Book Review: The Gardener’s Palette, by Sydney Eddison
Late last year I got interested in trying to be more deliberate about the color schemes in my garden. Prior to that, I thought in terms of how two or three plants might fit together in terms of color, but never of a whole bed, let alone a whole garden.
When I wrote about this interest, Jayne on Weed Street recommended The Gardener’s Palette, by Sydney Eddison. Having now read this book, I can confirm that it is indeed very worthwhile for gardeners trying to think more systematically about color.
It really isn’t possible to summarize the whole book, but here are five things that caught my imagination.
Pay attention to how colors gradually meld into one another. In discussing the color wheel, Eddison notes that there are an infinite number of intermediate colors between the pure hues. You can create harmony by combining red and red violet, but add red-orange and you have created a note of contrast, because the red-violet does not share the yellow hue contained in the red-orange.
Aim for a limit of three colors. Monochromatic gardens are just too limiting for me, but there is definite value in trying to limit the number of colors, with three being a good goal to aim for. I have to confess my lust for possessing many different plants makes this difficult. However, in my front driveway flower bed I should get pretty close next year. In spring: red, yellow, blue. In summer: blue, orange, yellow, with accents of red and white. And in fall, blue, yellow, and purple-pink.
Pay attention to intensity. Red is generally an intense color, so a little bit goes a long way. That’s why I generally don’t use more than a splash of it in my beds. In addition, intense colors can be tamed by using the related tints (mixed with white), shades (mixed with black), and tones (mixed with gray). Using a higher ratio of softer colors like blue prevent intense colors from overwhelming, while at the same time making them more effective through contrast. Green and silver/gray can also pull contrasting colors together, preventing contrast from turning into open warfare.
Use complementary colors. I was very interested in Eddison’s discussion of colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, or complementary. When presented with a lot of one color, the eye naturally seeks out its complement. This is why complementary colors, like orange and blue, look right (to me, anyway) – in effect, they complete each other. They also provide contrast, which I personally find to be a necessity because too much harmony is just boring.
Look to art and nature for ideas. Natural landscapes present us with many color schemes that can be translated to the garden with great effectiveness. Similarly, a great deal of inspiration can be found in paintings, and not just landscapes.
The photography in The Gardener’s Palette is worth an unhurried examination, as it effectively illustrates the points made in the text.
The author stresses that the critical thing is to look carefully at the color in our gardens and in the world around us with a perceptive and appreciative eye.