Colouring Your Garden, Part 7 – You Can’t Believe Everything You See

It’s the last week of March and it’s again been more than five months since I last posted to this blog. I just don’t know where the time goes. I’m as busy as I’ve ever been, and yet I feel like I’m accomplishing less. Perhaps it’s a function of age – everything seems to take longer the older I get. Or maybe it’s a function of the increasingly higher standards I set for myself. For example, last month I gave two  lectures to the current class of Master Gardener students. One of these was a full day design presentation – a talk I’d given (in some form or another) dozens of times and to a variety of audiences. It gets tweaked each time – compressed or expanded depending on the audience, but this time I ended up rebuilding the whole damn thing! Why? Well, as I reviewed my PowerPoint slides I found myself scoffing at everything; the photos looked unprofessional, the font was dated, the animation amateurish… and so a ‘tweak’ became a major reconstruction.

I was relatively happy with the finished product, but I don’t know if it was worth the several all-nighters I pulled to get it done (staying up all night was way easier, and waaaay more fun, in my twenties than in my fifties). And in the end, did I actually impart any more, or any better information to the students? Who knows? I do know though, that perfectionism isn’t always in one’s best interest. Because now I am sick. Not deathly ill, but miserable enough that I don’t feel like doing much of anything. So loyal readers, it seems my misfortune is your good fortune since the one thing I do feel up to, is writing. In fact it just might make me feel better.

If you remember my last post (it was so long ago, I barely remember) we examined the relationship between colour and various aspects of human perception – more specifically, how the former can impact the latter. Continuing with this exploration then, let’s look at some of the ways our visual perception can in turn affect and distort colour.

Understanding various visual mechanisms – ways our vision adapts and adjusts – is a key piece of the garden colour puzzle. For the most part, our eyes successfully adapt to ever-changing visual data, allowing us to maintain a stable and consistent interpretation of the world around us. We know that an object appearing smaller from across a room is the same size regardless of where we view it from, or that the darker colour created by a shadow doesn’t change the actual colour of an object. We know these things without even thinking about them – unless we are trying to draw or paint said objects. Sometimes though, this ‘constancy apparatus’ fails and our eyes make erroneous adjustments. Four such adjustments are commonly experienced; Simultaneous Contrast, Successive Contrast, Colour Assimilation and Colour Separation. Today we’ll look at the first two of these visual phenomena.

Simultaneous Contrast

Adjacent colours interact with one another other in a most curious way – actually changing the appearance of each other; an effect known as Simultaneous Contrast. Of course this phenomenon isn’t due to any magical properties the colours possess; rather the adjustments are taking place within our own visual system as it attempts to decipher and differentiate that which it sees by accentuating colour differences. All three colour attributes can be influenced by neighbouring colours, the effect being most noticeable when one colour is completely surrounded by another.

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Simultaneous Contrast of Hue. An identical magenta-coloured circle is placed all around the Artist’s Wheel illustrating how a hue can differ dramatically in appearance depending on the background hue. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

So what is actually happening here? Are our eyes just playing tricks on us? Well yes in fact they are. As I mentioned before, one of the ways our eyes recognize and discriminate between adjacent colours is by accentuating their differences, and in so doing, imbues each colour with traits of the other colour’s opposite. Yikes, that was a mouthful wasn’t it? Maybe I can better explain with some examples.

In the first example below, a magenta-coloured square is surrounded by a green square on the left and an orange square on the right – we can all agree it doesn’t look like the same magenta, right? (I assure you it is though). Our eyes acknowledge the green then ‘over-differentiate’ and induce green’s opposite hue, red, which then mixes with the magenta, making it appear warmer – hot pink even. The orange square on the other hand stimulates our eyes to add its opposite, blue, thus creating a cooler looking purple-pink. Another way to think of it is that colours will shift in hue, value and saturation away from those of the surrounding colour. Because the magenta square is smaller and completely enveloped in another colour it has little effect on those surrounding colours.

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast of Hue – note how the hue of the smaller square appears different depending on the background colour. Graphics: Sue Gaviller.

The next example shows Simultaneous Contrast as it relates to Value alone. On the left a medium gray square is enclosed on a background of darker charcoal gray, and on the right the same medium gray is surrounded by lighter gray. Again our vision discriminates between the darker gray and the medium gray by overstating the lightness of the medium gray (left). Likewise our eyes discriminate between the lighter gray and the medium gray by overstating the darkness of the medium gray (right).

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast of Value – a medium gray square looks markedly different surrounded by darker gray than by the lighter gray. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

In the third example the smaller square is a red of medium to low saturation, but its saturation seems to strengthen as its background colour weakens.

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast of Chroma/Saturation. All of the above squares are the same hue (5R or Red) but vary in saturation (colour content). The smaller square is weakly saturated but appears even less so in contrast to the fully saturated square on the left. However when contrasted with the almost-gray square on the right, it appears to have much richer colour content.  Graphics: Sue Gaviller

It is difficult to illustrate this effect with garden photographs – photos can deceive, particularly where colour is concerned. Perceived hue differences (or lack thereof) could thus be the fault of the photo and not a real representation of what is happening in the garden. And the degree to which Simultaneous Contrast is seen in the garden is less than one might think – there are many other factors at play, for example; weather changes, seasonal changes, daily sun movements, and even the amount of particulate matter in the air, can all affect lighting conditions, which in turn affect the colours we observe. Colour is reflected from other objects and surfaces too, thus altering hue perception, and the constant presence of unifying green can mitigate various colour illusions.

Nevertheless we do witness Simultaneous Contrast in our gardens and landscapes, though it is more subtle than squares of colour on a computer monitor. The effect, especially where hue is concerned, is most noticeable when two adjacent hues present as solid blocks of uninterrupted colour. Of course plants don’t always present this way since foliage, flower petals, stamens etc. are often different colours, which means colours will intermingle (this can produce yet another effect, one I will look at in my next post). Tertiary or intermediate colours (red-violet, blue-green, etc.) will be influenced to a greater degree by their surroundings than basic or primary hues because their make-up is more complex.

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Liatris spicata is a medium to high value red-violet – when contrasted with bright yellow Heliopsis helianthoides, it appears slightly blue-ish. However, next to Helictotrichon sempervirens, it looks somewhat pinker. Photos: Sue Gaviller

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Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ is a widely spreading evergreen groundcover – note how its blue-green hue shifts from slightly mauve-ish on the left to dull green on the right. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’ (left) looks a rich saturated purple-blue when paired with very desaturated Eryngium (right). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

The same Echinops would appear somewhat less saturated if situated beside the very rich-hued Gentian on the right Photos: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast is the reason two complementary colours, when used together, create such a forceful pairing – they increase the intensity of each other. Think about it; each colour bestows upon the other, the traits of its own opposite – which is the other colour. A double dose of each!

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This complementary pairing of red-violet Iris germanica against a backdrop of yellow-green Spiraea japonica ‘Goldmound’ creates an intense vignette. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Red-orange and blue-green succulents bounce dazzling colour off each other because they are a complementary pairing. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Successive Contrast

Another visual effect related to Simultaneous Contrast is Successive Contrast – the best way to demonstrate this effect is to try the following: stare at the coloured circle below for 30 to 60 seconds, then immediately turn your gaze to a blank piece of white paper. What do you see? If you don’t see anything, try again. And if you have any serious eye condition or disease, you might want to avoid this exercise altogether.

green circle 2

 

When you look at the white paper after staring at the green circle,  you should see a circle of the same size in a light reddish pink colour – this is called an afterimage. Let’s try another one. Stare at the orange circle below for half-a-minute or so then look at the white piece of paper again.

orange circle

 

So what colour did y’all see this time? Light bluish right? We see this afterimage because the eye’s receptors for a particular color become desensitized to it, or more accurately, the receptors for the other colours become more sensitive – hence we see the perceptual complement of the colour we’ve just been staring at. The afterimage will dissipate shortly, its duration proportionate to the length of time you viewed the original colour and the intensity (saturation) of that colour.

Now try looking at each of the circles again, but this time when you avert your gaze, instead of focusing on the white paper, look towards a different coloured background. What do you notice? The colour of the afterimage should now blend with the new colour you are looking at. You can see where this might come into play in the garden – look at the following garden image for at least 30 seconds then at the white paper again. Do you experience the same effect?

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

How about this one?

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The two previous images should produce afterimages the same size and shape as the photo images, in colours opposite to the predominant colour in the photos. Now see what happens when you look at one of them for a bit, then the other right after – how do they affect each other. What about the next image – how does staring at each of the previous two photos affect the way you see the colour of the Rudbeckia in the following photo?

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo: Pat Gaviller

The effect here will likely be muted – in fact you may have to do this exercise a few times before you recognize it. And because the effect is fleeting, its implications in the garden environs are limited. Large swaths of colour are more likely to produce afterimage effect because you will look at them for longer – all in all the experience of afterimages distorting the visual experience of successive plant colours, will at most be intermittent.

However, learning to recognize this phenomenon, as well as Simultaneous Contrast, affords the gardener one more advantage in working with colour in the garden. We’ll look at two more interesting colour effects in my next post.

Well whaddya know? I feel much better. Now if only pretty plants and pretty colours could heal our hurting world….

’Til next time,
Sue

 

 

Colouring Your Garden – Part 6; Putting Colour to Work

Greetings loyal readers. It seems I haven’t published a post in more than 5 months. I guess time flies when you’re having fun… or when you’re really busy. And a very busy summer it has been, both personally and professionally. Thanks to all who keep visiting here despite the lack of new content.

So to get back to where we were a loooong time ago, let’s continue with our study of colour in the garden. It’s time to take all that technical stuff about Hue, Value & Saturation and put it to work for you.

The interaction between colour and human perception is two-way – colour can influence perception, and perception can influence how we see colour. Today we’ll look at a couple of ways colour can affect perception and how this might be utilized in our gardens.

According to Encarta Dictionary, the psychological definition of perception is “any neurological process of acquiring and mentally interpreting information from the senses.” It is the interpreting of this information that makes colour a useful tool.

Temperature Perception

Looking out my window one morning last week, I saw blue-grey haze. Acrid smoke from distant forest fires filled the air, prompting air quality advisories and recommending folks stay inside. When I did venture outside briefly, I was surprised at how warm it was – the smoky, blue-grey light made it appear much cooler. Later that same day, as increasingly more smoke particles refracted what light could pierce the smoke, a reddish-orange light was cast over everything – I stepped outside again, this time anticipating oppressive heat, but it wasn’t as warm as I’d expected.

Both scenarios came about because my brain incorrectly interpreted the information my eyes had gathered – I expected coolness when the light wavelengths were in a cooler range, and warmth when longer wavelengths prevailed. Indeed we may actually feel cooler in the presence of cool colours, and warmer in the presence of warm colours. Those of you who live in colder climates have no doubt had the experience of looking out the window on a frigid winter day and feeling warmed to the core at the sight of a bright yellow sun.

This phenomenon can be exploited in the garden – perhaps you look out your window on a too-cool spring day and your whole being longs for the warmth of summer. Your eyes look toward your garden and espy drifts of orange tulips, yellow primrose and warm pink azalea – and you feel instantly warm. Or maybe you are sitting in your garden on a smoldering hot summer afternoon and note the swaths of soft mauve Russian sage, cool blue Delphinium and violet-blue globe thistle – how cool it feels.

warm spring colours

Warm hues make cool spring days feel balmy and bright.
Top
– Photos: Pat Gaviller. Bottom – Photos: Sue Gaviller

cool summer colours

Summertime blues provide cool respite from the heat. Photos: Sue Gaviller

On the other hand, maybe you like the coolness of spring and choose to accentuate this with the use of cool springtime hues – bright blue forget-me-nots, lilac-pink rock cress, mauve tulips and rich purple dwarf iris. And for those who like it hot, summer’s heat can be turned up a notch by using plants that bloom warm colours in midsummer – bright golden Rudbeckia, mahogany-red Helenium, warm pink Echinacea, and a sprinkling of hot lime-green foliage. Remember though, that abundant warm colours in the garden still require lots of green – enough to balance and counteract the bright reds, oranges and yellows.

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Cool spring colours highlight cool spring weather. Photos: Sue Gaviller

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The heat is on – warm colours sizzle in the summer heat. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Depth/Distance Perception

Visual design often involves a bit of trickery – ways of deceiving the eye to see something that isn’t altogether accurate. For example, in the urban setting many of us reside, yards are often small and disproportionately shaped. The designer’s challenge is to create a sense of spaciousness and pleasing proportion. Understanding the nuances of colour and using it effectively is one way we can achieve this.

If you recall from earlier posts in this series, warm colours appear closer than they really are, as do high value colours and those that are highly saturated. Likewise, cool colours, as well as those of low value and/or low saturation, appear further away. This optical illusion can be used to elongate a short flat space or shorten a long narrow space.

Since all three colour attributes come into play here, it isn’t always possible to predict how the eye will perceive a particular colour. For example, cool colours tend to recede and high value colours appear to advance – so a pastel mauve might do either depending on the colours that surround it. In the image below – one of many Joseph Alber’s paintings paying homage to ‘the square’ – the black central area at first appears to recede. The mauve area however, appears to alternately approach and retreat, thus bringing the black square forward then back.

For any given colour to provide the desired depth illusion, you must consider its context, i.e. its relationship to other nearby colours. A warm hue will appear closer to the viewer when contrasted with a cool hue of equal or lower value and saturation, but further away when contrasted with another warm hue of greater saturation and/or higher value. And although cool colours usually appear to recede, a cool colour that is high value will advance if contrasted with a low value colour of the same hue and equal or less saturation.

squares resize

The central hot pink square appears to advance toward us when set against the cooler, darker and less saturated purple square, whereas it recedes when contrasted with the warmer, lighter and more saturated orange. It also appears to be a different colour – a phenomenon I’ll discuss in my next post. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lilium ‘Loretto’ and Berberis thunbergii both present very warm colouring. However, the lower value and weaker saturation of the barberry make it appear to recede, in contrast to the higher value and richer saturation of the lily, which appears to ‘pop right out’ at the camera. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

While cool colours often appear to recede from the observer, this cool mauve does the opposite when seen against a darker, less saturated version of the same hue. Note how the high-value, cool coloured tulips in the foreground jump out at us visually and the dark ones retreat further into the background. Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

So how do we use all of this to our benefit in the garden? If the colour of an object causes it to appear further away, placing this colour at the far end of a short flat space might serve to visually elongate the space – additionally, by contrasting this with the use of advancing colours on the side borders, the disproportionate width may appear compressed. Likewise, a long narrow space can be shortened and widened by placing advancing colours at the far end and receding colours on the lateral boundaries. The effect is subtle – colour is by no means the primary cue whereby we perceive depth – but when combined with other forms of ‘forced perspective’, a strong impression of distance or closeness can be implied.

In this well done rectilinear landscape, the designer has created a space that is longer in one direction than the other. Photo: Pat Gaviller

orange daylilies resize

A photoshopped version of the same photo – note the wall of warm, high value, fully saturated orange daylilies appears to advance, thus shortening the space. The junipers, now slightly darker, appear to recede thus widening the space somewhat. Photo: Pat Gaviller. Retouch: Sue Gaviller

long narrow yard reversed resize

Viewing the two images side by side, the effect is more obvious, albeit still subtle.

Do You See What I See?

The perception that some colours advance and others recede, isn’t an experience shared by everyone, particularly the warm vs. cool dichotomy – indeed there are those who don’t experience this phenomenon at all, as well as those who actually see the reverse of what most people see. It can also vary within the same individual, dependent on numerous factors; for example, the effect is much less apparent if the two contrasting colours (warm and cool) are viewed against a very light background. Age too, can dictate how colour affects our perception.

It’s all about the physics of vision. Yawn. Physics – I had the dullest, most boring, uninspiring, high school physics teacher ever. Last period of the day. Double yawn. But I digress. To put it in simplest terms, it has to do with light rays of differing wavelengths and where they refract and converge on our retinas.

Regardless, one thing is certain; colour – with its countless combinations of warm or cool, light or dark, and muted or vibrant – affects us all in subtle ways we aren’t even aware of. In my next post I’ll look at how our perception, in turn, affects the way we see colour.

’Til then,
Sue

Colouring Your Garden – Part 3; Value Added

“Nowhere in nature can you find purer color than sunlight passing through the petal of a flower.”     ~ Larry K. Stephenson, Artist ~

Sunlit petals – the imagery evokes such warmth. Indeed there would be no flower petals without sunlight – plants require light to bloom, and light gives the flower (or any object) its colour.  In my last post I discussed the attribute of Hue which results from the particular wavelength of that light. In this post I’ll look at Value, which results from the amount of light reflected back from an object.

In simpler terms, Value is how light or dark a colour is. If you recall from Part 1 of this series, the value scale is located along the central vertical axis of the Munsell 3D Colour Space. Black is at the bottom of the scale and since it reflects no light, has a value of zero. White, located at the top of the value scale, has the highest value (10) because it reflects the most light – so the darker the colour, the lower the value. Here we start to see colour relationships within a single hue. For instance, maroon, red and pink are all the same hue but at different values, and mauve is the same hue as purple but at a higher value.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus cistena and Potentilla  ‘Pink Beauty’ displaying light, medium and dark values of the same hue. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Munsell value scale resample

An image from Munsell’s Colour Atlas depicting the basic hues at values from 2 through 8.

High Value Colours

Colours that have high value, pastels for example, are highly visible because they reflect so much light. Like warm hues, they appear to advance towards the observer, thus seem closer than they really are. For these reasons, plants with pastel colouring provide real ‘pop’ in the garden. And of course for these same reasons, overuse of light bright colours can fatigue the eye.

Graphics and photos: Sue Gaviller

High Value Colours. Graphics and photos: Sue Gaviller

High value colours are especially noticeable in shady locations, at twilight, or against a dark background. On the contrary, these colours get washed out in strong midday sun or near highly reflective surfaces such as concrete or light coloured stone.

Left: High value colours, like the pastel mauve of these Campanula, appear washed out under strong sun. Right: These same plants seem to glow in the fading light of dusk. Photos: Cathy Gaviller.

Left: High value colours, like the pastel mauve of Campanula, appear washed out under strong sun. Right: These same plants seem to glow in the fading light of dusk. Photos: Cathy Gaviller.

This washout effect can be minimized with the abundant use of dark green – its lower value helps to absorb reflected light. In fact pastel-coloured plants are at their best when seen against a backdrop of lush green foliage.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Panicles of pastel mauve Syringa blossoms are a real standout against dark evergreen foliage.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

pastel rose - resample 2

Soft lemon-peach blooms of Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’ are a striking contrast to the rich green surrounding foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Variegated foliage. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Plants that contain two colours of contrasting value, variegated green and white foliage for example, will appear pastel-coloured when seen from a distance – particularly if the variegations are small. This is called assimilation – the eye optically mixes the colours, averaging the high value of the white and the lower value of the green to make a lighter green. The smaller the variegation the more evident is this effect. In the photo on the right, assimilation is most apparent with the Lamiastrum in the centre – the variegation is barely evident and the leaves appear silvery pastel green. The Hosta in the foreground exhibits no assimilation at all and the Euonymus in the background, only slightly.

Low Value Colours

Low value colours reflect less light than their high value counterparts so are less visible in the landscape, especially in shade, at dusk, or against a dark background.

Low Value Colours. Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Low Value Colours. Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

When viewed from a distance, dark-coloured garden elements lose their visual impact and recede into the background, an effect that is compounded by the optical illusion of appearing further away than they actually are. While low value foliage plants (especially dark green) make good garden backdrop, any dark feature you want to draw attention to is best situated close to the viewer, where the deep opulent colour can be appreciated.

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Left: The low value red of this barberry hedge is rich and vibrant up close. Right: When viewed from further away the dark colour has a subtler effect, becoming part of the background. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Dark-coloured plants look exceptional against light-coloured stone, concrete, stucco, etc. and because they absorb light reflected from these surfaces, they also help to reduce glare and the washout effect of midday sun.

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Low value colour from dark green hedging and dark purple Verbena, provides a good foil for the higher value of the tile-stone promenade. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Since dark colours make good background plantings, and because they don’t draw a lot of attention, they can be used  generously in the landscape. But don’t overdo it – too much low value without some medium and higher value to punctuate, will result in a garden composition that feels heavy and sombre.

Natural Value of Hues

Natural Value of HuesIt’s important to note that the basic hues in their pure state don’t have equal values. If I were to pose the question, “Which of the spectral hues has the highest inherent or native value?” you wouldn’t have to think long before responding. You’d answer yellow right? It is obviously the lightest hue on the spectrum. Likewise you would probably intuit that the hue with the lowest natural value is violet or purple.

This ranking of hues by value is of particular significance as it relates to colour balance. For example, if you want to use the conventional opposites of violet and yellow you can’t use them in equal proportion – their disparate values will create too much visual tension.

I experienced this in my own garden years ago – in my infinite gardener’s wisdom I’d decided I wanted a colour scheme consisting of only purples/violets and yellows. And in my ultimate gardener’s naiveté, I planted an alternating border of pure yellow marigolds and dark purple Lobelia (yes, yes I can hear your snickers and snorts at the mention of such amateur plant choices). It didn’t take long for me to realize how very grating this composition was, although I didn’t know why – I would later learn it takes three or four units of low Value to balance one unit of high Value, and this 3 or 4 to 1 ratio should be applied to violet and yellow.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Bright yellow Osteospermum and dark violet Petunia appear quite jarring when present in equal quantity. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo:

The same pairing, now seen in more balanced proportions with 3 or 4 parts low value to one part high value. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Another way to balance these two hues, and maybe a better way, would be to use darker yellow and lighter violet elements, which lessens the disparity between the two values. They can then be present in more or less equal proportions without the visual discomfort.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Violet and yellow can be present in equal quantities by using a higher value violet, and lower value yellow, as in this container arrangement of mauve Petunia and dark golden Calendula at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ont. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Contrasting Values

Value contrast in the garden results from both the strength & direction of sunlight, and from the pigments present in the plants. The sun shining on our gardens creates shadows and highlights that we take very much for granted – we don’t always notice the resultant areas of perceived lighter or darker colour. In fact it is this contrast of light and dark that defines an object in space and enables us to discriminate between like-coloured entities. It’s what allows us to see edges and depth, therefore texture. No one knows this better than the painter – he knows if he is painting a red flower that it involves many variations on red. He adds a little black here, some white there, or grey, thus bringing his 2D image alive. The photographer too, recognizes this – she adjusts her camera settings to compensate for natural lighting that may be less than ideal (well she knows she should, regardless of how finicky and annoying it is). In this way harsh contrast between light and dark can be minimized in her finished product.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Paeonia ‘Unknown Soldier’ – note how many different values of the hue of red are seen in the shadows, midtones and highlights. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Using contrasting values of a single hue in a planting composition creates dramatic effect in the garden; indeed nature often does this within a single plant….

peach iris-resamplebicolour iris

Left: soft orange-peach standards and falls are set off by a darker orange beard. Photo: Sue Gaviller Right: velvety purple falls contrast nicely with softer mauve standards. Photo: Pat Gaviller. 

And the gardener does it within a planting scheme or vignette….

purple bicolor daylily and rose glow barberry 2

Value contrast within a planting composition – here I’ve paired cool-pink daylilies with dark plum-red barberry. Each plant contains value contrast as well – the daylily has a plum-red eyezone and the barberry has cool-pink variegations. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Dwarf Iris and creeping thyme – beautiful value contrast of red-purple hue. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Lovely though these colour combos are, as with almost everything in the garden (and in life), too much of a good thing is… well, too much. Imagine how unpleasant it would be to look at a garden filled with high contrast plant combinations. While value contrast helps us discriminate between the various elements in a planting scheme, it doesn’t always have to be dramatic.

And don’t forget balance when contrasting values – use more low value than high value (remember that ratio of 3:1 or 4:1). And green; use lots of it (have I said that before?) low value green, as well as basic green, which has medium value and helps to balance the higher and lower values.

In the words of Spanish Poet and Playwright, Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.

On that note fellow gardeners, I will conclude today’s lesson – hope you’ve learned something of value.

’Til next time,
Sue

There and Back; a Hortigeek’s Tale, Part 3 ~ Going Coastal ~

Our time in wine country had been amazing – Len has professional associates in the area so we’d been treated very well. The coast was calling though, and for me this was the most anticipated part of our trip. Our next stop would be Monterey, which hubby had determined (mistakenly) we could reach via a single Interstate. Somewhere between Fremont and San Jose he asked his navigator (me) to check his directions (which he proactively wrote out every night before bed) to make sure the highway didn’t turn anywhere. Comparing his written directions to our TripTik, I realized something wasn’t right. I advised The Captain that according to our map, I-680 did not continue through to Monterey, that in fact it appeared to end abruptly just east of San Jose. It’s not so much that he didn’t believe me, as that he couldn’t disbelieve Mr. Google… until we found ourselves on the 101 heading towards San Francisco and there were no more signs for I-680. So we turned west somewhere, then eventually south until we ended up in Santa Cruz (which fortunately was less than an hour from Monterey and a very nice drive along the coastal highway). After this, it was I who consulted Google maps every night and wrote down directions for our next day’s destinations. I won’t say we didn’t get lost again after that, but at least I could read and understand my own directions. I suppose our continued use of such tools as maps must seem archaic, considering every cell phone now comes equipped with GPS.

When we arrived in Monterey and finally found our hotel (my husband did eventually break down and use his GPS), we checked in and asked the young ladies at front desk where we could find the best seafood. Our intention had been to have dinner in the famed Cannery Row district, but hotel staff asserted that the best seafood was to be had at fisherman’s wharf. The hotel was several blocks from the waterfront so we could walk along the beach to get to the wharf. It was windy and cool walking along the Monterey coast – a refreshing change from the hot still air of the valleys. I was fascinated with the unique coastal vegetation – rugged wind-sculpted Monterey cypress punctuated masses of succulent Delosperma carpeting the sandy hills beside the shore. Every so often I’d stop and turn to snap another shot.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

I inhaled deeply the ocean’s salty aroma and revelled in the wind blowing through my hair. I heard the distant bark of sea lions which grew louder as we neared the wharf.

When we reached the dock it was too early for dinner so we wandered a bit. We found a little coffee shack and as usual, ordered a dark-roast – almost everywhere we visited we’d been unable to get a cup of dark-roast coffee. I started to think maybe it was a Canadian thing, this love of really rich dark brew, but here in Monterey we were finally able to sate our coffee cravings. Sipping the first dark brew I’d had since leaving Canada, we strolled around the wharf area and soaked up the coastal essence.

Beautiful Mexican sage bush (Salvia leucantha) in Monterey. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Beautiful Mexican sage bush (Salvia leucantha) at the Monterey wharf. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Masses of Grasses: the reddish inflorescence of this dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) looks stunning against red-brown cedar shakes, Monterey Marina. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Echium - monterey

Purple spikes of Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) are a common site in coastal gardens and landscapes. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We followed the sound of sea lions to their basking place on a raft beside the docks. I don’t know why I became so enamoured of these particular marine mammals – perhaps it was their goofy social antics, belying the incredible grace with which they swim and dive. Or the way they lay in the sun, their soft brown fur glistening, lifting their heads periodically to peer around before laying back down again, so seemingly content. They reminded me of our sweet brown dog Pepper, whom we’d lost only a couple of months before. It was mid January when we were given the news that she was terminally ill. My one wish had been that she’d have a chance to soak up the sun in her backyard, splayed out on her side the way she loved to do – just one more time. On a warm March day after weeks of vicious cold, she was able to do this – for maybe five minutes she lay there on a patch of dry grass, breathing softly, then got up and looked me straight in the eye as if trying to tell me something. I knew then that she was ready, indeed she wanted, to be set free to chase rabbits – in that big dog-park-in-the-sky. She’d lived a good life, a long life, and while I was at peace with the decision that had to be made, I knew I’d miss her terribly. And so it was that every time I saw or heard sea lions, I’d think of her and feel awash in warmth… and just a little melancholy.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

These furry brown sea mammals are sooo adorable are they not? Photo: Sue Gaviller

The wharf offered many choices for dining, each venue featuring plated displays of mouth-watering menu items and someone posted at the door beckoning passersby to come dine there. It was difficult to choose, so we chose the one with the first available window seat. Equally difficult was trying to decide what to select from the menu – in the end I opted for a ‘Captains Plate’ which had a bit of everything. And they boasted the best clam chowder in town so I had to try some of that too… yup I rolled outta there when we were finished. But a divine meal it was, eating succulent seafood and watching the sea lions settle on the rocks as the sun set.

While in Monterey we did visit Cannery Row (had another great cuppa dark java), as well as the artist’s community of Carmel about 20 miles south of Monterey. Both are tourist destinations, and since it was a weekend, they were very busy places. We agreed that we’d like to come back one day, when we had more time – and there were fewer people.

A contemporary planting, with a nautical flair in Cannery Row. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A contemporary planting – with a nautical flair. Cannery Row, Monterey. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A Brewer’s Blackbird flits about a casual coastal planting. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In the artist's community of Carmel by the Sea, the artist's touch abounds, as in the pretty painted vine on the house above and the artful container arrangements below. Photos: Sue Gaviller

In Carmel, the artist’s touch abounds – note the pretty painted vine on the house (above) and the artful container arrangements (below). Photos: Sue Gaviller

container planting Carmelcontainer planting Carmel 2

When we left Monterey we drove south along the Big Sur coastline – a magnificent drive along winding, cliff-hugging roads with panoramic views of the ocean. The heights and the road’s proximity to the edge might have made me queasy had the vistas not been so awe-inspiring.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Breathtaking views along the Big Sur coastline have earned this portion of route #1 the designation of National Scenic Byway and ‘All-American Road’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We continued our drive along the beautiful coastal highway until we reached the town of Cambria where we turned inland towards Paso Robles – there were a couple of wineries in the area we wanted to visit, so we spent the night. We’d been on the road now for two weeks and I needed to wash some clothes – fortunately our hotel had laundry facilities. When I approached the front desk to get some coin for the washer and dryer, the clerk politely obliged. Well, more than politely – in his Southern-drawl he added, “Ma’am you smell real good. Like real expensive perfume.” The young fellow was probably just being friendly, but I found his candor a bit unnerving, especially since I wasn’t wearing any perfume.

It was pretty here, though hot and very dry – the effects of California’s drought were more obvious the further south we went. I was thankful we were back inland for only a day or two before we’d be heading back to the coast. San Francisco was our next destination.

I’d never been to San Francisco and I really didn’t think I was going to be all that thrilled with the sprawling metropolis. But I agreed to go for one night just so I could say I’d been to San Fran. Thanks to my directions we had no trouble finding our hotel, and to my delight, our room was on the 20th floor, providing a spectacular view of the city and a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. I was beginning to like it here. It was mid afternoon so we had time to grab a Starbucks and take a leisurely stroll before heading to the wharf for dinner.

We made our way up the hills and down, marvelling at the distinctive design of the buildings. San Francisco’s architecture can only be described as… well, San Francisco. It is entirely unique. Of course there are many examples of contemporary design, but it is the peculiar mix of architectural styles in the older row homes that I found so intriguing.

san fran

Mosaic tile steps, terra-cotta containers and scrolled wrought iron create a distinct Spanish Mediterranean feel in the front entrance of this San Francisco home. Photo: Sue Gaviller

It is often referred to as Victorian, and there are certainly those elements – bay windows, steeply pitched roofs and highly decorative flourishes.

But there are also Spanish Mediterranean influences (mosaic tile, scrolled wrought iron, courtyard gardens) and some even exhibit a hint of New England Colonial – clapboard-like siding painted soft blue, ivory or beige, with white trim and paned windows.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A pretty courtyard garden in San Francisco. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bright fuchsia Bougainvillea and white climbing rose frame an entryway; lavender, lily of the Nile and azaleas line the pathway. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We reached fishermen’s wharf about half an hour before our dinner reservation so we had time to do a little souvenir shopping. San Francisco’s wharf isn’t near as quaint as Monterey’s – it’s big and busy and… utterly enchanting. The sound of jazz floated through the air. I assumed it was music being piped from one of the many shops or restaurants, but I discovered later it was a lone busker – with a really big amp. And of course there was the now familiar sound of sea lions – here there were dozens of rafts for the cute critters to pile onto.

 

As expected, dinner was delectable, and the taxi-ride back to the hotel quite entertaining. The driver, a big fellow with a silky smooth voice, drove for a limo-tour company and did a fine job promoting San Francisco; not that it needed promoting – I was already smitten with The City by the Bay.

We spent the following morning in Golden Gate Park – the park has a world-renowned Japanese garden which I’d always wanted to see; another reason I’d agreed to visit San Francisco. After the difficulty I had photographing Portland’s Japanese gardens I hoped to have more success here. This garden was very different – brighter and more open than the dappled shade of Portland’s moist, almost-tropical garden. I mistakenly assumed this would make it easier to shoot. It didn’t. The hazy white sky created unpleasant glare and gave everything a yellowish tone. Of course if I was a real photographer I’d have known how to compensate for this. As I looked about the gardens I noted another significant difference – whereas Portland had more coarse textured plants like Hosta and abundant large-leaved rhododendrons to break up the finer texture of pines, ferns and grasses, much of the plant material here seemed finer textured. This resulted in a somewhat busy feel to plant compositions and also contributed to my photographic woes – the fine texture created so many areas of light and dark, hence the same difficulty with harsh contrast as the dappled shade of Portland. Sigh.

Still, it was beautiful and given the Japanese philosophy of celebrating ‘place’, it’s entirely valid that a Japanese garden in coastal California would differ from that of an Oregon rainforest. Regardless, it was well worth the visit.

Photo: S Gaviller

Iris ensata adds an elegant splash of colour to rich green vegetation at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Cloud pruning is the Japanese practice of trimming trees and shrubs into cloud-like forms. Known as ‘Niwaki’, which means ‘garden tree’, it is seen throughout the gardens. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Stone lanterns are an integral part of the Japanese garden. Here a small lantern provides a solid foil for the many fine-textured elements. Photo: Sue Gaviller

fern grotto

Circle of Peace in the Fern Grotto, National Aids Memorial Grove, Golden Gate Park.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

We had both thoroughly enjoyed San Francisco and knew we’d visit again – for much longer next time. But now it was time to head to our next and final destination where we would spend our anniversary, and the last few days of our trip before embarking on the long journey home. Originally Len had suggested we stay in a big fancy resort hotel in Sonoma to celebrate our marriage milestone. However, I thought something quieter would be more relaxing and romantic. My research led me to a beautiful spa resort at Bodega Bay on the Sonoma coast – very elegant but not the least ostentatious.

We arrived mid afternoon and checked into our ocean view suite, complete with luxurious lounge furniture, a wood burning fireplace, a hot tub and a private patio. A bottle of chilled champagne awaited us – a gift from resort staff in honour of our special day. Pouring ourselves a glass of the cool effervescent nectar we relaxed on the patio and gazed out at the ocean. Tidal channels and saltwater marsh, creating a bird sanctuary, lay between us and the ocean. We could hear birdsong all day, frogs chirping all night… and sea lions barking all day and all night. Tastefully landscaped grounds, gorgeous pool, 4-star restaurant – truly this was a little piece of paradise. I didn’t think I’d ever want to leave.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Native grasses and yellow lupins along the shoreline. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Not sure if this is the invasive artichoke thistle, but it was certainly photogenic against the misty marshlands at Bodega Bay. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The softly draping form and muted colour of dwarf ornamental grasses contrasts beautifully with the rich colour and stiff upright texture of New Zealand flax. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

This lovely coastal landscape includes handsome New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium), Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) and lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus). Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A bench in a cozy nook amid ferns and fuchsias. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A fine pair; rich dark Aeonium and soft blue-green Echeveria. Note how the foliage rosettes echo the scalloped edge of the planter. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A statue of Poseidon, Greek God of the Sea, watches over the pool area. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Yes indeed it was hard to leave – the Oceanside walks, strolls though the bird sanctuary, wonderful fresh food,  champagne by the fireplace, sea lions swimming and diving around the pier. But alas the time soon came for us to bid the coast goodbye. Our trip had come to an end – all that was left was the four-day drive back to Calgary, and this time we weren’t taking the scenic route.

Interestingly, the only negative experiences we had on the entire trip occurred on the drive home – a resort hotel in Reno with a casino that was so smoky we could smell it in our room. The room itself was posh on the surface, but somehow seemed really seedy – dozens of faux satin and velveteen pillows on the bed, and a black, not-terribly-clean hot tub at the foot of the bed. I wondered if the adage ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ might apply to Reno as well.

While we were out for dinner that night we received a panicked text from one of our sons who’d been looking after our house while we were away. He’d been heading out the door to leave when he saw, at the foot of the steps, a big ol’ skunk. He wasn’t sure what to do. I knew what he was thinking – a number of years ago, his friend from across the road came home late one night, startled a skunk that was hiding in the shrubbery and got himself sprayed. I’d never really had any ‘up-close and personal’ dealings with the striped villains, though I’d smelled their stench periodically in the neighbourhood. And growing up on an acreage in Southern Ontario, the family dog would run afoul of one at least once every summer. Supposedly the only way to get rid of the smell was to bathe them in tomato juice, but I don’t honestly remember doing so with any of our dogs. I was pretty sure my twenty-something son wasn’t going to be too keen on a late night tomato juice dip – and there was no way of avoiding Pepé Le Pew in his current position. I texted him back, “Pour yourself a Scotch and sit down for a bit til he’s gone,” was the best I could come up with.

Then there was the horrible meal we had in Twin Falls the following night – the vegetables were literally rotten. And our last night on the road, in Great Falls – we got bumped from our hotel room (which we’d reserved weeks before) and dumped into what was likely the worst room in the hotel; way at the back with train tracks only a few feet from our window, and a really small bed. It made us all the more eager to get home.

Late afternoon the next day we arrived home. I was greeted with the colorful blooms of moss phlox, creeping thyme, dwarf iris… and lilacs. I hadn’t missed them after all! Walking up to the front door, suitcase in hand, I stopped and closed my eyes. For a moment, the breeze carried me back to the California coast I breathed deeply and my nostrils filled with Syringa‘s sweet perfume. I was home. Though I still felt the call of the road, it was time to dig in and get to work. This was my busy season and I knew I’d have to hit the ground running….

‘Til next time,
Sue

There and Back; a Hortigeek’s Tale, Part 2 ~ California Here we Come ~

We left Portland on Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend. Apparently traffic is bumper-to-bumper heading to the coast on holiday weekends, but since it was Saturday, our hope was that everyone would’ve arrived at their destinations already.  We decided to get an early start just to be safe. Indeed it was quieter on the freeways than any other time during our 5-day stay – if we’d known how much time we would spend in heavy traffic travelling to and from wine country, we’d have opted to stay in one of the smaller towns down the valley. I heard one of the locals comment that even visitors from LA, which is known for crazy car congestion, complain about traffic in and around Portland.

The drive to the coast took us through wine country again, then onto the Salmon River Highway which eventually joined up with the Oregon Coast highway just North of Lincoln City. We stopped in Lincoln City for a cuppa java – one of the finest we’d have on the entire trip; whether it was the coffee itself or the fact that we sipped while gazing out onto the Pacific Ocean I’m not sure. It had been years since I’d been to the ocean, and never the Oregon coast. I felt the familiar call of the water, as I always did since leaving my home on Georgian Bay as a young woman. Why I chose to move to an inland city (a semi arid one no less) I really don’t know, but I knew this trip would have me longing again for a life on the water.

The Coastal Highway was, as expected, very scenic – Oregon’s coast is varied in its topography, the highway traversing a shoreline of rugged rocky bluffs, massive sand-dunes that were oft right next to the highway, and dense forests of shore pine, rich with Rhododendron understory. I marveled at the range of conditions in which these Ericaceous shrubs thrived here – from the rich fertile soils of the Willamette valley to lean, sandy (and likely salty) coastal soils. I remembered something I’d read recently about successfully growing Rhododendrons in less-than-ideal soil conditions – amend the soil with pine needles. Noting the masses of healthy-looking native rhodies beneath the pines, I understood why. I noted too how Mother Nature, the ultimate designer, had perfectly paired the fine feathery texture of pine foliage with the coarse leathery Rhododendron foliage.

We pulled off the highway at a particularly gorgeous ocean look-out and I took a few shots of the breathtaking view. Then I heard it – a sound I’d miss more than any other sound the ocean offered – the barking of sea lions. Adjusting our vantage point we saw them, camped out on the rocks far below, basking in the sun. From where we were they looked rather like slugs. Turned out that just up the road were the Sea Lion Caves, a very busy Oregon Coast tourist attraction.

Heceta Head and Devil's Elbow Bay, Oregon Coast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heceta Head and Devil’s Elbow Bay, Oregon Coast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sunbathing sea lions. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Several hours later we crossed the border into California. Shortly thereafter the highway veered inland and before long we found ourselves among giant redwoods. I’d of course seen the behemoth redwoods before. I’d had the dizzying experience of looking up, looking waaaayy up, into the soft-needled crown of a single specimen or small stand, but never had I seen a whole forest. These horticultural giants were truly awe-inspiring. I wondered if maybe J.R.R. Tolkien was staring into an old-growth forest such as this when he created his beloved Treebeard and the other Ents.

Somewhere around Crescent City the highway met the shoreline again. We found a sandy cove where we dipped our feet, me for the first time, in California’s Pacific waters.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

I first set foot in California waters here on Wilson Creek Beach, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We spent the night in pretty Eureka on the North coast. Looking out over Humboldt Bay we watched a big orange sun drop beneath the misty horizon. My husband ate fresh oysters from the bay and I partook of a fine California Riesling – this would be the first of many California sunsets we’d witness in the coming weeks.

Continuing South the next day on U.S. Highway 101, fittingly called the Redwood Highway through this part of the state, our destination for that day was Napa Valley. The fastest route would have been to follow 101 all the way down, but hubby wanted me to experience the Shoreline Highway as he had when a 20-something young man. So at Leggett, it’s Northern terminus, we turned off 101 and headed West on California State Route 1. Though it’s called the Shoreline Highway, it is well inland at this point and to the East of heavily treed mountainous terrain. To get to the coast one must first navigate this terrain…………

I took a deep breath. I knew I was in for a wild ride. At first it didn’t seem so bad, but very quickly the road heads into dark foreboding territory. We were climbing, climbing, following the winding, twisting road, narrow and full of snake-turns and switchbacks. Though we were always aware of the steep slope on one side or the other, periodic breaks in the trees allowed us to see how far up we were. And just when I’d think we were through it all and we’d start descending, we were climbing again. At times it was so dark, the tree canopy so dense, and the road so narrow that my husband commented, “I feel like we’re on some kind of hobbit trek.”

“Yeah, like through Mordor,” I muttered. If you aren’t familiar with Tolkein’s mythical realm of Middle Earth, then suffice it to say that Mordor is a very bad place. I don’t know how long we actually drove through this – it was only about 26 miles, but the going was slow and it seemed like hours. We finally emerged from Mordor about a half hour north of Fort Bragg, drove up around a bend and there stretched out before us, was the spectacular California coastline in all her windswept glory. Never had I felt so elated to see the endless expanse of water.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Gorgeous view of California coastline just north of Westport-Union Landing State Beach.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

When we reached Mendocino, where we’d planned to stop for lunch, it was so full of tourists (yes we too fit that description) that we decided to wait. I needed to get out and stretch after the white knuckle drive I’d just endured, so we opted to have coffee and wander around the historic little town. I asked the young girl in the coffee shop where their washroom was – she informed me that due to the drought, all their wells were dry and the only available washroom was a public one down the street. I went in search of the facilities, passing numerous expensive shops and boutiques – in my ignorance I still thought of Mendocino as an old hippie town. There was a line-up for the ladies’ room – standing in line gave me the opportunity to take some photos of pretty gardens nearby. Vegetation here, both natural and garden, differed from that further up the coast.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mounds of pink and white rock rose dress up Mendocino’s wooden water tower. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Still waiting in line, I noticed a young man with long hair and a beard (which was as long as his hair), wearing cargo shorts, work boots and walking a beautiful bloodhound. “Must be a local,” I thought to myself, still showing my naivety (as if I had any idea what a local Mendocino-ite might look like). “Nice dog,” I remarked. He looked at me warily and muttered something – everywhere we’d been people were so open and friendly and this man’s guarded response was a marked contrast. “Is that a Bloodhound?” I persisted. At that the bearded fellow opened up completely, informing me that yes she was a bloodhound, that she was in heat, the second phase of her heat to be precise, and she was really………..well to put it a tad more delicately than he did, apparently her sex drive was extremely elevated. He was looking for another bloodhound to breed her with but the only one in the area belonged to the local police chief or sheriff or whatever and blah, blah, blah……..the guy was harmless but I was now a little uncomfortable with the conversation – fortunately by this time I’d progressed to the front of the line and could politely dismiss myself.

When I exited the washroom Mr. Mendocino was nowhere to be seen. I heard the sound of acoustic guitar and soft voices – a few yards away under a shady tree, a group of young people were playing guitar and singing old Neil Young tunes. I guess it was still a hippie town – young and old. I smiled, remembering my own youth and my first acoustic guitar, singing Mamas and Papas or Joni Mitchell tunes around a campfire – I was barely a teenager…………..and such a wannabe hippie.

I found my way back to the car where hubby was waiting, wondering if I’d got lost. We took a stroll, coffee in one hand, camera in the other, and explored scenic Mendocino before heading out on the road again. The gardens here were quite unique – picket fences, roses, heathers and other old-fashioned garden elements spoke to the vintage of the area, and spiky upright plants like Echium, Phormium and tall stiff grasses spoke to its coastal locale and lent structure to the softer elements.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The juxtaposition of New Zealand flax (Phormium) with the white picket fence and heritage building makes quite a statement. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Purple-blue spikes of Echium contrast nicely with the old-fashioned white roses in the foreground. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Variegated New Zealand flax and tall ornamental grasses frame and anchor the mixed shrub/perennial border lining this pathway. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We continued our drive south on the #1 until it met up with #128 which would take us back inland, through more redwood forest on more winding roads – but nothing like Mordor. As we left the giant Sequoia forest behind, the landscape and vegetation changed quickly – we were entering wine country, more specifically the Anderson Valley Appellation (appellation is a fancy word for wine-growing region). We stopped for lunch in a little town called Boonville (yes that’s right; a little town out in the boonies called Boonville). It was hot here, like all wine growing regions, and like all small towns associated with wine growing regions, there were lots of great places to eat. We found a casual salad and sandwich place – I had one of the most flavourful salads I’d ever tasted; arugula, mango, grilled chicken breast, fresh cilantro…………mmmmm I can still taste it.

A couple of hours later we arrived in Napa Valley where we would stay and explore for the next 5 days. I won’t bore you with a play-by-play account of our stay in California wine country – I’ll just say it was fabulous; fine wine, great food, stunning scenery, beautiful gardens………………..

Chateau Ste. Jean, a Sonoma winery, boasts beautifully landscaped grounds - Mediterranean inspired in the Italian Renaissance style, with classical statuary, parterres and hedging, archways and rustic pergolas. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Chateau Ste. Jean, a Sonoma winery, boasts beautifully landscaped grounds – Mediterranean inspired in the Italian Renaissance style, with classical statuary, parterres and hedging, archways and rustic pergolas. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Truchard vineyards are one of the oldest vineyards in the Carneros region of Napa and produce beautiful wines, my personal favourites being Chardonnay and Cabernet Reserve. After a lovely lunch in the gazebo with Tony and Anthony, we took a stroll through the vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Modern, minimalistic promenade in downtown Napa. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Simply planted , it is the shape, colour and placement of these terra-cotta pots that provides the appeal. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In Yountville, a gorgeous little town just North of Napa, beautiful gardens and landscapes abound - here lavender, roses and the ever-present columnar cypress adorn a restaurant parking lot. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In Yountville, a picturesque town just North of Napa, gorgeous gardens and landscapes abound – here lavender, roses and the ever-present columnar cypress adorn a restaurant parking lot.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Poolside planting outside private residence at Trefethen Vineyards. Note how the form and dense texture of the columnar cypress nicely dominate the scene with the rounder forms playing a supporting role. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Roses planted alongside a stone wall create real old world appeal in this roadside planting next to a vineyard in Napa. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rhythmic repetition of narrow upright cypress creates nice movement around this circular drive. Photo: Sue Gaviller

lambert bridge lavender 2

Layered planting – a swath of lavender repeats the horizontal line of the stone wall, which is again repeated in the barberry shrubs and the trees beyond. Lambert Bridge Winery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Kendall Jackson, another Sonoma winery, has lush gardens to wander through. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A stunning ‘hedge’ of Cannas near Dry Creek. I guess they don’t get hail there. Photo: Sue Gaviller

After 5 days of hot weather, daily wine tasting and other overindulgences, I was ready to move on to the next leg of our journey – back to the coast. I was so looking forward to fresh seafood, the smell of saltwater and walks along the beach. Join me next time for more garden pics from the California coast.

Til then,
Sue

 

 

There and Back – a Hortigeek’s Tale

Greetings fellow gardeners! I must apologize for ignoring this blog of late, but I was on vacation for a few weeks. Vacation you ask – at this time of year? What garden designer in her right mind goes AWOL for 3 weeks just as gardening season is revving up? Well I’ve never claimed to be in my right mind – although if truth be told I think I’m one of the sanest people I know. But I digress. My husband and I observed a milestone anniversary earlier this month – so to celebrate, the sommelier and the garden designer took a little road trip; touring wineries, visiting fabulous gardens and noshing on fine victuals.

I know y’all have been waiting for my ‘Colour in the Garden’ series to begin, and for my weekly Plant Pick Page to get up and running, and I promise I am working on those. In the meantime though, I thought I’d share some of the beauty I’ve recently witnessed.

When we left home on Victoria Day the leaves were just beginning to break bud – this was an unusually late spring, even for Calgary. As we drove South, the green aura of emerging leaves became more marked, and by the time we crossed the border and made our first pit-stop, everything was green and leafy, crab-apples and lilacs were blooming – spring had certainly come to Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. While hubby filled the gas tank I looked longingly across the freeway where a hedge of lilacs bloomed – I wanted to run across four lanes of traffic and bury my face in the fluffy purple panicles, breathing in their intoxicating aroma. But that would be foolhardy.  Hopefully when we stopped for the night there would be lilacs to sniff.

When we reached Spokane, Washington where we’d stay for the night, there were indeed lilacs blooming, chestnut trees too, peonies, Siberian irises, and deep, rich, fuchsia-red hawthorn blooms. A walk after dinner afforded me the longed-for opportunity to stick my nose in some sweet lilac blossoms and inhale deeply – mmmm I do love lilacs. I hoped there would be more as we continued on our journey. The next morning my husband was up early and eager to get on the road. I was tired – taking this time away had meant weeks of hectic scheduling beforehand and I found myself resisting his attempts to schedule our time. It would take a few days for him to get the ants out of his pants and me to get the lead out of mine. However we did have appointments to keep – we were expected that afternoon at a winery in Walla Walla.

The drive through the Columbia Basin in Washington State revealed some of the most intriguing scenery I’d ever seen – strange, rolling, treeless hills that were at times bright green with agricultural crops, (often topped with huge white alien-looking windmills), at times rugged as rangeland, and at times awash with the muted colours of sagebrush, purple vetch-like flowers and tawny-hued grasses. The horticulturist (a.k.a. plant geek) in me wanted to stop the car every five minutes so I could identify each and every plant, and the designer in me wanted to photograph every landscape, natural or manmade – but more often than not, there was no safe place to pull over. This would be one of many times I’d have to settle my inner ‘hortigeek’, lest I experience every beautiful sight as a missed opportunity.

When we arrived in Walla Walla, spring had been left behind – it was early summer here; very warm, shorts-weather even. We ate lunch on the patio of a charming historic restaurant in the town-site, then headed out to wine country. The Walla Walla wine region is hot and dry – it felt stifling when we first stepped out of the car; Calgary was cold and rainy when we’d left only the day before, so the heat was a shock to the senses. I was thankful for the cool of the air-conditioned tasting room. For my husband this was the true beginning of our trip – the winery experience. It would be at least another day before I felt the same.

We made it to Portland that night after a picturesque drive on I-84 along the Columbia River Gorge, and an exquisite dinner in the hip little town of Hood River. Portland is at the northern tip of the Willamette Valley; a wide fertile valley that is home to some of the world’s finest Pinot Noirs, and boasts phenomenal gardening conditions – here Rhododendrons of every colour thrive, indeed they are native to this area. In fact everything seems to thrive here – driving along the I-5 from Portland to wine country the next day, I was thrilled at the roadside plantings of rhodos, roses, ivy, Spanish lavender and other sumptuous offerings (but no lilacs). Gorgeous gardens everywhere; even fast food chains had nicely landscaped grounds.  The hortigeek in me was plotzing again – but vineyards and wineries are beautiful places, as are the many small towns where they oft reside, so there was lots to photograph.

Rhododendrons grow everywhere in Oregon, much like Syringa and Potentilla grow in our climate. Here a coral-red rhodo grows alongside spreading juniper in a parking lot planting.  Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rhododendrons grow everywhere in Oregon, much like Syringa and Potentilla grow in our climate. Here a coral-red rhodo grows alongside spreading juniper next to a parking lot in Newberg, Oregon.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spanish lavender too is a common sight throughout the area. Here it is planted with other herbs in a back alley garden in McMinnville, Oregon. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Roses were in full bloom in Oregon when we were there the end of May. These three perfect white roses just begged to be photographed. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A lovely Mediterranean-inspired garden outside a restaurant where we had lunch in Dundee, Oregon. Note how the various plant forms play off each other. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A visit to Portland’s famed Japanese garden was the moment I finally relaxed – entering through the gates I felt the tensions and busy-ness of the previous weeks melt away and I was overcome with emotion. This is the aim of the Japanese Garden – to provide a haven from worldly cares. However as soon as I brought my camera out, I wasn’t so relaxed anymore – dappled shade is soothing and tranquil to be in, but not so easy to photograph in. My husband, sensing my growing frustration, related his own experience with photography as a young arts student – wherever he went he was always looking for subject material, hoping that today would be the day he took the photo; the photo of a lifetime, until one day he realized that his attempts to capture with perfect artistry that which he saw, actually undermined his ability to experience and enjoy what he saw. He was right of course – here we were in this amazing place of calm and I was anything but calm. So I put my camera away and we walked in the cool dappled shade, we listened to sweet birdsong and dancing water and we sat beside the koi pond and marveled at the serenity of it all. Yes this was the beginning of my vacation………..

Portland Japanese Garden - water basin

A peaceful stone water basin sits just inside the gates. Photo: Sue Gaviller.

Portland Japanese Garden bridge

A bridge crosses a tranquil stream in the ‘Strolling Pond Garden’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The sound of running water, from numerous streams and waterfalls, is everywhere in the garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Portland Japanese Garden - ferns and rhodos

Hot pink Rhododendron pairs beautifully with bright green ferns. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mount Ste. Helens and downtown Portland are visible through an opening in the trees – an example of the Japanese principle of ‘Borrowed Scenery’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We visited several wineries over the course of the next few days while staying in the Portland area, but the one that most bears mention is WillaKenzie Estate Winery – I could of course rave about their fabulous Pinot’s (everybody does), or I could talk about their delightful winemaker’s assistant Gabby, a young French-Canadian woman who gave us an intimate look behind the scenes, but what I really want to rave about is the breathtaking scenery; beautifully landscaped grounds, spectacular views……….

Trees frame the view of a vineyard at WillaKenzie Estate. Photo: Sue Gaviller

willakenzie white rhodos 2

A low hedge of crisp white rhodos lines the steps at the entrance to the winery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Flowering dogwood trees have large showy flowers which look stunning against the dark green coarse-textured leaves. This young specimen graced an estate pathway. Photo: Sue Gaviller

willakenzie sensory garden

The Sensory Garden – lavender, thyme, oregano, fruit trees, strawberry vines, mint, iris and all manner of things to delight the senses are grown in the Sensory Garden overlooking the vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Irises in the Sensory Garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The lovely Gabby offers us a barrel tasting of a 2013 Aliette Pinot Noir. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The lovely Gabby offers us a barrel tasting of 2012 Aliette Pinot Noir. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The patio outside WillaKenzie’s tasting room boasts a panoramic view of rolling hills, valleys and vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

willakenzie cheese plate 2

Fresh baguette, fine cheeses, nuts, dried cherries and apricots were the perfect complement to a glass of wine on the patio. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sitting at a shady table on the patio, sipping an elegant 2011 Aliette Pinot Noir and nibbling on the tasty treats that were kindly offered us, I couldn’t imagine a place more beautiful. A red tailed hawk soared out over the valley. I reached for my camera……then stopped – this moment was too perfect to waste fussing with camera settings for the umpteenth time. As if reading my thoughts the hawk swooped down into the valley and out of sight. I took a sip of wine, closed my eyes and felt the warmth of the gorgeous red nectar and the light caress of cool breezes. Could it get any better than this? I would soon find out as we continued on the next leg of our journey………..

Stay tuned for, ‘California Here We Come’.

Til then,
Sue

 

 

 

 

 

Colour – the Absence of White

My back yard was still covered in snow as of yesterday – or to be more accurate, my back yard was covered in snow again as of yesterday. Spring had teased us with some warm-ish weather for a week or so;  enough that the snow had melted, leaving in its wake swaths of pallid yellow-brown turf and dull grey-brown soil – colour so de-saturated it could hardly be called colour at all. But at least it wasn’t white. Then a weekend of snow and below-freezing temperatures, and the ground was again blanketed in white – I might have called it pretty had we not already had 6 months of it.

Today the spring weather has returned and the snow has all but receded, this time exposing green. Green – the colour of awakening life. It warms us to the core – indeed it’s all the colour we need right now. It signals the beginning of another long-awaited gardening season.

But as the season progresses, gardeners are no longer as enamoured of plain old green; we want bigger colour, brighter colour, and zealously apply it to our gardens without understanding its impact – for good or for bad. What is there to understand you ask? Why is colour any different for gardeners than anybody else? Well, it’s not really – it’s just that we face some unique challenges when employing it.

Working with colour is different for a gardener than for example, a painter.  A painter works with paints and pigments, mixing them in various proportions until the desired colour is attained. A gardener on the other hand, has only what Mother Nature (or the hybridizer) offers. While there are plenty of colours to choose from, it can be a challenge to find a plant in the exact colour we want, have it grow and thrive in the exact location we want and have it bloom at the exact time we want.  And even a novice gardener quickly learns that a flower described as ‘blue’ is rarely blue, but more purple-blue or mauve-pink, and supposedly purple foliage isn’t really purple but rather a dark wine colour.

As well, we can’t control the existing colours in the larger landscape; the colour of our neighbour’s house for example. What if it’s red, or bright blue or yellow? How does one work with that as a backdrop for your garden?

And what about the impact of light? Outside under full sun, light shines at an intensity of 100,000 lux. Inside, directly in front of a sunny window, light intensity is about half that – 50,000 lux, and once you are a few feet further into the interior of a building, light intensity diminishes to as little as 1000 lux. Due to the sheer intensity of it, light has a greater potential to impact colour outdoors than it does indoors.

A garden isn’t a static reality either; it is a dynamic interplay of living, growing things – a vision in flux. So a garden that looks fresh and full of promise in the spring might be an overgrown mess come midsummer. Individual plants also change over the course of a season, or even a day or two – for example the lilac flower shown below is made up of many little florets, each with their own life span; the buds and newly opened florets are rich violet-red, whereas older florets are somewhat faded and will eventually turn brown. As more florets age and fade, the colour of the whole panicle is affected and eventually the appearance of the whole shrub.

Syringa 'Ludwig Spaeth'

So, now that we recognize some of the unique challenges gardeners face when working with colour, let’s see if we can’t find a way of understanding it so we can respond to those challenges.

Over the spring and summer months I’ll be discussing colour theory specifically as it relates to garden design – hope you can join me.

Until next time,
Sue