Our sense of color is fickle, and that’s especially true in our gardens, which are always changing.
OUR SENSE OF color is fickle, as changeable as our perception of garden color when it rains, or when a cloud passes beneath the sun. If you visited the Seattle Art Museum’s recent Yves Saint Laurent fashion exhibit, and walked through the hallway with thousands of fabric swatches arranged in cascading shades from deep umber to brightest pink, you probably experienced color as visceral, intense, engaging.
Such a bravado show of color stirs up memories and emotions. So do the many tints and shades in a garden, but unlike a museum exhibit, gardens aren’t static. Gardeners are always messing about with color, creating and rearranging combinations of leaf and flower. But this color play is nothing compared to nature’s contribution to the garden scene. Plants morph in color, texture, shape and size through the seasons. Then there’s fog, rain, sun, mist, frost, dawn light and moonlight, all of which change how we perceive color by the minute, hour and day, as well as the time of year.
So how, with all this flux and possibility, do gardeners develop such inexplicable yet stubborn color prejudices? Years ago, it seemed that everyone scorned orange. Then hot colors replaced pastels in our affections. Remember when the pairing of dusty pink with silver foliage was cool? After seeing so many gardens seared by the dramatic combo of black and chartreuse, the pairing of pink chrysanthemums with dusty miller seems pallid and kind of quaint. Gardeners tell me they adore violet, anything violet, but would never let a white flower in their garden. Go figure.
Flowers and foliage in new colors are introduced every year, and our tastes change. Who would have thought that ebony flowers, the darker the better, would be so prized? Right now, varying shades of green on green look fresh. It’s all about color, or lack of color, or the…