When planning the visual look of your garden, think of structure and texture as much as colour. For example, combine plants of different heights and textures to keep a garden interesting long after the colours of summer fade. Strong structural plants like fuzzy balls of globe thistles on tall stems or the skyward and slender branches of purple Verbena bonariensis are as eye catching in summer as they are in their desiccated winter skeletons. Use garden forms such as arches, paths, hedges and fences (my favourite idea at the moment are low surrounds made of woven hazel sticks – all very easy to make yourself) to lead the eye through the garden journey and create a sense of containment.
My garden palette is an edited one, and that’s a proposal I suggest to make things simpler and more achievable for every new gardener. I use a soft blue-green paint which works both inside and out for walls, fences and pieces of furniture; a kind of undercoat to set the scene, knitting together the garden and indoors.
My focus is then on pink and purple flowers with an underpinning of greens in all hues and textures. In late spring, for example, the bright pinks of the tulips fade to combine with the emerging pompom purple alliums, bushy grey-green lavender and a low-growing cushion of sap green marjoram, all in vibrant juxtaposition with the spreading silvery grey swords of cardoon leaves and the shimmering haze of feathery lime green nigella stems. The patterns of leaves and flowers are also soothing in the way that they repeat themselves over and over – everyday nature yet so wondrous at the same time.
It’s interesting to read about the theory that our ancestors may have developed a greater sensitivity to various shades of green as opposed to any other colour because they needed to understand all the plants in a predominately green landscape. Research has shown that looking at green foliage increases concentration, and in one study, workers asked to lift green and black boxes that weighed the same thought the green ones felt light.
I sometimes feel that my informal cottage garden landscape is not unlike one of those Impressionist paintings by Bonnard or Monet where splashes, smudges and punctuations of floral colour are interwoven with a diversity of leaf shapes, plant forms, light and shadows.