07 January 2010

A burst of ebullience: Fearless Color Gardens by Keeyla Meadows

Okay, let's get something straight from the beginning, shall we? The name of this book is Fearless Color Gardens. I am a Canadian so I spell colour with a U. In the interest of accuracy, if I refer to Meadows' book I'll spell the word the way she does, but otherwise, it'll be spelled in Canadian. Just so's you all know what's going on when you see Color and Colour. Maybe even in the same sentence. Just humour me, okay? It's one of those quirky things we Canadians (some of us) do.

About a week before Christmas, the latest offering from Timber Press arrived at my door, and I opened the envelope and promptly began to grin. When a book cover makes you grin, chances are you'll be entertained throughout the whole volume. That's certainly been my experience. I hope it will be yours as well.

We all respond to colour in myriad ways, and we each have our favourite colours, in our homes, in our wardrobes, in our gardens. My own garden tends toward brilliant, jewellike colours, calmed in places by cooling white or just by the softness of green foliage. The garden is a place to play with colour, and if something doesn't work, you can change it next year, or in the next container planting, or by adding something that ties themes together better for you.

There are a lot of books out there about colour in the garden. Two of my favourites are both by English writers; Color for Adventurous Gardeners by the late and marvelous Christopher Lloyd, and The Bold and Brilliant Garden by equally marvelous Sarah Raven.

To those authors I now add Keeyla Meadows and Fearless Color Gardens. Meadows has written a wonderfully approachable, user-friendly look at creating a brilliant, fun and lively garden, using plants as well as hardscaping, containers, sculptures, found art. While I think some of her paintings and sculptures wouldn't work in a soggy foggy climate such as ours (they somehow seem best suited to a sun drenched and warm climate) I love her sense of colour and unfailing joy and desire to play.

But it's not all a random hodgepodge of colour thrown higglety pigglety, because that just results in a muddiness. Meadows has created a colour triangle, rather than a colour wheel, that to my mind works perfectly because you can't help but remember the three apices, or corner points/primary colours, and then the secondary shades (contrasting and harmonizing) that come along when the primaries are mixed. Especially fun is the photo of her colour triangle, composed of flower blossoms.

Meadows provides worksheets throughout the book, which she suggests readers photocopy and keep several copies of in a garden journal. She also has many "Try This" suggestions which are practical questions and recommendations about working with colour in your garden. Her overall tone is fun and encouraging, never didactic or "thou shalt not"; even when she has suggestions about how to make something look better, she doesn't resort to the sort of high-faluting snobby tone seen in some of the more hoity-hort (tm my friend Sonia Day in her fun new book Middle Aged Spread) type garden writers out there.

In short, Meadows is a cheerleader for gardens full of colour, and of gardeners unafraid to push their boundaries.

Just my kind of gardener and writer.


  1. Wow, just the colours on the cover makes me want to run out and get this book. I have not seen it at the bookstores yet. Could yours be an advance copy?

  2. I'm looking forward to reading this one. Just the thing to warm one up on a cold winter day, eh?

  3. Jodi... wonderful review! Your use of color and colour throughout works perfectly. You have me at 'higglety pigglety' and I am taken with the idea of a colour triangle. This sounds like a creative and inspiring book and because of your introduction I may call and order it tomorrow. Thank you! Carol

  4. Sounds interesting! I agree with Pam, good for a cold winter day, of which we are having an improportionate proportion.

  5. Yes, midwinter is a lovely time to fantasize about color. Or colour. (though I'm from the U.S., I've often thought the "colour" spelling makes more sense, if you think about the way we pronounce it).

  6. Just seeing all that colo(u)r on a book cover in January is bound to make anyone smile. I'm not a big fan of bright colors in the garden, though--does "fearless" color also include subtle as a choice? If so, I'm in!

  7. Looks like a great book, Jodi. I shall be on the lookout for it.

  8. Great review! I haven't heard much about this book yet, and based on your review it sounds like one I must get my hands on! Especially since you said she's not 'high falutin'...something I loathe in 'the experts'!

    I'm also a fan of ditching the color/colour wheel...I've never used one or recommended one to a client as they're so intimidating and 'rule-based'! I tell people 'If you can dress yourself in the morning, you can garden without a wheel!'.....

  9. Jodi, Your colourful (note the proud U) posts over the past few days is like a shot in the gardening arm. Hope you're feeling better.

    BTW, looks like you and I know a lot of the same people. I first met Sonia when I was a master gardener in Toronto, and I see your GardenImport trials page lists Dan Cooper, who joined the MGs in the same year I did. He and I just reconnected at a GWA meet at the RBG (I don't think I've used so many acronyms in a sentence ever).

  10. Color triangle? Sounds almost romantic! Great review Jodi!

  11. I love this book too. It's got me so excited for spring and all the things I want to paint.

  12. Great review, Jodi, love the cover (reminds me of Menopause Madness)! BTY~loving these Mac sticky notes that I've just written the name of the book on :)

  13. I had to smile when you discussed the spelling of colour. My grandparents live in Canada and when I was young I just loved the way colour looked with a "u" in it. I immediately started spelling it that way in anything I wrote at school and just hoped that a teacher would tell me I spelled it wrong so I could correct her :)
    Anyway, this book sounds great. I love lots of colour in the garden. I'll be looking for this book.

  14. Jodi,
    I so enjoyed this book! And Keeyla makes it so easy to explore and play with color. I was inspired to create a color journal, and work a little harder to make peace with the color red. I loved her suggestions for combining plants in pots, and her artwork is amazing. Great review!!


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