvia and marigolds, not because there’s anything intrinsically bad about the combination. —Pam

  6. Gail says:

    Would you care for seeds of A canadensis, it’s collecting time?


    I’d love to try some, Gail ! I’ve been unsuccessful, I’m afraid, with several tries at growing the red columbine, but I’m always willing to kill some more, if you’re willing to take the chance on me. —Pam

  7. Cindy says:

    The front gardens here on my corner of Katy are mostly hot colors, and there are a lot of solid reds and yellows … I do wince at some of the pairings that result! That’s when I try to mix in other plants that have those combinations naturally, like butterfly weed or Indian Blankets. Hot pink & orange works when they’re the right shades of those colors … I’m with you, Belinda’s Dream and a pomegranate do NOT make good partners!

    I think our native Texas plants give us a lot to work with in reds and yellows, and many wildflowers combine those two colors together naturally. Adding a lot of silvers can help cool things off, don’t you think? —Pam

  8. Christa says:

    I too prefer a cool palette in the summer. I’m always on the hunt for native purple anything that can take some shade. I find yellow difficult to work with period. I must however confess an affection for texas lantana. I don’t know how that one made it through the cracks…

    I have some purple in the shade, though it isn’t all native to Texas: purple oxalis, mistflower, purple heart, Saliva guaranitica, heartleaf skullcap. I pair them with reds in my shade garden—I just love red! —Pam

  9. Matthew says:

    Used haphazardly complementary colors can be visually exhausting, but used to draw focus they are perfect. The opuntia’s bloom draws pollinators, my turquoise door on a terra cotta background draws visitors, your yellow bench paired with the purple coneflowers invites visitors to rest a while.

    Ooh, I love turquoise doors against adobe-colored walls. Are you in New Mexico, Matthew? —Pam

  10. Red & yellow are a great combination. I use them often together in my graphic design work. It works for McDonald’s!

    It does indeed. For some people, though, it seems to be hard to think of anything but McDonald’s when they see red and yellow together. —Pam

  11. I hate crayon red with crayon yellow. However, my new favorite color combo is wine/burgundy/crimson/ruby with pale yellow or chartreuse. It’s just “fabulous.” Another combo I’m not crazy about, as I’ve probably already mentioned at some point, is pink and yellow. Too Easter-eggy, unless the pink is a hot magenta or something similar (think pink & yellow Peeps). And any blue-pink with orange – blech.

    It’s interesting how strongly our color preferences are held, isn’t it? I agree about that wine-and-yellow/chartreuse combo—it’s thrilling. —Pam

  12. Sorry, I forgot to write that those winey colors also look good with strong yellows.

  13. I sometimes add a few Blue Salvia in my yellow and red beds. Really adds a touch of “cool” to
    the warm colors.

    That sounds vibrant and summery, Linda. Yellow and blue are classic together, and the red must add a nice punch. —Pam

  14. Jane Marie says:

    If it’s good enough for Mother Nature, then it’s good enough for me. I don’t think the flowers in a meadow look around and decide where to germinate based on color. My garden is multicolored and I rejoice in the contrasts. As I said before, when I plant I look for a hole, and based on height only, I stick it in the ground. I think there is too much anxiety over color placement. Things just don’t look natural to me that way.

    Your relaxed attitude about color placement probably ties in well with a cottage-garden or meadow-garden look. Letting Mother Nature sort it out must bring no end of surprise and delight to your garden. —Pam

  15. Frances says:

    Hi Pam, I love all color together all the time. Don’t care. More is better than just two, maybe that is the secret. Your daylily is lovely, as is your new blog look.

    I’d have guessed that you’d be discriminating about color combinations, Frances. Perhaps it’s because of that knot garden, a particularly controlled type of garden.

    Thanks for the compliment on Digging’s new look. —Pam

  16. Terra says:

    Spectacular daylily and prickly pear. I am such a rebel gardener that I enjoy the beauty of wild color combinations. Sometimes these appear as surprises in my garden, as volunteer or traveling plants, or because a plant’s color is mislabeled in the plant nursery. To me all flower color combinations are celebratory and signs of the Creator so I enjoy them no matter who they grow next to.

    Surprises can be good! Or they can be really, really bad, as happened to me with that pink rose and hot-orange pomegranate. ;-) —Pam

  17. LetsPlant says:

    I think they look great!! Well sometimes, the day lilly is amazing!!

    Thanks, LetsPlant. Enjoy all your colors. —Pam

  18. Pam, I don’t mind the combination but I find I tend to avoid red flowers, so unless it occurs together on a flower, I don’t have much red/yellow in my garden. I do think I have too much yellow in the garden, especially in the summer, so I’m trying to get more blue/pink/purple blooming summer perennials. I also have an unnamed variety of Opuntia that will bloom in my Indiana garden, I think toward the middle to end of June. Hmmmm… I guess they do have that yellow/red combo, but more yellow.

    You avoid red?! Can it be so? Red is one of my favorites in the garden (and elsewhere). But I’m fond of purple and yellow too. —Pam

  19. Red and yellow look great to me! Actually, yellow is one of those colors that looks wonderful with almost every other color. I like yellow and blue best, I think. Red and blue, on the other hand, can look tacky if it isn’t done well. (Indian paintbrush + bluebonnet = done extremely well. I love that exception to my rule.)

    Pink (or purple) and orange aren’t so great, on the other hand.

    Yellow is a pretty great go-with color, though mixing different shades of yellow sometimes doesn’t work. You’re right, Indian paintbrush with bluebonnets looks divine! And I’ll put in a good word for hot pink and orange together. —Pam

  20. Michelle says:

    I love red and yellows together! In the spring, I have yellow columbine and red texas betony and red cedar sage together. In the summer, I have red and yellow dwarf canna together. Very bright and cheerful ;)

    Bright and cheerful indeed! Thanks for weighing in, Michelle. —Pam

  21. Diana Kirby says:

    I love it. But then I love very vibrant colors together. I’d want to add a purple into the mix, too! What would you think about that?!

    I love purple with everything: pink, red, blue, yellow, orange, silver. It always looks good. —Pam

  22. Gail says:

    I will put them in the mail! It can’t hurt to try them…these guys are from a very hostile environment, we are talking clay and limestone!

    That’s what I have too, Gail, but I think it tends to be hotter and drier here. But I will happily give them a go. They’re such pretty, dainty flowers. —Pam

  23. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I love red and yellow together. It is a nice wake up call in the garden. It doesn’t remind me of any kind of food stuffs.
    These colors are exciting.

    Exciting is right, Lisa. You can’t help but notice them. —Pam

  24. Stacy says:

    Orange and yellow together are warm, safe, happy colors in my garden. Strawflowers, dahlias, zinnias, Jaguar marigolds…something about the Florida sun brings out the best in these colors.

    Hot colors work particularly well in hot climates, I agree. —Pam

  25. Anna says:

    I don’t know? I think I like both. I have both going on. Inside my house are all muted fall colors. But outside is a kind of rolling combo of masses from one color to the next. I think my sage and stone house marry all the colors together. When it all blooms I’ll post a pic and you can tell me if it works.

    I’d love to see it in bloom, Anna. Let me know when your photo is up. —Pam

  26. rees cowden says:

    I’m not a big fan of any colors I consider “muddy” in the garden. Crisp, clean and pure are what I like. But the photos you posted show some pure colors and a bit of mush but somehow they work well. Maybe it’s best to let Mother Nature just work her magic.

    Perhaps so, Rees. But I suspect most gardeners want to tweak Mother Nature’s handiwork just a bit—or maybe more. —Pam

  27. Brenda Kula says:

    Oh, yellow and red are one of my very favorite color combinations, both outside and in!

    Thanks for the enthusiastic yes vote, Brenda. —Pam

  28. Sam says:

    I think red and yellow can go well together. I like all sorts of colors in my garden and love colors that pop. Happy anniversary by the way.


    Thank you, Sam. I like colors that pop too. But I am somewhat particular about which yellows and reds I like together. —Pam

  29. Iris says:

    I totally agree with Mr. McGregor’s daughter’s comment! In fact, when we repaint our house exterior, we’re seriously considering a pale, lemony yellow with ivory trim and deep burgundy front door, with a few other small deep burgundy accents.

    Once again, Pam, you’ve gotten me thinking because I have SO much purple in an attempt to create a “cooler” landscape. But after reading your purple-goes-with-everything comment, I’m re-thinking what I could add to the purple mix. (I thought I’d really branched out by adding the pink skullcap, heh heh.)

    That sounds like an attractive house color mix. About the purple—well, I totally get that. I love purple too. Have fun mixing it up. —Pam

  30. plantgirl says:

    In nature sure in clothing choices (or anything manmade) no way

    Bright red and yellow would be an unusual clothing combination for most people, I expect. But I wonder why something that looks good in nature should seem to clash when we wear it? —Pam

  31. McDonalds’ marketing department is good! They’ve branded yellow and red! That is the first thing I thought about when I saw your flowers. I was going to post how crazy I was, but apparently, I’m not that crazy. I can’t seem to make these colors work for me in the garden, even though I have a lot of red in my house. If you want a really good book on the subject, try Color in Garden Design by Sandra Austin.

    Do they not work for you solo, or only in combination? I love red in the garden and use it liberally, mostly with greens but also purples—and the occasional yellow! Thanks for the book referral. —Pam

  32. Trudi says:

    In my garden red and yellow do well together. The subtropical garden thrives on strong colours. I also think in general people are attracted to strong colours. I love soft colours but in my garden I had to change course. This Prickly Pear flower looks very attractive. I also think red and yellow suit each other.

    I agree that the hotter climates demand hotter, or at least, brighter colors. The pale pastels just wash out in the intense sunlight. Do you grow prickly pear too? —Pam

  33. Hi Pam, I just wanted to tell you how much I love your blog. I’m amazed at what fabulous gardens are out there in Texas! Yours is fabulous, and such a wonderful spot to visit!

    Thank you, Denise! Texas isn’t the gardening nirvana that California (or part of it) is, but we do alright. ;-) Thanks so much for visiting and for your kind comment. —Pam

  34. Robin says:

    I’m beginning to like these colors more, especially after the poppy bloomed today. I am also beginning to use red more now that I’m attempting to attract hummingbirds to the garden.

    You’re right, Robin. Red is a hummingbird magnet. It’s another good reason to love energizing red. —Pam

  35. joey says:

    Enjoy the blended colors in the garden although the longer I garden the more I focus on subtle color, texture and form (my home … both inside and out … is filled with creamy yellow and cranberry).

    That combo sounds nice. I’ve gotten less subtle the longer I garden, and I love to use blazing red with deep purple in my garden. —Pam

  36. Kim says:

    I definitely think that the shades matter. I LOVE the opuntia flower, but the lilium looks like a bit too much for me. Weird, huh?

    Too much contrast for the Contrast girl? :-) Isn’t it interesting how color combos elicit such strong reactions from many of us? —Pam

  37. Kylee Baumle says:

    Awwwww, Pam! Ketchup and mustard? I never thought of that, until now. And I suppose that’s always what I’ll think of when I see it! And I always kind of liked it! But I like yellow and blue or purple better. And pink and orange. Actually, it depends on the flower.

    Sorry, Kylie! You’re right, though. It does seem to depend on the flowers as to how a color combination will strike me. The climate matters too. —Pam

  38. kerri says:

    I’m not a big fan of red and yellow together, but….I have to agree with MMD. There’s a new house up the road painted a creamy yellow with dark red trim, and I love it! The penstemon and bulbine combo appeals to me because of the pinkish red and paler yellow..very pretty! So yes, it depends on the intensity of the color pairing, and the shade.
    Last year I had a purplish pink delphinium…a beautiful shade…next to a lovely red asiatic lily…also a gorgeous shade, but together they made me cringe. I had planned to move the delphinium, but unfortunately it died during the winter. Well, at least I won’t have to endure that combo this summer!
    I’m glad you moved the orange pomegranate away from the lovely Belinda’s Dream :)
    I do rather like that prickly pear flower though because the yellow isn’t too harsh.

    Ha, I’m going to post a photo of purplish pink next to red-and-purple soon, Kerri. I’m trying to decide if I like it, but I have a feeling you won’t. ;-) —Pam

  39. chuck b. says:

    Sounds like I’m voted down, but clearly some people can relate. I think in the red + yellow praxis, it’s the quality of red that matters the most. Then again, I understand from some designer friends I know there are some people (usually not avid gardeners) who dislike any yellow in the garden at all.

    While I go to lengths to avoid avoid red + yellow, I just planted out a bunch of Asclepias curassavica. We’ll see if that fixes me.

    I can understand some people not wanting red in the garden, although it’s one of my favorite choices. But not wanting yellow? I can’t imagine missing out on that sunny, cheerful color. —Pam

  40. Robin says:

    I love any and all colors in the garden; I’m new at this and just getting it to bloom is such a joy that I am delighted with any and every color that shows up. I also love the caribbean colors, so I do plant strong, vivid colors. It’s funny, in my home I have a strong designer touch that I’m quite picky about, but outside, I let nature show off everything without many rules, except smaller ones in front!

    I’m a fan of vivid colors too, but I do find that I’m picky about some of the resulting combinations. Thanks for weighing in, Robin. —Pam