Book Review: Hue Anxiety
The garden we loved best when we were in England last September was the late Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter. And so when we returned home I was determined to read some of his garden books.
I have been drawn to and perplexed by the subject of color in the garden for some time, and so the first of Lloyd’s books that I tackled was Color for Adventurous Gardeners. I’m very glad I did so, for through this book I was able to self-diagnose a mild case of garden color anxiety.
According to Lloyd, “color anxious gardeners” want to follow established rules that can be relied upon to yield results that are tasteful and will not shock the neighbors. Reliance on color harmonies would be an example of this. Lloyd is not against color harmonies, but he believes they are a safe choice and should not be overused.
In my case, I do not limit myself to color harmonies. In fact, I like lots of bright, exciting, and contrasting colors. At the same time, I have this nagging feeling that there are certain rules I should be following in order to achieve a really beautiful garden. What’s more, a confident understanding of these rules eludes me despite reading several books about color in the garden.
Lloyd says don’t worry about the rules: “The limitations imposed by rules are a safe haven, but the adventurous gardener wants to try something different.” And when I read Lloyd’s blunt confession that he didn’t understand the color wheel, I was moved to shout aloud: “Thank you! Thank you, Christopher Lloyd!”
The adventurous gardener wants to experiment, which is essential if you want to come up with something that is personal and original. Moreover, says Lloyd: “Given the right circumstances, I believe that every color can be used with every other …”, and so the possibilities for successful color combinations are practically endless.
One reason we shouldn’t worry too much about getting the “right” color scheme is that color is not the primary determinant of a garden’s success. Lloyd argues that the garden’s underlying structure, having the right plants properly cared for, and the complementary shapes and textures of those plants should all be considered before getting to color.
The bulk of Color for Adventurous Gardeners consists of chapters devoted to individual colors: red, orange, blue, etc. Lloyd discusses the qualities of each color and experiences he has had with them at Great Dixter and elsewhere. Each chapter concludes with notes on specific plants. These notes are interesting, though their practical value depends on how similar your garden’s conditions are to those in southern England.
I can’t even try to summarize what Lloyd says about each color, but his preference for color contrasts comes through pretty strongly. For example, of orange he says: “Of all colors orange is the one that cries out most for contrast.” And regarding blue: “More than any other color, blue needs contrast near it, to prevent its looking dull.”
The book is illustrated so beautifully with garden photographs that you may be tempted to skip the text altogether and simply gaze at all the lovely beds and borders.
Color for Adventurous Gardeners is an effective treatment for those of of us suffering from garden color anxiety. And even if you don’t, it provides a handy booster shot.