Colour inspirations

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Hemerocallis Victorian Violet, which will be used in my new colour scheme

A recent visit to the Art Gallery of NSW to see the current Picasso exhibition had the unexpected result of inspiring a new plant composition for my garden. It was the use of peach and salmon colours combined with teal greens, blues and purples that sparked off an idea for a group of plants I have that had yet to find a home. I have always struggled to use peach and salmon flowers in my garden, as they can clash so horribly with many other hues, but in the paintings I gazed at that day, they looked simply stunning. I came home all fired up to plant out some daylilies (including 'Victorian Violet', pictured) and Canna that I have had in pots literally for years in a grouping based on this combination.

I suppose it is not surprising to be influenced by artists in this way, as they, above most others, have a profound understanding of colour principles. I often buy postcard-sized prints from the Art Gallery of paintings that have caught my eye, even if it is years later that I finally put some aspect of the colour schemes into practice. A still-life painting by Margaret Preston in a retrospective exhibition of her work a few years ago taught me that a small dash of red can look simply brilliant with a larger mass of blue flowers, for example.

Part of my black, white and silver border in its early days

Other experiences have resulted in similar garden inspiration. A stay in a holiday apartment years ago with a black, grey and white-schemed bathroom led directly to the creation of my 'black' (in reality very dark purple-black colours), silver and white garden border, one of my more successful creations. Natural landscapes can also give amazing ideas: my daughter's photos of the burnt-orange sand of the Simpson Desert against a cobalt winter sky last year showed the vibrancy of that particular colour combination, one of my favourites. Some beautiful floral bouquets I have been given over the years have also sparked ideas for plantings in my garden.

Odontonema tubaeforme with dark-leafed Amaranthus caudatus, pairing influenced by Hidcote garden

Visits to other gardens naturally also give wonderful ideas for colour combinations and I confess to having 'borrowed' many of my favourites schemes from clever gardeners. A trip to England 25 years ago when we visited a number of famous gardens had its most long-lasting impact on me via several colour groupings - even though the plants used there themselves were not suitable for my Sydney gardens. A visit to Hidcote's 'Red Garden', with its use of dark plum-coloured foliage in combination with red flowers was probably the first time I had ever seen this done and it took my breath away. Barnsley House, at that time the home of gardening writer Rosemary Verey, had many combinations of lime-green foliage and flowers with blues and purples, which have remained some of my most favourite pairings of all time, and they still give me a frisson of delight, all these years later. The sunset hues in one of the garden rooms at Sissingurst also had a big impact on me, even though it was 20 years before I used those colours together in a garden bed of my own.

Pale blue Eranthemum pulchellum with crimson red Iresine herbstii Brilliantissima, in the garden of Anne Prescott in Sydney

Closer to home, it was the pairing of a milky-blue Adenophora species (similar to Campanula rapunculus) with cerise Lychnis coronaria in my friend Beverley Jenkins's garden more than 20 years ago that particularly thrilled me. I have used that mixture over and over again since then, with a variety of plants of those two colours, such as the juxtaposition of red Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima' with pastel blue Eranthemum pulchellum (pictured) an idea found in another friend's garden in a shady corner.

Even clothes and fabrics can give ideas for gardens! I have absorbed inspiration from some wonderfully artistic quilts made by talented friends. And a hot pink and orange tennis outfit once worn by a friend has remained in my mind for years, and one day I hope to put that into a garden scheme. In a book by Sydney Eddison called The Gardener's Palette (which I can really recommend for people interested in colour in the garden), a whole chapter explains how the author recreated colour schemes in her garden from pieces of fabric. For those whose gardens are already completely established, the author suggests trying out these colour schemes in large pots, which I thought was a great idea.