Book Review: Fearless Color Gardens, by Keeyla Meadows

Keeyla Meadows is an artist and garden designer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her garden is indeed fearless, as Judy and I can attest after seeing it during the 2013 Garden Bloggers’ Fling.

Keeyla Meadows
Keeyla Meadows

When we got back I wanted to read Fearless Color Gardens, her book about color and garden design. She has another book, Making Gardens Works of Art, which I have not yet read.

What Keeyla says about color in the garden isn’t necessarily so different from what you would find in other books. However, I found it helpful for getting my mind around this aspect of garden design. For me, this is the sort of subject where I need both repeated and differing perspectives from several authors in order to feel I have some real understanding.

The more fanciful aspects of Keeyla’s prose, such as her conversations with her muse and other imaginary characters, will be enjoyed by some people more than others. On the other hand, she writes clearly and provides just enough repetition and summarizing to let her points sink in.

One thing she stressed that really resonated with me is that the garden’s color scheme should include everything that can be seen, not just plants: containers, artwork, hardscape, outdoor furniture, and the house itself. This seems obvious but it had never really hit me before.

If it had, I never would have chosen white when our house was repainted. White really doesn’t go well with our garden, it was just the house’s color when we moved in. If I had thought about it, I might have chosen a cream yellow. (Keeyla is leery of white in general, she feels it doesn’t blend well with other colors).

fearless color gardens

Similarly, our sombre-colored pots don’t go with our flowers at all. After reading this book I went out and bought some blue and yellow spray paints.

I like the way Keeyla presents designing for harmony and contrast. Despite her bona fide fearlessness, the approach she urges seems fairly restrained. She advises picking one color, then choosing variations that are close neighbors on her color triangle. (She has a color triangle rather than a wheel, with three primary colors – red, yellow, blue – each taking one corner.)

Keeyla Meadows
Keeyla Meadows’ garden: giant blue pears and furniture are just as much a part of the color scheme as plants. I would like a giant blue pear.

For example, lets say you pick blue. You could mix a variety of dark and light blues, perhaps with purple and violet. If you want contrast, then pick a second color as a counterpoint to the range of related dominant colors. You can have variations on the secondary color just as you do with the dominant color.

The author talks about the need to think of each section of the garden as a picture in a frame, with each frame needing a focus. This is fairly standard. However, it is also curious because a striking aspect of the author’s garden is that almost every part of it is crammed with visual stimulation – which for at least some visitors detracts from any sense of focus. So what really constitutes a focal point could be an interesting topic for further discussion.

In any case, I found Fearless Color Gardens to be a fun and useful book, beautifully illustrated, and I would recommend it to any gardener who is still trying to get a handle on this subject.

 

 

26 Comments on “Book Review: Fearless Color Gardens, by Keeyla Meadows

  1. Colour is also a very personal thing; One aspect that is very important when thiking about colour in the garden is the level of light – what works wonderfully in the strong light of a Mediterranean garden looks garish in soft Northern light and vice versa.

    • Both your points are very true. This book certainly addresses how color is personal – but I don’t recall anything about how color works differently in different lights.

  2. I would like a giant blue pear also! Sage green is another good background color for a house according to a colorist whom I heard speak last year at a garden club meeting. She presented photos of houses and gardens that were soon to be on a garden club tour. She made insightful observations about the colors of trees, flowers and shrubs, pots and garden art used near the house itself. Changes in trim colors and foundation colors can really affect the success of the planting.

    • Sage green sounds interesting. All the houses in our area are either bare brick or white, so I’d be a little hesitant to use a paint that stands out that much. On the other hand, my garden already stands out, so what the heck.

  3. I loved Keeylas garden when we visited because of the colour but I suspect that was due to the number of dry agave gardens we had previously seen which left me cold. I’m OK with combining colours in flowers but my visit to her garden made me realise that you have to think of everything in the garden and I have started to do this and look at areas as though they are within a frame and I really think it is helping me make a more attractive space

    • I agree. I don’t think I could pull off a garden modeled after Keeyla’s but looking at her work helps me think about what I want to do in my own garden.

  4. Thanks for posting an excellent review. Color is a hard thing to get a handle on. I tried this past season to start matching pots to plants better. I have a lot of foliage plants in the back garden, and I really need way more flowers. I have a lot of gardening books, I think I tend to think, ok, this next book will be the one where I have a revelation. But I never do. For me, experience is the best teacher.

    • For me, I had to read through several books before I started to feel I had a handle on stuff. But as you say, the other part of the equation is just trying things out in your garden. I really can’t learn without experimenting.

  5. Her garden was more about art I think (of course art is about color too). Without all the art it would have a much different feel. What I remember most was the art, not the flowers blooming. I guess it has more to do with myself as a designer trained in art. I looked at the house first. It pulled my attention in the direction of the painted surfaces. Honestly, it is hard to pull off if one is not an artist. She had very sophisticated, yet playful arrangements. Nothing was done without careful thought. I thought it reminded me of many Buffalo gardens that use art, but when I looked at many of them in comparison, there was no comparison to the depth and understanding of design.

    • One outstanding thing about her garden was that the furniture and much of the hardscape WAS art. I wouldn’t really want a garden like hers, nor could I pull one off. However, I am a very plant-focused person, and she did make me think a lot about elements other than plants.

  6. I loved Keeyla’s garden but I guess I would call it more of an art installation in which plants featured prominently. Their use defintiely showed an excellent grasp of plant material as a part of the palette.

    • I still thought of her garden as a garden, though one in which the art played an equal role with the plants. She certainly had some plants with big personalities – like that Brugmansia.

  7. I agree with the first comment that the level of light is particularly important. The blue and pale pink combinations that look so wonderful in Britain or the North West, seem rather anemic in the strong light of much of North America.
    Just like hot colors that look striking under a strong sun, can become rather garish in climate where the light is much more subdued. Nature follows that approach – pink is more common in plants that bloom in spring and there is more orange in the bright light of late summer.

    • I grow a mix of hot and cool colors in my sunny borders, but mostly white and cool colors in shade.

  8. I like that idea of thinking of each section of the garden as a picture in a frame. That seems more reasonable, and it works for me. (Except for the areas that I’ve been neglecting…I guess those are the embarrassing family portraits that I try to hide from the company. 😉

  9. I am color-challenged in the garden, finding things that work completely by accident. For example, I bought some perennials that came in cobalt blue plastic pots. I left the pots laying around for a while after transplanting their contents. That’s how I discovered cobalt blue went really well with everything else in the beds in front of my house.

  10. Oh, all the comments about this garden sound so interesting! I definitely struggle with the right amount of art to incorporate in my garden since I am much more of a plant person. However, I really like gardens that showcase both. As far as color goes, I primarily focus on texture and growth habit of plant combinations as that seems to have more visual impact to me than color. That sounds odd, I know, but well-blended forms is what makes a garden stand out to me.

    • I would like to find more art that fits in the garden. One problem is that original stuff tends to be so expensive. Your focus on texture and shape is an approach that Piet Oudolf advocates.

  11. This book sounds so interesting! And yes that would be a good topic for discussion…I would just love to see her space in person! It looks so full and wild! Thanks for the great book recommendation! Its sounds like a fun read!

    • I think you would really like her garden given your interests in different kinds of art. Short of visiting her garden, you would probably really enjoy the book, it is very nicely illustrated with photographs from her and other gardens.

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