At A Glance: Spring Yellow


Pink Of My John

Viola tricolor is a very old garden species-known to most north American gardeners as Johnny Jump Ups.  This weedy and equally cheery viola will seed with abandon, once you have it, and have it happy.  It has many common names in England; “Pink of My John” is my favorite of those names.  Many of the common names for violas have to do with the part of love that is pure folly-any gardener understands all about love and folly. Pink of My John may perfectly describe my relationship with my garden.  I had a wild garden of considerable size many years ago-the grass in that area was overrun with every color of violet imaginable-how I loved this.  Viola, violet, pansy-I am a fan of the entire range.  In the early 19th century, Viola tricolor was crossed with a variety of other viola species, resulting in the hybrids viola x wittrockiana.  Simply stated, the pansy.   

The word pansy derives in part from the French word “pensee”-which literally translates as “thought”.  Pansies frequently have dark faces-thus the human reference.  I myself am much more fond of pansies without faces-I like my spring color clear and strong.  The “Clear Sky” series of pansies are remarkably floriferous, and come back reliably from a fall planting in my zone.  This Clear Sky light blue, with its darker blue blush is so distinctively a sign of spring.  I know of no other flower, in any other season, that has this color.  Several years ago it was the thrill of a lifetime to be in Texas to see the blubonnets blooming everywhere in late March. For one wild moment I thought I would have to move to Texas, just to have that blue in my life.  

White flowers-I could write at least a dozen essays about their appeal.  The white pansies are a little shy in their blooming until it warms up-but when they do bloom, you notice. A pansy flower does have the most beautiful form-does it not?

Clear Sky blue is just that-saturated sky blue.  Pansy flowers have little substance; they are thin petalled.  In the right situation, the sunlight coming through this pansy is an experience of color that no paint could ever deliver.  Living blue. All of us who have endured a very long winter-the signs of life are more than welcome.

This viola is from the Sorbet series-Lemon Chiffon is an appropriate name.  Plant hybridizers are those scientists behind the scenes that breed plants for great color, heavy flowering, disease resistance-and in the case of pansies, heat tolerance.  The new hybrids of pansies can perform non-stop through the end of June in my zone.  As I do not plant my summer pots until all of my clients pots are done, a spring planting tides me over.   

I like seeing hybridizers introducing color mixes.  This mix called Ocean Breeze- has four related color groups-and everything in between.  Masses of an identical color are dramatic.  Masses of varying and related colors are charming and friendly.  These violas are notable for their dark lines-known as whiskers.  The whiskers-are they not beautiful? 

These violas represent another mix; the citrus mix comes on fast and blooms like crazy. Planted up, there is a rhythm and beat that is really tough to ignore.  Such small flowers, organizing a following-I am impressed.

This purple picotee pansy is a new one for us this year.  Mark assured me that he saw it perform well in trials.  The whiskers, the white, the purple edges-a happening. 

My advice; don’t skip the spring. Leap into it; you will not be sorry.

Spring Schemes

I am at that weepy stage-I am so glad spring is finally knocking at my garden door.  Tomorrow Mark is delivering the first full truckload of spring plants-this is my idea of an important event. My perennial garden is still sleepy-but for the crocus, and the magnolia buds.  OK, the butterburr and hellebore flowers have broken ground-tentatively.  I am hoping by time things break loose at home, I will be negotiating steps like a regular person.  But I digress-my topic today has to do with the colors of spring-are they not so specific to this season?  I make a point of planting in some way with spring flowers; no matter how fleeting the season, I would not think of doing without them.   

Blue pansies and blue lobelia-this color is seasonal color in Michigan; sign up now, or hold your peace until next spring.  I am not so much a fan of blue-except for spring blues.  The clear sky pansies, the lobelia-delicious.  I like pairing the blues with the greens-they are courteous enough to yield the floor to each other.  By this I mean, some partnerships are perfect.  Persian Queen geraniums and creeping jenny lend the lime to the scene; parsley is never so ornamental as it is in the spring.  The texture is rewarding, the dark green color previews the gardening season to come.  Those among you that value parsley as an herb; fine- there are lots of gardeners out there that would have a mind to plant parsley for the betterment of a dinner.  But there are those of us who see parsley ornamentally; I like mine in spring pots.   

Queen of the Night tulips-a dark purple color that goes to black in certain early spring light.  I am mostly a fan of that rich purple part- any plant rich with color this time of year warms me up.  These dark purple tulips that have blue green company from their foliage.       

This photograph is from a spring some years ago.  I do not tire of seeing these older pictures.  The black, white, and lime spring color scheme is a good one.  I would go so far as to go on record- this combination of colors is a favorite.  The black tulips can be very drab if you don’t view them up close.  The white highlights their deep color. 

Black and white tulips-so beautiful.  Every garden has a conversation going on-listen, if you will.  Sometimes I step back, and let the garden speak for itself.  My only wish for my garden, and my client’s gardens-that all of us have a garden that speaks back on occasion.

These pale and icy yellow pansies -so easy on the eye inthe spring. Clear Sky primrose. The hosta tribe-soon to spring to life-they provide structure, shelter in this pot.  The yellow reeds add some height and texture. 

The lavenders, and their sturdy parent, the purples, bring a spring to life.  The stone,  lead and concrete and steel endure-as well they should.  But every garden pot, ornament, trellis, bench, fountain,  bucket and cistern longs for some life. Spring plants to the rescue.   

My most favorite plant of the spring season-citron alyssum.  Do you know it-that pale yellow alyssum that wakes up late, but  lasts late into the summer.  Many stars of the garden are modest.  Mostly I avoid saying the words alyssum citron.  I let the plant speak for itself. It is a great companion for yellow petunias and pansies-and most herbs.  

Spring schemes-I am keen to see how trhis year’s scheme works out.  It will not be long now.


Some weeks ago I posted some pictures of that giant full moon-under the title “Luminous”.  I am reminded of this today-our shop fountains are up and running, courtesy of one of my crews.  Water over a surface gives life to that surface such it brings to mind another lu word- luster.  The science behind this has to do with light refraction, but I am interested in something else entirely.  Water is alive; its lustrous quality has everything to do with that quality of life.  Jenny was kind enough to model this fabulous stocking cap with its monumental pompon-for this reason.  Wool is hair from a living creature.  Jenny’s hair is a living part of her-both the wool and her hair have luster-just look.  

The hair which describes these pussy willows about to bloom is lustrous.  Our sunny day today made that hair glow. The stems and bud casings (please forgive my lame botanical nomenclature here-) glow in the same way-lustrous life.  This has to be the most exciting thing about spring for anyone who loves a garden-the return of the luster.  Winter absorbs every ounce of a gardeners life and will, and gives back little.  My Estonian readers no doubt will differ with this opinion, but we do not have crystalline, and so beautifully lustrous winters as they do.  Our winter is grey and more grey.      

House paint can be ordered in no end of varying degrees of surface shine.  Matte, eggshell, semi-gloss, gloss.  When I retire, it is my plan to research and learn about how they do this.  But for now, I am focused on the coming of the spring, and what signs I see that tell me my garden is awakening. I know the sap rising in the trees brings bark back to visual life. The luster of living things is a sheen no paint can reproduce; once you’ve had an encounter with natural luster, you will be hard pressed to do without it.  

Water in a garden-I am a fan.  No matter how modest its form, water is all about life in motion.  The glaze on this terra cotta fountain jar comes to life, once the water coats its surface.  The glaze running anticipates a watery, and lustrous surface.  Given the physics of surface tension, I could hook this up in my living room-no splash.  Just a gorgeous and subtly moving surface. 

Stone is porous-life takes hold and moves in to make cities on its surface.  The stone absorbs light.  The lichens live in spite of irregular water.  Their surface is matte-absorptive of light just like the stone.  Over the course of a rainy spell, the stone and the lichens will glow. What does this mean for how you design?  Contrasting surfaces make for interest that has a long life-put those matte surfaces up close to your eye and view. Lustrous surfaces read from a long way away, and draw you out to them. 

Though paint surfaces never fool my eye, I do admire clay surfaces that have luster. In my imagination, the minerals that largely figure in that clay surface soup glaze- they melt, and vitrify, under high heat. To vitrify-this to me means heating to the point that makes for a glassy surface.  Is this why magnolia leaves always look so lustrous to me?  Those really large waxy leaves glow in the heat.     

Boxwood lives and breathes much the same for me.  Those diminuitive evergreen leaves have a lustrous surface-no matter the weather, no matter the season.  They shine, those living leaves. This rounded clay pot makes a good run at lustrous-I could see it planted in the sun or the shade, with plants equally lustrous, or those wry and dry plants that make a surprisingly big impact. This pot with a low and wide boxwood-juicy, and lustrous. By way of contrast, Rosemary and trailing strawberries would make a picture you wouldn’t tire of.

Water over a surface, water bringing the sound of life to a garden-consider it. Every gardening life is all for the better, given a little glow.  Dry and dead-every gardener out there knows what it means to loose a plant.  The surface goes dry and out.  Luster in any form attracts me-I like the living and breathing that a garden brings to my life.

Water-the juicy sound and presence of water can transform a garden.  If you have no water as of yet-consider it.  There are more ways to get luster-beyond boxwood, magnolia, rhododendron, and pepperomia. Your patch of water might light up, should you place a potted tibouchina next to it.  Oh the possibilities! -it is spring. 

For those who might have an interest in this entire lustrous and monumental hat-what she calls her Brobdingnagian hat-here it is in all its glory.  From Kokoo, on etsy.  I believe were she not so busy designing and knitting the most fabulous and lustrous sculptures that a person might wear, she might be a gardener.  She understands everything about luster.