nothing yellow

Last fall’s big planting effort was a big raised bed of perennials, shrubs, bulbs, a tree fern and a tangerine tree, most of which went into the ground over the course of two months. While I don’t strive for total order in everything in my life, I was worried that assembling a bed of so many different kinds of plants all at once might quickly lead to total chaos, something on the order of those “color bowls” that they sell at nurseries and home stores.

(Okay, yes, some color bowls are well done and actually quite nice, but the worst are tossed-together plant combinations that provide work for the color-blind and are the garden equivalent of making yourself a cafeteria plate of spaghetti, frozen yogurt, fried chicken, and creamed corn, all mixed together and doused with ketchup and caramel sauce.)

To help tame the potential disorder I set myself one basic organizing principle: Nothing yellow (and only small doses of orange).

I have nothing against the color yellow, and in fact I have yellow all over the garden. But I wanted to create a quiet zone with soothing colors that would harmonize with each other. Also, one of my least favorite garden color combinations is the mix of yellow flowers with gray foliage. Banishing yellow would let me feature plants with interesting gray foliage. Still, even after ditching yellow and most oranges, it still leaves reds and purples and whites and pinks and blues–and of course the all-important green!

But once a year, for a couple weeks, the color scheme will fall apart as a cluster of kahili ginger break into bloom with spectacular and amazingly fragrant spikes of yellow flowers. There’ll be nothing else yellow in that part of the garden, and your eye will go right to the lewdly sensuous rulebreakers. Once that quick philander off the color wheel passes, though, the garden will return to its former order. Only now it’ll be enriched by heady memories of its brief indiscretion. (Hmmm, sounds like a few plot lines I’ve encountered…)

Speaking of organizing something around the absence of certain colors–and things with plot lines, John and I were watching some of the bonus features on the DVD of The Hours. In one of them the costume and production designers were talking about how they arrived at a rule to help pull together the look of the film: Nothing red, and nothing blue. Partly as a result of that organizing principle the film sustains its earth-bound moodiness as the plot hops decades and moves back and forth from England to New York to California.

So…whether you’re planning a garden or shooting a movie, remember: Pay attention to the power of color!

2 thoughts on “nothing yellow”

  1. Gee, my fence garden must look like the buffet at Ponderosa to you! No yellow, my god, man! What are you thinking? I’m glad the rule gets broken at least once a year!

    I suppose I can forgive the no yellow and orange rule since you seem to have a great quantity of marine heliotrope!! In your second and sixth photos, is that penstemon?

    Did you see? The cleome has begun!!!

  2. Hey everyone, Greg has a really nice, colorful border, not color challenged at all–even if he does have some yellow things going on…

    This is my second try at heliotrope, but only my first successful one. It seems to really like the new bed. And good eyes on the penstemon–it’s P. x Bubble Gum, and blooms in waves though it’s relaxing a little right now. Summer. Chillin’.

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