Friday, 6 December 2013

Colour in the garden. Week 1: Monochrome

If you've taken the time to look at my Twitter or Pinterest accounts you'll see that I'm not only interested in gardens. This can sometimes be a huge distraction, when I feel it's time to design dresses or decorate the house, but the disciplines of design are applicable in all areas and actually change little.

I wanted to look at the way colour is used in the garden, and how the rules of colour theory apply when in an ever changing setting. This week I'm going to look at monochrome, or restricted schemes.

True monochrome means one colour only. The place you'll see this term the most is probably in reference to black and white photography.The reason that 'black AND white' photographs are monochrome is that they are just variations on a tone. Think of the photo as grey. The palest parts have the most white added, and the darkest part have the most black added. In this way you can create monochrome images and settings in real life from any colour, made up of various tones.

Of course in a garden absolute monochrome would be not only difficult, but not very interesting to look at! Think not only planting, but pots, woodwork, walls, etc! The first picture is a great example of a monochrome garden working. You've got white in the painted stonework, and the natural wood in the decking and chippings, then everything else is green. It works very well. There is very little variation in the colour of the greenery too, a little bit of blue leaf here and there, but the rest of it works simply because of the great use of texture. Texture is the key to a monochrome scheme, whether it is in the garden, or a living room, or on a dress or painting.

A purely green on green scheme in the garden is a strong statement, and leaves great scope for architectural design within the garden as well as some fascinating planting combinations. Ferns, grasses, topiary, evergreens, and the host of green flowered plants you can find can create different textures, play with the light differently, make different sounds when the rain falls or the wind blows. I think that limiting your colour palette to one colour makes all your other senses all the more important and acute.

Green as a colour is generally pretty neutral. I mean this in terms of the emotions it creates. Unlike some colours, like red, orange and yellow, green doesn't excite, and neither does it calm like blue and white can. It soothes, that's perhaps the best way to describe it. Clearly an all green garden would have nothing to pick out instantly, the eye would not have a focus in respect to colour, meaning that the garden as a whole would work as one, the eye would slide from shape to shape. There would be no stress or strain as your eyes and brain don't need to do battle with the environment to work out what's going on. Green is generally accepted as the colour which is easiest on the eye (supposedly the part of the eye which detects light vs dark, is better when looking at greens.)

A final point about our monochrome green garden is of course that it could easily be designed to change little with the seasons, and could also be very low maintenance.

But what if you like dead heading? Or your not in the mood to be soothed? Or, do you like a little colour? Do you just want a bit more variation in the plants you can grow?

In that case lets move on. When I've been looking at, and reading about garden planning and design, I often see the term monochromatic also applied to gardens that use one flower colour. So, a 'white' garden would clearly be white and green. In my pedantic head this annoys me. I have just tried to do a search for variations on a 'two colour, colour scheme'....nothin'. So with a little knowledge of pre-fixes I managed to find the words 'Monochromatic, dichromatic, trichromatic and tetrachromatic', meaning one, two, three and four colours. It was in respect to colour vision and deficiencies, so I don't know if these are the correct name in reference to anything else..........Anyway! Enough about my pedantic nature and lover of the correct words.

Lets look at dichromatic colour schemes!

It almost looks like snow has fallen doesn't it?

As you can see, a green and white garden creates a calm, cool and relaxing feeling. In the above example the eye is kept busy with all those great textures and shapes. The mixture of the spiky tulips and grasses and the more rounded shapes of the other flowers and leaves works well, but none of this busyness detracts from that mellow feeling.

White as a colour is often thought to denote innocence and purity, cleanliness, death, and new beginnings. It's calm, cool, clean and unsullied.

White flowers sometimes attract more nocturnal insects, as they are still visible at night. But, as with every other colour of flower, scented and open flowers are best for this!

Returning to texture and shapes, the above photo creates brilliant tension. The thick heavy drooping Wisteria contrasts beautifully with the sporadic, loose and light planting beneath it.

Back with colour theory for a moment. White is as neutral as you can get. Light colours tend to recede, which means that they open up spaces, (imagine a room painted white and the same room painted black. The white room would feel much larger than the black one.) White planting would help to make a small garden seem larger. In the above example they have added bamboo to the back of the border adding height, which will also make a space feel bigger, and the heavily planted borders beneath add depth. This could easily be mimicked in a small garden.

Now we move on to colour. Real, juicy, evocative, sensuous, eye popping colour. Just what you've been waiting for huh?

Mmm...Red. Red, the colour of sex, danger, love, passion, warning and heat. The above picture, despite being taken in a cloudy moment, has a real feeling of being hot and empowering.

This garden uses repetition of the tulips for impact and the addition of red foliage. These darker reds create a calmer feeling, as does the light planting. The space in between the plants make it airy and not oppressing, which with such dark colours, I image it could feel if heavily planted. Dark colours advance, the opposite of the white above. They can help draw together a large space. Warm colours also have this affect, so with red the result is doubly so. This is why a light touch with the planting of dark reds is needed. Yet as with the white and the all green gardens, the effect of having only one colour to focus on leaves the eye free to find the form and structure of the garden itself.

Blue. A cold colour, one for feeling relaxed, and calm (although sometimes you can find a 'warm' blue.) In this example they've planted large blocks of the colour. I'm not sure I'd have made a blue garden in such a shaded spot. I imagine that unless it gets a lot of sunlight the garden would leave you feeling melancholic and physically cold. Don't get me wrong, the garden is beautiful, well designed and well planted, but I'd want the sun blasting it to feel comfortable there.

Yet another blue garden in the shade. This one looks like painted clouds to me. Ok, this one cheats a bit as it has white flowers in there too. This huge bed is opened up even further because the colour is another receding one. The huge variety of textures in this area almost become one due to the heavy planting. I'm wondering if this works, and isn't over powering, because all the blues are actually very similar in tone. There is little difference between the colour of one flower compared to the next. If this garden were in red instead I think it would blast your senses far too much.

Aaah, cute, girly, soft, undemanding pink. I actually don't like pink much. I accept it here and there but I don't think I'd ever create a pink garden or have a pink room. But it does in this picture create a very cottagey garden feeling. It's oldy Worldy and very English. Pink roses are very evocative of an English Country Garden.

I did find, on my internet based researchy travels, a couple of beautiful pictures of pink gardens which were not in this cottage style. Unfortunately I couldn't find the original source so I couldn't put them up here. They both used cherry blossom as the main feature. They were much more in the style that perhaps I'd use if I were tempted by pink, Very bold, with the architectural structure of the garden smothered in the focus colour of pink.

Before I move on to my last colour perhaps I should mention the seasons again. I said earlier that the all green garden was a blessing in that it stayed the same if you chose your plants carefully. The change from summer to winter would be far less marked than with flower gardens.

This is certainly true. In my above example of the cherry blossom gardens, that is such a tiny season. A few weeks where that garden would be pink, and after that the main feature would fade and and become green, and then where is your pink garden?

This is where the skill of the gardener comes in. I certainly haven't mastered planting for all the seasons yet. I am still pretty new to this gardening malarkey. But, I am sure it can be done.

Perhaps you plant daffodils for the spring, tulips a little later, you can have mahonia, barberry. Cotoneaster could provide you with yellow berries, as could rowan, and then you could plant dog woods with yellow stems for the winter.

A little note on yellow before moving on with green and coloured gardens for all seasons. Yellow is another colour from the warm side of the colour wheel. It is bright and airy. Denotes happiness, freedom, excitement. It's a difficult one in terms of how the colour effects the space it resides in. It's warm so should advance, but it mostly a light colour and therefore recedes. I think it depends which shades you use (orangey-yellows would advance for instance,) and what size and shape the space is, and which direction it faces. I'd use warmer yellow shades in a North facing garden, but would be careful if that space were small, as those warmer tones could make it seem smaller. Perhaps in that scenario, I'd use a mixture of colours. Either a Harminous, Complementary or Split Complementary or Triad scheme (tune in over the next few weeks for a focus on them!)

I remember in my Mum's garden a little while ago I noticed a curious effect. She wasn't a keen gardener, and did it grudgingly at best. But she was also a designer and couldn't leave it to be a mess. So she planted and at least tried to keep on top of the worst of the invasive plants. Now, I can't remember the order, but the season would start with yellow in the spring. Up would pop daffodils, there was a forsythia, and a number of other yellow plants. A bit later on these would mostly fade, and the pink flowers would start to come out. Roses, geraniums. Then a little later it would start to slide in to purples and blues. The lilac came out, and a few irises I think. This was years ago and totally by accident, but I think it's a great concept that could be used. Why stick to just one monochromatic (or dichromatic) scheme in your garden?

I hope you've found this useful and inspiring! Come back next week for Harmonious schemes.

Have you got a monochrome or two-tone garden that you want to share?  Has this got you thinking about starting a garden in this style? I'd love to hear from you!

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