There was a time when I feared vibrant color. Although I painted during college, I worried about adding color accents to my garden. So many rules about what goes with what. No fuchsia. No orange. No school bus yellow. No fun.
I have an English-styled country garden, but it is in rural Oklahoma. As a young gardener, I read a lot of English gardening advice. I cut my horticultural teeth on the works of Vita Sackville-West and Gertrude Jekyll. I now know much of their ideas formed from experience in a maritime climate with moderate weather compared to ours. Cloudy skies change how we see color. I’m not saying England doesn’t have sunny days. It does. They seem to fall in June and July between showers. In Oklahoma, we are sunny much of the year. It is rarely cloudy unless a storm is on the horizon. You might not realize this from the tornadic weather we’ve had this spring, but it’s true. Storms blow in, and then move on south or east. February is our cloudiest month, and it’s nearly too much for me. I could never live in Seattle or Portland.
Clear blue skies, almost white in summer, call for bright and bold measures. Our sun twists out subtle pastels like a wringer washer. I have a section of the garden with pastel flowers like light pink Rosa ‘Radyod’ (Blushing Knockout), but by July, it is white instead of light pink. I sometimes envy the serenity of a garden full of subtle hues, but then I remember my climate and accept where I’m planted.
Several years ago, I discovered Christopher Lloyd’s book, Colour for Adventurous Gardeners. Here was an English garden authority who said it was okay to love color. Although my garden will never compare to Great Dixter, I finally felt justified in my plant and accent choices. About the same time, I saw Gail at Clay and Limestone and Pam Penick at Digging were using color with abandon. Their blogs and Lloyd’s book set me on the path of rich color. I no longer fear it, but I’m careful not to use too many colors at once, or it could become a floral circus.
A lot of my garden became fixed as it matured over the years. Some of the beds are twenty years or older now. Others were dug only a few years ago. I also changed as I’ve matured. I now tend to like red . . . a lot, so I’m using more red and yellow roses in the lower garden these days. My love of red started when I couldn’t find the blue pot I wanted for a fountain. I found red instead, and it changed my life.
I’ve removed a few roses, and that changed the way the garden looks too. Some of the older roses succumbed to Rose Rosette Disease. Since I can’t plant a rose in the same hole due to diseased root fragments, I replaced two ‘New Dawn’ roses at the end of the lower garden with Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ last summer. These are dwarf oakleaf hydrangeas, but they will still fill the space. To enhance their red stems and aging blooms–starting out white and aging to a lovely rosy red–I planted four Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’ nearby. There is nothing subtle about these colors, but they work with the glass art, shown above, I added to the garden a couple of seasons ago. I placed it to highlight Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ growing in the shady section of the garden. Red for its hot pink stems in winter, and green to echo green leaves and bark in summer. You should see it in fall when the leaves change to golden amber. This September, I’ll take a photo and show you.
Changing these colors in the garden made me realize that beneath a shy exterior–I am truly shy–I promise–I have a vibrant interior life.
I’m in the process of painting all of the arbors light green to help them blend into the space, but I left the chairs in the lower garden French blue because of the blue pots on the back deck. I painted the lattice surrounding the deck a darker blue. It helps the lattice-work to fade into the shadows in the afternoon and is a lovely backdrop to Lycoris radiata every fall. Purple and lemon yellow daylilies are also beautiful against this blue.
Recently, at Mary Ann Newcomer’s suggestion, I read Making Gardens Works of Art: Creating Your Own Personal Paradise, by Keeyla Meadows. On the Bloggers’ Fling in San Francisco later this month, I understand we’re visiting her garden among many wonderful others. I can hardly contain my excitement. I found myself underlining section after section of her book. She also wrote Fearless Color Gardens: The Creative Gardener’s Guide to Jumping Off the Color Wheel. Either book will introduce you to fantastic color selections and what to do with them.
After six years of blogging, I find the blog category, color, is one I often highlight. My garden is my palette and my canvas. I work hard to bring all of it life every spring. In winter, I say goodbye to vivid expression, but then I see the garden in sepia tones. It is an old photograph which will come to life again the following spring.
Wake up to color. If you like pastels, great. There are wonderful choices in pastel colorations too. However, as I’ve gotten over my inherent shyness, I now express myself in bold strokes, and that’s a wonderful thing. Color, like blogging, changed my life. Perhaps, it will change yours too.