How garden designer Lisa Cox uses colour psychology in her creative process


With my Colour for Creatives workshop just around the corner I'm busy immersing myself in the preparations. I have so many exciting exercises, treats and surprises planned for the day and as well as thinking about preparing my slides, handouts and notes, I'm also thinking about how those of you joining me might use colour psychology within your own businesses. Whilst many people come on the workshop to find their focus and kick-start a rebrand, many also come because they are curious about how they might use colour psychology in their own businesses. And whilst I talk a lot about how colour psychology transformed my creative process, I thought it might be interesting to share an example from a totally different industry.

Lisa Cox is a talented garden designer originally from Surrey and now based in rural Monmouthshire. Lisa has been using the principles of colour psychology as a core part of her design process ever since I introduced her to my teacher more than six years ago.

Using colour psychology for garden design

Like me, Lisa uses the seasonal personalities as a base to design a garden that will not only look beautiful, but feel right for its' inhabitants. And whilst you may be forgiven for thinking that it's simply about picking out plants that will flower in the relevant season, actually it's about designing a space that reflects the spirit of the season, whatever the time of year.

If they are a spring personality she knows to include lots of circular forms and an element of water.


This circular 'pond' with it's sparkling lights and element of movement (the water drains and refills) along with the curved paths and lightness of touch in the planting makes for a garden fit for a spring personality. Image: Lisa Cox

For her summer clients she knows that sharp corners are out - the garden needs to flow, but that formality and structure in some form are essential.


Image: Lisa Cox box is a favourite for giving soft, formal structure and an elegance so beloved by the summer personality.

Autumnal clients will appreciate natural, artisan features with plenty of substance.


Image: Lisa Cox this picture may be taken in autumn, but it's the abundance of planting, natural form and intensity of colour that gives it an autumnal spirit.


This fabulously eclectic garden is immensely autumnal in character - just look at the bursts of colour, the relaxed, informal layout and the earthy, handmade touches like the mosaic and the sign. Image Lisa Cox.

Her winter clients will be looking for an element of drama - often in the layout with strong lines and blocked planting. Often, a stripped back colour palette will give this effect whilst sculpture will be something that makes a true statement.

M&G Chelsea Flower Show garden 2012 Lisa Cox

Image: Lisa Cox. The clean lines and bold upright forms create a strong impression. Look at the crisp edges both on the steps and in the wall and the single colour scheme.

Let's explore this in some more detail with Lisa shall we?

How do you use colour psychology within your design process?

Normally, when I first meet with clients, I ask them to pull together a mood board. The process of doing this really helps to present a visual picture of the things that inspire them and also what their personal style looks like.  I always think it’s much easier to communicate that message in pictures rather than trying to articulate what textures, materials and places ignite their passion.  Sometimes this isn’t possible so on occasions I go through this process with clients at our initial meeting.  I also have some prepared seasonal boards that I take with me as these often rule out at least two of the seasons quite quickly.

I do think there’s such value in the act of cutting and sticking images onto a board – it’s something to do with the mechanics of this physical process that really makes people connect to the images they’re looking at and, when they have to stick them down, they really have to commit to them.  But online tools such as Pinterest work well too, sometimes better.  It really depends on the client.

I ask questions too but these aren’t always obvious “what do you want in your garden” questions.  One of the key questions I ask is “if you could go for a walk anywhere, where would it be?” – A walk along a beach on a cold crisp winter day will have a very different feeling to walking in a beech wood in autumn.  All these clues help me to understand which colour season I should be working with.

What impact does it have on your designs?

Mood boards are really powerful tools as they quickly and clearly set out which colour season the garden should be shaped from. Normally there’s a mixture of seasons so, for instance, a mood board demonstrating a predominantly contemporary “Winter” style with crisp corners, straight edges and smooth sawn paving might be married with the soft airy planting of a summer garden with cool muted colours and silvery foliage.

What did you find the most challenging part of learning/ implementing it?

My personal style is Autumn with a strong influence of Summer so initially it was challenging to work with seasons that I don’t really feel naturally drawn to. But getting to grips with each season has really helped me to form better relationships with my clients and I think it has enhanced my ability to design with integrity because I can better appreciate what it is about each season that will really make them passionate about their garden.

Is it something you explain to your clients?

I used to tell clients, probably because I was so excited about using it when I first went through my training, but now I see it as part of my design process and I don’t think it needs to be sung from the rooftops on a daily basis. Colour psychology is something I use to enhance the way I work and how I interact with my clients so I see it more as an internal process and skill that I apply to help me to get the design right.

Now that you’ve moved from suburban Surrey to a much more rural environment do you imagine this will change the way you design?

My ideas about how I design gardens have already changed, even after such a short period of time.  I feel much more in tune with the surrounding countryside and now that we live in such an inspiring and invigorating landscape I have a very clear direction to take the design i.e. it HAS to feel as though it fits within the landscape around it.

Even the gardens of our local towns, Monmouth and Chepstow, are connected to the hills so this will certainly influence my approach to designing gardens in these locations.  Getting the design right is a combination of personal style, the practical requirements, the layout and style of the house and the things that get people passionate about their garden space.  And it’s also about what sits beyond the fence, whether that’s a skyscraper or Welsh valley, the garden must be in tune with it.

Having said that, I firmly believe that a garden should reflect and inspire the people that will spend time in it, so that element of my process will stay the same.

What are your plans for the future?

The past 9 months since we moved has been a period of transition and I’ve been working in Surrey quite a bit finishing off with existing clients.  But I also designed a show garden at RHS Cardiff in April and have worked with a few local clients which is brilliant.  So my plan is to take a step back right now so that I can plan and relaunch my business properly in Monmouthshire and the surrounding counties as I’d much prefer the majority of my work to be more local.

Where can we find you? My blog, The Room Outside, is probably the best place to see what I’ve been up to and I also share lots of tips and advice which I hope will help you to create your own stunning garden. I like to share the things that inspire me too.  Or you can find me on Twitter @LisaCoxGardens