Sunny Yellow

sGift0005Amazingly enough, it was my fifth grade science teacher that taught me the color basics.  I remember that she covered individual panes of some of the classroom windows with sheets of red, yellow and blue acetate.  Her explanation of the term  “primary colors” was simple-these three colors come standard issue in nature-they cannot be made from any other colors.  She had a stack of giant acetate rectangles every color imaginable, and we did spend a lot of time trying to overlay sheets in some form that would produce yellow. We never made any yellow, but we did make lots of other colors-the secondary colors. Secondary, meaning the result of the mix of any two primary colors. Then we made tertiary colors-any mix of three colors.  

tulips _0002This may have been science, but it was pure fun. Once we had green from mixing blue and yellow, and orange from yellow and red, and purple from blue and red, we pasted these combos on the windows.  Over a period of days, every window in the room had a distinctly different color.  In the center, the single sheets of the primary colors.  At the edges, stacks of acetate sheets that looked like the color of mud.  I remember how enchanted I was with all that color; to this day a set of pastels, markers, yarn samples,colored pencils, paints and the like interest me.  I did not so much grasp the relationship of color to light, but I could see it.  The quality of light greatly influences the appearance of color-anyone who has loved a paint chip at the store, and put it on a wall at home to disastrous effect understands this.    

Oct5a 035Color in the landscape functions the same way.  The primary colors have an electricity that comes with the territory, but where and how color gets placed determines how it looks.  Yellow reads brilliantly at a distance;  use it in places far away from your eye, or to back up other darker or more subtle colors that would otherwise fade from view.  The transparency of yellow makes it a perfect choice for areas in the landscape that are back lit-it will look like the lights are on.  The edges of these dahlias petals have gone green; they are too thick to transmit light well.  The dark behind the dahlia turns the yellow dirty yellow-green. 

tulips _0001This composition is first and foremost about yellow. It draws your eye, and keeps your visual attention. It is secondarily about tulips, yews, boxwood, geometry-and so on.  Notice how the color far away in this photo are subdued, muddy, and indistinct-but for the green of the emerging leaves.  New leaf green has a lot of yellow in it-that yellow reads at a distance.

DSC_0016Princeton gold maple leaves are really yellow with a green cast when they first emerge.

DSC_0023In a sunny spot, the leaves read yellow to the eye at the top, where they get the most light.  As your eye looks at this tree from top to bottom, the color changes.  The leaves with least exposure to light are the darkest. The change in value-or relative lightness or darkness-from the top of this tree to the bottom is considerable.  The trunk of the tree looks black, given all the light behind it.    

DSC08644Yellow has the ability to light up a shady area. The gerberas at the top glow in front of the yews whose color almost appears black.  Densely shady gardens can die visually if some effort is not made to introduce contrast. One landscape project involved a densely wooded area; cutting out the brush and sapling trees in a few selected areas created pools of light.  The contrast of light and dark added visual interest, but also made it possible to see the more subtle colors of the plants in the ground.   

haoward23 (18)Likewise, painting the concrete floor of one room in the shop these grassy-shaped variations of chartreuse and yellow green made it easier to see everything that would be placed in the room.  Milo’s coat color is known as “dark brindle”.  All the individual colors present in his coat read much more clearly than they would should I have photographed him with a dark background.

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Yellow may or may not be a favorite color, but how it makes other colors look makes it useful.  The color of these blue petunias, heliotrope and angelonia appears clear and striking, given the contrasting companionship of the yellow coleus. These same flowers, planted with brown sweet potato vine?  fugue-like. How you use color helps insure that what you design reads just how you intended.

French Glazed Terra Cotta

DSC00017I reluctantly agreed to play ball with those dogs of mine yesterday-in spite of the 9 degree temperature.  We were not outside for long, but long enough for me to see the color of my yews had gone so dark they almost looked black.  This cold color could not be further from how those yews look dressed in their spring green foliage.  This set me to thinking about color as a design element.  The glazed terra cotta pots manufactured in France for hundreds of years make a big color statement.  Their strong color has a very Mediterranean feeling to me; the color seems very much a product of the climate in which they are made. When I see a pink stucco house, I immediately think warm climate; no doubt I react to color with an entire set of pre-conceived notions hovering nearby.   

DSC00019Though green is the dominant color of any landscape, this shiny green glaze is a color experience of a different kind.  These pots have a much more formal appearance than a natural clay pot-whose natural and from the earth color is vastly more subdued than this.  As glazed pots do not absorb water from the outside, the finish and color is as fresh in their tenth year as their first, provided none of the glaze has chipped. The vibrant color of these pots will strongly figure in how I would place and plant them. 

DSC08189The color of these pots will always be a significant part of the planting composition.  Unlike natural clay pots whose importance in the composition may be secondary or slight, the color of these pots attracts visual attention, and sets off the planting in a formal way.  A green and white color scheme seems restrained and serene.  Do these pots look out of their Mediterranean element?  I think not.  This leads me to think that before deciding a color won’t work, I should try it.

DGW 2006_07_26 (9)This color scheme branches out a bit into the pinks and greys.  The pot is elevated on a concrete base, so the foot of the pot still reads even though the ground planting has grown in.  The shiny green mass of the pot is a beautiful foil for the tiny naturally green leaves of the boxwood. Monochromatic, or one color schemes are quietly formal and restful in their simplicity.     

DSC08393This pot is 12 years old.  Mineral deposits from the water had dulled the shine of the glaze.  It is remarkable how close the color is to the color of the existing evergreens and grass. This composition is more about texture, and mass, than color.

Karmanos (62)Yellow glazed French pots are perfect for places where any thing but neutral seems like a good idea. Shady gardens, or nondescript locations asking for a strong center of interest can get that from a splash of unexpected color.   

Sherbin0001This pot is full of surprises; the yellow of the pot is just the beginning.  A threadleaf Japanese maple makes an unusual centerpiece for the surrounding white begonias and lime licorice.  The brick front porch, tough completely shaded by a second story balcony, has a fresh and striking appearance.  Though delicate in color, these French pots are incredibly strong and durable.  The clay of the large pots can be 3/8 of an inch thick or better, and they are high fired for extended periods of time.

DSC09623Some potteries have added more contemporary designs to their collections.  This pot, known as a strie, refers to the striations formed from the pattern generated by the fingers of the potter; each pot is unique to the fingertips of the person who made it.  The color of the pot helps to make it central to the entire composition of the garden.  Simple color relationships read more clearly and strongly than mixed color compositions. Strong color relationships paired with more subtle color relationships is what creates rhythm in a composition.   

DSC00886Blue glazed pots in the landscape can be tough to place.  Though bluestone, acid washed steel, lead, water and sky all represent blue in one form or another, planting blue pots requires some thought. That glazed blue will be very influential in the look of the whole. Yellow flowers in a blue pot can look like a band uniform, or worse. Some shades of purple are deadly dull and irritating with this shade of blue; lavender and silver can be great.   

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A greenish yellow and white, on the other hand, can be lovely in a blue pot.  The important thing to remember with color is that no color is an island unto itself.  Putting colors together that create interesting visual relationships-that’s part of what makes for good design.

Red On Red

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What is it about red at the holidays? How it glows-electrifying.  It does not seem to matter whether the material is ribbon, leaves, ornament, twigs, flowers or paper, red warms up the holiday.  Those ridiculously large amaryllis blooms-I fall for them.  Pointsettias come in a variety of different designer colors, but what beats a well grown pointsettia loaded with red bracts? Red on red-even better.  Combining red materials of different textures will give your holiday that sumptuous look-all from the color. 

Dec 4b 006We decorated this ten foot tall tree  in a foyer entirely of red ornaments.  Large and small, glittered, shiny, matte-a range of reds in different textures. clusters of matte red. Under the tree, a cloud of red sinamay.  The repetition of red provides for plenty of holiday drama. 

DSC04242Red is beautiful with greens-whether they be the blue greens of Noble and Silver fir, or the green-green of balsam fir. As red has a darker value, massing it makes it read better from a distance. A smattering of red at a distance will look better if it is backed up with white, or a light green.    

2007 Payne, Lisa HOLIDAY 12-3-07 (3)When red ornament will be viewed from up close, small splashes work fine.. Wine red needs to be up close; at a distance it will look brown or black-brown.  For this reason, I think chartreuse green and wine red are particularly handsome together.  Red and blue/green-electric on a dull cloudy day. 

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Red combines amicably with any other holiday color.  Red, dark purple and gold has the look of a pageant. Integrifolia dyed red will bleed some if there is rain, or a thaw; care needs to be taken so it does not stain a terrace.   Red also fades in full sun; red twig dogwood is your best bet for good color retention all winter.  But for that fleeting moment that we have holidays, red is smashing.

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The Bulbeck lead pot is the anchoring ornament of this garden-summer and winter.  The mass of red integrifolia in a huge pot makes a strong central holiday statement; the satellite grape vine deer sport red holiday collars.  I am unable to resist decorating garden sculpture for the holiday season.  No doubt this is a character flaw on my part, but I do it anyway.  I like to see garden figures with hats and the dogs with collars.   

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Eucalyptus dyed red is a very dark red.  The science of this-the red dye over the green leaf muddies the color. Mixing colors opposite to each other on the color wheel produces various shades of mud.  If an orange terra cotta pot seems too orange, a green wash over top will tone it down. 

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Red  in all its sassy glory at the holidays gives me the same lift as red tulips do in the spring, and a new red jacket.  A gloomy time of year can be energized by red.

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 See what I mean??

A Special Holiday Style

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If you read my essay this past summer entitled “Bringing the Garden Upstairs”, you might remember CB.  She has been a client and friend a good many years, but even more than that, a mentor.  Some clients you meet have a fire burning all their own that makes working for them pure joy.  Her love of garden, home and family is just as evident at the holidays as in the spring. Just as she writes me in early spring to say she has no intention of coming home from their winter home until I have the flowers planted, I can count on her to call in early October about the holiday.  I always ask what she is thinking, as she is always thinking.  Last year, she wanted a feeling “elegant and enchanting”, and by the way, could I look at the airspace? 

Audi _0005Her home has ceilings that soar.  The massive chandelier we hung with skeins 0f gold metal mesh in the manner of Spanish moss. Off white berry garlands were woven in and out of the wood trunk and arms of the chandelier.  The elegant black iron urns she filled solidly with a very tall creamy brown bamboo; this we secured with oversized medallions of bronze ornaments, cream reindeer moss, and cream frosted pine cones.  She had filled the fireplace with candles set on two levels, and dressed the plain terazzo fireplace with a sparkling necklace of delicate mirrored garland.  Tall bronze and silver candelabra each with their own holiday touch complete the look.

Audi _0009Her tree gleams with glass, silver and gold ornament she has collected over the years.  The staircase railings feature thick garlands stuffed with twigs, lights, and ribbon.  This gorgeous look is all of her doing, and ready when I get there.  After we do the outdoor pots and lights, we do just a few things inside.

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (42)Another year she planned to entertain both at Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday.  Given that she expected a lot of guests, she moved her big dining room table into the living room.  Though I have known her long enough that I should not be surprised by moves like this, I always am.  She has a gift for reinventing spaces, and decorating them just enough to make for visual magic. 

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (50)She managed to furnish a small corner of this room beautifully.  She gave this intimate space a chandelier all its own; the seating and prints are beautifully arranged. A wispy twig garland wound in mirrored garland speaks to the holiday without overwhelming any other element.   

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (9)The holiday in the airspace is evident in her kitchen too.  A garland over her kitchen window is dressed in that airy and graceful style that so reminds me of her.  Even the light fixtures over her island take on the air of the season.  The ribbon trees were made by members of her family; everywhere there are signs of family. Her red vase stuffed with candy canes made me look at candy canes as if I had never seen them before.

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (1)Her lower level is a cozy family oriented space; the bar we decorate with Patience Brewster holiday figures, chartreuse wire, and ornaments chosen especially to delight her grandchildren. 

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (38)I made this topiary holiday sculpture for her in the same vein.  Mossy and twiggy, for the gardener in her; the shape straight from the enchanted forest, for the grandkids.

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Everywhere there are signs of life.  I have such respect for her ability to design and create elegant spaces imbued with such strong feeling.  Working with her isn’t working, it’s a blessing.