Why Colour Matters


By Adam Robinson

The monochromatic style of our  Coogee Landscape Design project

The monochromatic style of our Coogee Landscape Design project


Cultivate NSW is the peak body for horticultural therapy in NSW and they recently brought together everyone who is interested in health and wellness through gardens and natural environments to a networking event held at Camperdown Commons.  Cultivate encourages positive change in people’s lives through the use of Social & Therapeutic Horticulture and can show you how to gain the skills for a rewarding career in the emerging field of therapeutic gardening.  They asked your’s truly to speak at the event on the subject of colour, which I was most honoured to do.

Why Colour Matters by Adam Robinson

Colour is one of those wonderful things in life we all love seeing around us in nature, but can be extremely afraid to use or wear. Colour is believed to be the most important and inspirational visual experience for human beings. Colour influences peoples attitude, grabs attention, evokes feelings and can be highly effective in learning and educational settings.

There is a good reason why businesses’ heavily invest into working out the best colours for their branding. For example a third of the most popular businesses use blue as their predominant colour in branding, as this is said to create trust and security, and when these businesses’ are for sale, they use red and yellow to grab our attention and stimulate energy and response.

Some days I love, and even crave, wearing colour. It energises and gives me confidence where as other days I feel like hiding or just not standing out at all. On these days I like wearing black and grey as I feel I can get away with blending in and not being seen or having a huge presence in the day. I wear white, when I’m full of energy and want to stand out and be seen on a spring or summer’s day after hibernating over winter.


I’m not one to judge what other people wear, however, I can always pick up clues on another person’s personality or demeanour by checking out the colours they wear; it is insightful.  Like a person’s star sign, each person’s personality, opinion and response to colour can have a huge impact in variance to broad colour theories. Also, every theory can have two sides, for example, many people associate black with seriousness, formality, negativity, power, even negativity and evil.  However, it is also said to radiate glamour, sophistication, style, intelligence and security.

After having a keen interest in using colour from a young age, I studied colour theory in my landscape design diploma at Ryde Horticultural School and then a few years later at Sydney Design School, where I studied Interior Design.

I was lucky to have very passionate teachers who taught me, one in particular at Sydney Design School, who spoke as if colour was the most important thing in this world. I listened intently and wanted to soak up each and every lesson and even every word that came out of her mouth!

I learned that there are many layers to colour theory and we delved into them, but like most things we study in school, college or university, I only really picked up and took away with me, the basics and the parts that truly resonated deeply with me and it’s only these aspects that I continue to use in my work to date. The rest is intuition and the creative process which comes from within, which we all need to learn to trust.

The basics of colour theory that I use and how this translates into my work

The complimentary colour palette used at our Bellevue Balcony Garden project

The complimentary colour palette used at our Bellevue Balcony Garden project


Before I get into this, I want to tell you a little story about colour. I, like many of you, I’m sure (please back me up here) wake up some days inspired, thinking that I need to inject more colour into my life!  On these days I have been known to drop everything to go out shopping and impulse purchase a bright red or blue pair of jeans! It allows me to feel that I am being daring, pushing out my comfort zone, and nobody could sway me from my quest of owning and wearing the brightest, loudest pants in the land.


Whenever I’ve done this I most certainly find myself only wearing these pants once or twice a decade at the most and then these lovely bright pants that I loved so much, end up in the next wardrobe clear out and then of course into the Salvo’s bin! I can feel the ‘aha’ moments happening out there dear reader. I tell this story as I believe colour needs to be used in a timeless sophisticated way and having a basic understanding of colour theory will allow you to do this.

I use colour outdoors in subtle ways and I don’t believe that you always need a bright feature wall or a pair of bright red jeans to create drama and add interest to your garden or your life!

Colour can be used in subtle ways on mass or with styling accessories like table top pots, cushions; much the same way. you might add a neck scarf to bring something vibrant to your outfit.

If you look at a colour wheel, you’ll see the familiar true primary colour of the rainbow.  These pure colours are referred to as a hue, meaning colour in its pure form.  I see a lot of people when decorating their homes or outdoor space they think “ok what colour shall I use as an accent in my home.” They might choose red. With this choice, they might do a red splashback, red toaster, red kettle and red tea towels, all in the kitchen.

Then they move into the lounge room choosing red cushions and a red vase to follow through on their chosen accent colour! Can you see where I'm going with this?……. it kinda makes me cringe!

There are other ways we can approach colour for accenting a scheme. We can add white to primary colours to fade them out, making them lighter than the hue. This is referred to as a tint and of course, on the flip side, we could add black and grey tint to our primary colours which dirties them up and create what is known as tones and shades. I find these dirty colours work beautifully in a garden setting or any outdoor space. Tone can soften, add subtle complexity and sophistication whereas shade can create depth and mystery.  These are the most pleasing to the eye and are the most interesting to use in designing and indoor or outdoor space.

At the end of the day, what’s most important to remember, I think, is to have fun with colour.  Don’t take it too seriously, it’s all about expressing yourself and your personality.  If you are drawn to a particular colour and it makes you feel great – use it!