Blue Gardening

Text Lianne Burton Production René Slee Photographs Julia Saker, Gerald Majumdar/ GAP Photos, Fiona Lea/ GAP Photos As an avid but relatively inexperienced gardener, I have always steered clear of colour in my garden, preferring the absolute purity of green and white. It’s so easy to combine a vast variety of white flowers, and the final effect is wonderfully calming and always elegant. So I was quite indignant when, some years ago, a rebellious friend presented me with a house-warming gift of a giant hydrangea bush, heavy with an abundance of indigo blooms – this despite my clear instructions that all growing gifts should be strictly green and white. Soon after that, having enjoyed my hydrangea immensely, both in my garden and in the form of an endless supply of showy cut flowers, I found myself planting lavender, plumbago, agapanthus and wisteria with wild abandon. Gradually these gentle shades of blue inspired me to introduce cool pinks, like salvias.Then came deep purples – pansies and irises, some deep indigo, some almost black and deliciously velvety. This subtle colour transformation brought a dreaminess and depth that had previously been lacking in my garden, and I had to concede that my original design was actually quite sterile by comparison. The introduction of washes of blue and the palest pinks into a monochromatic mix can soften the strictness without diluting the purity of a green-and-white palette. I have since discovered that blue flowers visually recede, making smaller gardens appear larger. All blues go wonderfully together, blending harmoniously yet offering a dynamic rhythm. And the effect on your senses of looking out over gentle undulations of blue is almost as meditative and uplifting as staring out to sea. Studies show blue to be a healing colour, which calms our nerves, soothes our emotions, eases feelings of loneliness and even cures insomnia. Often used to encourage introverts to express themselves more freely, blue is known to unleash our creativity and artistic expression. Artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet and Matisse have all had their love affairs with blue. You only have to look at the blue irises painted by Van Gogh and Monet to see the powerful creative response that these striking blooms can inspire. Though I now like to keep to a subtle romantic palette of white, green, blue and pink, braver gardeners might experiment with dashes of yellow or orange to offset and complement shades of blue. ‘There is no blue without yellow and without orange,’ Van Gogh once proclaimed. Fabric designer Tricia Guild, the queen of modern colour, loves experimenting with bold combinations in her convention- defying Designers Guild ranges. Blue is the soothing constant, alongside zingy greens, Day-Glo oranges and fluorescent pinks, or luxe golds and silvers. Her book Tricia Guild Flowers translates this creative process into inspiring floral still lives that have changed the way I view ‘arrangements’ forever. HL’s garden editor, René Slee, shares Tricia Guild’s naturalistic approach to flowers in the home. Her cut-flower creations look effortlessly artful, and she is happiest working with blooms in shades of blue: delphiniums, simple forget-me- nots, sophisticated Lisianthus, agapanthus, hydrangeas, irises, cornflowers, Nigella (love-in-a-mist), hyacinths, eryngium (thistles), salvia, borage, violas, lavender, onion flowers, artichoke flowers and the beautiful Ceanothus shrub. ‘We all love blue flowers because they are dreamy and gentle and romantic,’ she says. ‘From pale, washed-out shades of sky blue, to moody sea shades tinged with green, from delicate pinks to deep intense purples, they are absolutely beautiful.’ This article was originally featured in the May 2009 issue of House and Leisure