We are still talking colour theory at great length here. In great detail. In part this is driven by the start of the new year of gardening conversation with Tony Murrell on Radio Live’s Home and Garden Show. Tune in around 7.45am on Sunday if you want to listen live. Both Tony and I like to clarify our thoughts before we go on air and for me, that often means extended conversations with Mark, whom I have been known to call my in-house advisor or expert. This week’s conversations have been around the relatively modern idea of gardens themed on a single colour.
If you think of colours, basically a monochromatic garden is either reds, yellows or blues, whites or maybe green or black. What they all have in common is that green is regarded as colour neutral in a tightly colour-controlled garden. So whichever colour you choose, it is plus green. White, however, is not colour neutral in a colour-themed garden.
I have nothing more to say about white gardens that I have not said already. Except to reiterate that the most effective white gardens that I have seen are comprised of heavy flowering white perennials, sometimes mixed with annuals or biennials – so summer gardens at their peak. For a list of previous posts on white gardens, skip to the end.
Black gardens? Way better in theory than in practice and even then it will still be a novelty garden (you should be able to hear the disdain in my voice). I have only ever seen one and that was a public planting in the village of Giverny. It was underwhelming. I wonder if they just didn’t have the black ophiopogon (mondo grass) because it was all black pansies, dark ajuga and dark foliaged shrubs. Besides the fact that it seems extremely unlikely that black ever lifted anybody’s spirits or brought joy to their day, most plants that are described as black are in fact very deep burgundy. Leave it at the theory stage, is my advice.
I recently read an opinion that it is easier to manage a red garden than either blue or yellow. I beg to differ. And I think that comes back to the colour wheel and the role of white.
If you do a blue garden, the blues on the yellow side of the spectrum will be green-toned and therefore fit into the blue and green colour range. Those closer to red will throw to purple which sits perfectly happily alongside the blue and green tones. Add some white and you get pastel shades – pale blues, lilacs and lavenders and they all sit harmoniously in that blue colour palette.
I have seen two blue borders. The first was at Sissinghurst where we liked it much more than the famous white garden. The second was at Parham House in Sussex and it had been freshly renovated and was lovely. I am of the view that you can never have too much blue in a garden but that is personal taste.
A similar scenario sits with a yellow garden. Head to the blue side and it is in the green shades. Head to the red side and it introduces orange. Add white and it is simply a paler hue of the same colour. I have only seen one example of an all yellow garden which may be a reflection on the unfashionable status of yellow and orange at this time in history. It was okay. Not stunning but fine and done well at Parham House again.
Red is different. Pure reds are rare. Most lean either to the blue side which gives the purple and burgundy hues or to yellow which gives orange. Add white and you get a totally different colour – pink. There is no way I can see pinks as ‘pale red’. Then there are the many reds that are really closer to brown. I am not a fan of brown flowers, personally.
I have seen two red borders – the classic red border at Hidcote and Alan Trott’s red border at his garden near Ashburton. Both were mixed borders and red foliaged shrubs mostly lean to the burgundy shades. That dominance of burgundy, even with splashes of scarlet, can seem quite sombre to my eyes. It comes down to taste.
Similarly, all green gardens can seem a bit gloomy to me, but I am writing this on a grey, rainy day. I can’t complain because we need the rain. Our rain deficit this summer is such that we are still an official drought area, but when I look out the window, the green does not look restful so much as sombre. To me, it is bold colour that lifts such scenes.
I am not convinced that it is as easy as some folks think to plant a monochromatic garden. At least not one of a high standard horticulturally and visually. I think it is easier to go to a two-colour garden (+ green, of course) but more of that next time. However, should you still hanker for a single coloured garden, I have one bit advice gleaned from looking at gardens created by some excellent horticulturists and skilled gardeners. Don’t be too slavish in your dedication to a single colour. Sometimes a flash of another colour can lift the whole scene. A splash of bright pink in a blue border maybe. Or a spire of blue blooms in a yellow garden. How about the bright orange bloom of a canna lily with burgundy foliage in a red border?
Earlier posts on white gardens: