Surrey Life|July 2020
While many gardens are at their peak in May and June it’s possible to keep the colour going right through summer into autumn with sustainable, tough plants that cope with the increased heat from climate change.
It’s the hot colours that come to the fore at the brightest time of the year as they can stand up to the intensity, while pale colours tend to look washed out, apart from ones in the shade. As summer’s light intensifies rich colours work particularly well together, and you can always temper them with more muted tones. Hot colours give energy and warmth. Reds are passionate and add strong focus to an area. They work well with opulent purples or their complementary greens. The tonal range of reds in nature is vast – from the young foliage of roses, berberis foliage, through to clear red poppies or claret and burgundy toned heucheras.
Orange is a colour that more than any other elicits a strong response from the viewer maligned by some as too garish, and loved by others for the vibrant energy it brings to a space, think of kniphofias (hot pokers) adding life to a sea of parchment grasses. Whether looking back to the 1970s and retro design, or even further back to the likes of Gertrude Jekyll who used it as an eye-catching way to add life to her borders; orange in its full range of tones, from high-impact flamboyance to pastels, is seeing a renaissance in the garden.
The strongest hues work strikingly set against complementary rich blues and purples, or its softer apricot tones combined with gentle mauves are more subtle. Artist Kandinsky said ‘orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow.’ Not as aggressive or fiery as red, it adds tropical, sunset tones to combinations. I always think of yellow as adding bursts of sunlight to a scheme. Cheerful yellow, the brightest colour to the human eye, can work well in golden borders, mixed with oranges and bronzes, or contrasted with blues or purples it really draws the eye. It can be bright and vivacious or toned down to creams, which blend with most colour groupings. Keep your design simple as yellow has lots of impact and bear in mind the angles of light and the glorious transparent effect of backlighting yellow for a radiant glow, especially when the sunlight is low in autumn.
You can’t think of hot borders without a mention of the late Christopher Lloyd, one of the world’s most adventurous and outspoken authors, and the exotic border at his garden Great Dixter in Sussex. Digging up the 80-year-old rose garden designed by Edwin Lutyens and replacing it with lush tropical-looking foliage of bananas, ricinus and Colocasia esculenta with brightly coloured late season flowers such as fiery orange, scarlet and red dahlias, cannas, begonias, wafting purple clouds of Verbena bonariensis and salvias may have caused outrage at the time, but has continued to influence garden design.
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