Letting It Rip With Color

– Posted in: Garden Design

It was the great Christopher Lloyd, who upon my first visit to Great Dixter, facilitated me in opening my eyes to the fact that startling, contrasting color could make for an exuberant, edgy garden. When I took my first stroll down his long border and saw crisp red and orange cannas a few feet away from some sweet, deep pink flower, close to the color of Geranium psilostemon, I felt my skin crawling. It took a few more years for me to begin to appreciate Lloyd’s authentic ‘joie de vivre’ and  keen sense of color in creating his garden palettes. So, for those of us (of which I think there are several) who still feel a bit tentative and restrained in experimenting with a wide swathe of colors in the garden, I say bite the bullet and let it rip. As my gardening pal, Chris Woods, has always contended in a somewhat saracastic tone: ” This is not brain surgery. It’s only plants. If you don’t like how they look, take them out and start over again”.

In this first picture at Doe Run in Unionville, Pa., orange potentilla becomes even more electric when placed in front of a grouping of pale and deeper pink astibles. Orange and pink together? You bet. It’s a winner!

This next picture, again at Doe Run, is almost the mirror image of the first with a soft pink Filipendula palmata in the background with masses of golden rudbeckia and a bi-colored orange-yellow type of daisy (anyone know its nomenclature?) taking center stage.

At Chanticleer’s hillside garden in mid-summer, the effect of Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, with just the hint of a delicate, deep, almost magenta flower flitting about in the landscape, is breathtaking.

And what can be more stunning than the simplicity of a single Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, surrounded by the soft pinkish, violet petals of some echinaceas with their golden disks?

Another example of a wide pallete of colors working together…orange, red and pink and purple…doing beautifully in a spring scene at Chanticleer. To my eye, it is the soft purple of the large allium heads which act as the foundation of these photos.

And finally, another meadow scene at Chanticleer, with Allium atropurpureum leading the way, followed by a chorus of other colors, blending and contrasting: but over all, a picture of great exuberance, encompassing a wide range of colors.

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.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
7 comments… add one

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Lisa at Greenbow February 28, 2008, 7:32 am

AAaaaahhhhh yes, Just what the dr ordered today. Color and lots of it.

Frances February 28, 2008, 7:34 am

I am on board with all colors go together. It was Lloyd’s book, “Flower Garden” that introduced that concept to me. Then it was when we moved to our current house in TN, that my neighbor with a beautiful large garden said how she mixed all the colors up, and the result was stunning. Maybe it is the eyesight weakening with age that allows the appreciation of color combos formerly shunned, I’m not sure. But nature puts these color together, so why not?

Frances at Faire Garden

Tina February 28, 2008, 7:37 am

Wow, I’m glad someone doesn’t think I’m doing it all wrong!

Pam/Digging February 28, 2008, 10:58 am

Great pics to warm up the morning. I love your gardening pal’s comment that gardening isn’t brain surgery. Don’t be afraid to screw up, in other words. It’s great advice for gardening and for life in general.

But not for brain surgeons.

GirlGoneGardening February 28, 2008, 12:05 pm

I love color. I love garsih bright yelling flowers in my garden. The more carnivalish the better!

kate February 28, 2008, 5:39 pm

These are good examples of putting colours together that we had drilled into our heads should never go together. I love colour and experimenting – the two go well hand-in-hand. Good quote from your friend, it really isn’t brain surgery.

Christine March 4, 2008, 5:34 pm

My favorite book is a book on Cottage Gardening by C. Lloyd. I, too needed the color today. Thanks.

Yep, color certainly can brighten up any dreary day. I have a pair of cedar chairs in my garage that were built by Dan Benarcik of Chanticleer (they are just stunning). Anyway, I had spoken with Dan last week and asked him about painting them and he said absolutely go ahead and do it…not a problem. It just so happens that I now have a painter doing some work at my home and when I spoke with him about the best way of painting the chairs and he advised me not to do it: that 3 years down the road, the chairs will peeling and chipping, etc. I just listened to him and thought to myself: ‘he just doesn’t know us gardeners. We’ll do practically anything to get the effect we want, regardless of whether or not it makes sense’.

I will check out Lloyd’s Cottage Gardening book. Thanks for the ‘heads up’. I am a big fan of his gardens and his writings. Fran

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