Color: Flying Solo

– Posted in: Garden Design

In taking some photos this week in my garden, I was struck by how the use of one color in a very ‘boundaried’ manner can make for a memorable composition. As gardeners, color plays such a prominent role in our creations, that it is easy to forget that ‘less’ can sometimes prove to be more effective.

Gazing at the branches of Hamamelis x intermida ‘Diane’ in bloom against the stark landscape brought to mind one of the most exquisite of all visual scenes that I remember from a movie: Schindler’s List. The scene, done in black and white, is of a war torn city strewn with carnage. Within this devestation, we see a little girl in a bright red coat walking.  This vision has stuck with me for years as being incredibly powerful. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for us to strive for such ‘solo’ color compositions in the garden (easier done in the winter garden) on occasion.

Another example of a color flying ‘solo’ is the picture below of my periwinkle iron bench. It’s not that it goes unnoticed in the spring and summer but it is much less of a standout when cushioned up against so much other color. Yet, in the winter landscape, it’s hard to miss.

Perhaps you noticed a glimmer of the yellow witch hazel in the background in the photo above. Yet, when I nearly delete the periwinkle chair from the composition below (in lower right hand side), to my eye, the yellow, although hardly vibrant, does proceed hesitatingly to the forefront becuase it no longer has competition from the blue.

Winter is also a great time to observe the color choices you’ve made: not only in benches but with containers and fences, or anything that otherwise becomes an instrument in the orchestra when the garden is in full bloom. For example, the photos below of my lime green fences, allows me to observe them naked and question myself as to whether or not they add a positive element to the garden. What would the cutting garden look like without this block of color at the end of it? Surely a more subdued colored fence would do the job. But there is something about the lime green punch of color that gives this garden a sprinkle of zestiness that is such an integral part of its personality.

And then there is the faded lime green fence at the back end of my property that has been transplanted more times than I care to reminder. Although it does stand out in the neutral tones of this photo, in fact, it is in the spring and summer when it acts as a backdrop to grass green, yellow green and bluish green plant material that it pops out at you.

The photo of this red ceramic container shows its simple beauty. I use several of these red containers in my garden. It may be hard to believe but they actually blend beautifully into the late spring, summer and fall landscapes.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
11 comments… add one

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Mary Beth February 20, 2008, 8:21 pm

Love your winter garden shots – and the design and color lesson they share!

Thanks Mary Beth……I actually enjoyed taking the time to think about what they had to offer after taking the shots. There is always so much to say about color. Fran

jodi February 21, 2008, 12:25 am

Yummy, Fran. We have a similar love for periwinkle blue, I see, and that container is just wonderful. We can’t leave our containers outside in winter–I have only one that is truly frostproof, (guaranteed, so like a rebel I test it by leaving it outside, full of soil at times, full of snow at other times…). You no sooner wrote “Schindler’s List” than that image popped into my head, too.
I sort of like solo-flying colours…I’m working on a post that draws on Piet Oudolf’s mantra that Brown is also a colour, but it’s not done yet!

Believe it or not, it actually took me more than a few times to get that ‘blue’ just right. I would bring in scraps of cloth, vases, etc. to the paint store to have them try to replicate it but somehow when it got painted onto furniture, it just wasn’t quite right….until finally it worked. Am glad to hear that you’re also a periwnikle blue lover… much of it in New Mexico and the South of France….but of course, the sunlight there reflects it beautifully. Will look forward to your post on Oudolf’s mantra of brown as a color…Nan just wrote one this past week which you might want to check. Let us know when you have it posted. I do agree with Oudolf….brown is one of my favorite clothing colors. Fran

Ken from Sweden February 21, 2008, 1:44 am

I like your garden.
What a nice stonewall.
And the red conteiner suites perfectly in the garden whole year.
You shall ask a swedish in the country if he liks red, we on the countryside allmost lived in houses who are red whith white corner.
You can see on my blog right now to see what I mean.
Regards Ken

Am not surprised that Swedes love red. Will get onto your blog in a few minutes to check it out. Always nice to see your comments on our blog. Fran

Lisa at Greenbow February 21, 2008, 5:45 am

Hmmmm I see what you are seeing here. I need to get out and see what blocks of color there are in my garden. More to the point some color. The only color here now is my garden barn. I love the punch of greens that you have. I haven’t thought of green as being so visible. Yet in the winter garden it does draw your eye. This is a wonderful way to look again at the garden.

Thanks for chiming in. Yep, anyway that someone else can help me ‘juggle’ the way my mind is stuck into seeing things in the garden (and in life), I am very appreciative. That’s one of the reason I love these gardening blogs. It’s real gardeners sharing their experiences….success, failures, joys, experiements, etc. fran

Kris at Blithewold February 21, 2008, 8:50 am

This is great! Winter is the perfect back drop for quiet blend-in colors that aren’t so quiet after all – it’s like when your favorite shy person comes out with something riotously funny and you think – “hello! have we met?!” and you see them in a whole “new light”.

Brilliant metaphor! It really hit home with me…..thanks so much for sharing that with us. I think alot of us can identify with what you wrote. Fran

wiseacre February 21, 2008, 11:11 am

Sorry I couldn’t take my eyes off the stone. Then the cedar? trellis started putting ideas in my head with visions of Clematis “Rebel Love” forming a bower.

Coming back to reality I realize I need to add some color. The brown on white view from the windows need a bit of spicing up. My bright red pick up truck isn’t doing the job.

Very funny….love you humour… know, I think that because I work out of my home and so much of my time is spent writing and ‘walking about’ that I spend a fair amount of time gazing outside….any glimmer of color catches my eye and makes me appreciate it all the more because of the sparseness of it this time of year. I love your dreaming of adding Clematis ‘Rebel Love’. Fran

Mr. McGregor's Daughter February 21, 2008, 3:44 pm

Beautiful winter pictures! This points out the need for something with red berries to add a shot of much needed color to my colorless winter garden. I found some great poly/foam pots that look like glazed ceramic but can stay outside all winter. I got 1 in a soft green, but I think I need to add some in cobalt or burgundy.

MM’s Daughter-
Yes, it’s amazing how one shot of color in an another wise muted or bleak composition can add so much. Where did you find these ploy/foam pots? It wasn’t Target, was it? fran

Robin at Bumblebee February 22, 2008, 5:07 pm

The little punches of color are nice little accents in an otherwise brown landscape right now, aren’t they? I think I have gone overboard on the white..white…white. I adore the zesty green and the blue bench. Berries not only add color, but they provide food for the birds. Must get more berries…

Robin at Bumblebee
Color is such an individual preference…who is to say how much is enough? I agree with you on the berries in winter. Everytime I leave my neighborhood, I see a grouping of Ilexes with their glistening red berries in the landscape. It brings me such joy! Fran

Diana February 22, 2008, 8:58 pm

I love this post. You’ve nailed why I love the Japanese quince and the forsythia and all the other things that bloom without much foliage — because it provides a stark contrast between color and flowers and the dark sticks and twigs. You garden looks intriguing and lovely. Can’t wait to see it later as a comparison when it’s all in bloom!

Thanks for your kind words. Yep….is there anything quite as moving as the first blossoms of forsythia in early spring? I literally feel my heart jump a beat when I get a glimmer of some. Fran

Curtis February 23, 2008, 9:23 am

I never have thought about winter color as you have done here with the fine photos.Now I have to go out and find something’s in my yard and garden.

i know how you feel. after the snowfall that we had yesterday, i’ve already set aside a faded green wicker chair to paint that periwinkle blue color of the bench in that post. i want more and more and more color in the garden….especially during winter! fran

Pam/Digging February 26, 2008, 1:26 am

What a good observation. It makes me want to go out looking for blocks of color right now. Too bad it’s just past midnight and the only block of color is black.

I know the feeling. It is very rainy and gray here today. But because of all of this talk of color swirling about, I took a neutral, soft green wicker like chair from living room, plopped down into the garage, took out my can of perwinkle paint and am hoping that over the next few days, I’ll find the time to paint it. It seems that February brings out the desire for lots of color in all of us! Fran

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