17 February 2008
Colour in the Garden: Be Bold!
As my friend Kylee says, a garden designer I ain't. It's well known I may possibly be just a little bit of a plant addict...I just love plants, trying old as well as new varieties, trying different colours, textures, heights, and so on. I'm not shy about using colour in our gardens. The fun thing about playing with plant colours is if something doesn't work, you can change it quickly--it's not like painting your house and deciding it's not quite the right shade.
One of my favourite authors and inspirations is the late, great Christo Lloyd, and this book is one of a few I would have to take with me if I were stranded on a desert island.
In past posts I've written how Christo exhorts gardeners to 'learn the rules of colour--so you can break them!' Never being one to follow rules too rigourously, that works just fine for me. It was fun to find that rules I thought I was scandalously bending are things he approves of wholeheartedly.
There aren't too many colours I don't like, mostly because in many cases the shape of the flower or the bloom period or other feature overrules any hesitation I have about a particular colour. I'm not strong on pastels, but I do have some, of course. There's just one problem with pastels, and that has more to do with where I live than with the colours themselves.
Well, when you deal with as much RFD (Rain, Fog and Drizzle) as we oceanside dwellers do in summer months, you don't want to have only soft pastels...at least I don't! Not only do they tend to look like hell when the wet causes roses to ball like soggy lumps of kleenex, they just look washed out after day 3 of fog.
Whereas this would never look washed out, would it? This is a friend's garden, down the Valley where the heat shimmers in high summer. Marnie has some similar colour tastes and plant loves as I do, obviously, because hers is one of my favourite gardens, private or public!
Maybe some people find this many bright coloured plants tiring on the eyes...in which case you can cool them down nicely with something a little more neutral, like silver foliage on these rose campion plants (Lychnis coronaria, at least I think it still is unless the taxonomists have had a meeting!)
While this may cause some to run shrieking in horror, blue and orange is one of my absolute favourite colour pairings in the garden. I wouldn't wear those colours together, I don't think, but in the garden they provide me an instant lift. As an added bonus, both the wallflower (cv unknown, sadly) and the corydalis (C. elata, not the less-hardy-here C. flexuosa)
Some of my plantings have worked out really well, not so much by planning--I'll admit that freely--in earlier years I tossed everything in together and hoped it grew, but now I do plan a wee bit. I like the way the deep wine poppies (and their more red cousins) play off the even deeper wine, almost black foliage of Cimicifuga--whoops, that's Actaea now--'Black Negligee'. There are several gold-foliaged plants nearby to add contrast: Bromus 'Skinner's Gold' and 'Aztec Gold' veronica, among others.
It's no surprise that I'm a voracious reader, of magazines, newspapers, books, blogs and my evergrowing library of gardening books is the envy of many a visitor--those who get let into the sanctum sanctorum of my office. Another of my favourite authors is Britain's Sarah Raven, who is another cheerleader for gardening with joy, whether you're planting peas or portulaca, lettuce or lithops.
When I am feeling really tired and whited out by the dreary days, I know a cup of chai tea and a look through The Bold and Brilliant Garden will make me feel much, much better.
In looking back through photos of past container plantings of annuals, I don't think I've ever used exactly the same combination more than once. Most of our annuals, except the free range species (nigella, poppies, sunflowers and other exuberant selfseeders) are in containers, which I use for portable colour, moving them around the dooryard, entryways, and borders where there's a lull happening. Perhaps some bulbs are dying down, and perennials haven't yet gotten their growth; or perhaps I've whacked some of the perennials down to cajole a second flush of blooms out of them. Pop a container into a bare spot, and voila! Instant brightness. (And all these annuals give my pollinating friends something extra to dine on, too.
There's a lot going on in this particular part of the front garden, I admit it. The plants are selected to take some shade in afternoon, to always provide some colour (that yellow corydalis will flower nonstop until snow) but also there's a fair bit of focus on foliage texture; ranging from the straplike leaves of Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass), Asiatic lilies and hemerocallis to the fernlike Corydalis and Aquilegia species, and the coarser, strong foliage of Echinops. And for good measure, there's the silver spangled foliage of Lamiastrum, Dicentra, and Pulmonaria species. It might be too much for some, but for us, it works. And for the butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and others who visit constantly--it apparently works well, too!
Finally...a shoutout to my computer-genius offspring Ryan, who got into my blog template and made the side panels wider, so that I could post images and html widgets without them overflowing off the template. We're still puzzling over the way the template reacts to titles, but he'll figure that out. He reminded me that we were some of the first people in our area to be on the Internet (1993!) and that he's grown up with all this--he was playing on the Internet when others in his grade 1 class didn't know what it was. I smile, nod, admit to being a pretty good writer and a dunderhead about HTML and Java, and am very grateful for his skills 'behind the scenes'!