Orange plants aren’t very popular at flower shows. For that matter, the brightest blooms are often shunned by the best of gardeners and landscape designers. Like Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect. Pick up any garden book, and you’ll probably read words like “garish,” “too bright,” “taudry” and “overstimulating.”
Often, I’ve wondered why? You know I love England, probably the Britannia of 1890, but still . . . .
The gardens, the tea, the scones, and since I’m really sore from moving a huge daylily clump and planting a tree, let’s be honest, the servants. What I could do with a small staff, but I digress.
Although I adore English cottage style, I can’t fathom using only pastel plants. Christopher Lloyd did champion hot colors in many of his books and part of his garden, but I don’t see much emulation of it in English gardening magazines other than an occasional California poppy. By the way, English gardeners are as infatuated with our native plants as we are theirs. Gardeners always want what is difficult to grow in their climate. It makes us feel special when we succeed.
As I’ve traveled, I’ve noticed gardens in the U.S. seem to become more pastel as we move north and east. I wonder if it’s the light. In an Oklahoma summer, the light is very white and “clear.” Under its magnification, light pinks and many soft yellows become white by mid-day. Red and purple daylilies often melt in the sun, and pinks become more peachy as blazing daylight shines on their petals. Golden yellows like the Black-eyed Susans, however, turn their faces toward the sun like bathing beauties who need no sunscreen.
In my own garden, when I conceived its English lines, I originally planted silver foliage plants like Artemisia ‘Silver King’ and A. ‘Powis Castle’ (which came from England), white daisies, and soft pink roses, along with subtle yellows for transition. It looked great in spring, but I began to sense something was missing when I looked over the landscape mid-summer. The garden appeared as faded as my grandmother’s favorite gardening dress.
So, I considered the wildflowers and noticed many of the summer ones were bright, almost primary colors. If nature adorned herself so, who was I to shun such color? So, I added more reds, purples, bright pinks and blues, white and golden yellow.
However, I had to remember to place transitional colors for all the bright ones. Especially with daylilies, I work to make all seem a symphonic whole instead of just color thrown up in the air like so much confetti. I use blue, along with yellow and white for transition. Even pink can move the eye along, but it’s important not to place a blue pink flower directly beside its more peachy counterparts.
I don’t always succeed, but that’s part of the fun of gardening. You’re painting a living canvas, and year after year, you improve upon your work of art.
Now, I suggest you add at least one strong color to your garden this season. What color will it be?