The Power of Colour left Red and yellow flowers seem to give out heat and draw the eye, like flames in a garden room. Hot colours are bold, aggressive and showy. In mixed company, they can overpower their neighbours, which is why it is a good idea to grow them all together, in isolation from cooler colours, in one glorious, fiery display. Here, in early summer, red and yellow columbines (Aquilegia hybrids) fill the foreground, with yellow tree lupins (Lupinus arboreus) and red roses (Rosa ‘Dusky Maiden’) behind them, while another rose (Rosa ‘Parkdirektor Riggers’) is just visible on the wall beyond. Used in an enclosed space like this within a much larger garden, a planting of hot colours creates an area of excitement that is a stimulating par t of a garden stroll. If this were a complete garden in itself though, you might find the effect of the hot colours disquieting and you might not be inclined to sit out among them for too long.
Colour is the most potent weapon in a gardener’s armoury. Nothing in a garden makes more impact. It can stop you in your tracks or it can beckon you onwards. It can suggest coolness and warmth, and it can evoke different moods. You can even use colour to manipulate the sense of space. Understanding the power of colour will help you not only to put a personal mark on your garden but also to orchestrate the profound ways that colour can act upon the emotions, so that some parts of your garden will become areas of repose while others will be exhilarating or – if you wish – even shocking.
Yet despite the infinite variety of colours, the sensory cells in our eyes can only distinguish between them on the basis of five choices. How red? How yellow? How blue? How dark? How light? The brain organizes these relatively crude signals and creates from them the images of extraordinary subtlety and beauty that we experience. Although physicists can explain different colours in terms of wavelength of light and physiologists can describe the cells in the eye that respond to colour, we are still very much in the dark when it comes to explaining how the brain responds to the messages it receives from the eye. Memory and symbolic associations, without a doubt, play a very strong part in our experience of colour. Certain colours can give meanings and create atmosphere in a garden. When we say that that we ‘see red’ when we are angry, ‘feel blue’ when we are sad, and ‘are green’ when we care for the environment we are using blunt metaphors, but the ideas behind them derive from fundamental distinctions between these colours. You may find that red has an agitating effect wherever it appears in the garden, and that blue is calming and dreamy. Green, perhaps because it reminds us of the countryside, tends to make us
8 THE GARDENER’S BOOK OF COLOUR