Behold BROWN!

Carex comans

Beautiful bronze Carex comans

“We’re in curious territory here.  In the garden, brown usually (but not always) means senescence or death;when it appears in a healthy, robust flower, it can cause a mild case of cognitive dissonance in the observer.”

The gardener's color palette by Tom Fischer

Visual candy for colorists!

The above observation is from one of my favorite new books, The Gardener’s Color Palette, Paint Your Garden With 100 Extraordinary Flower Choices, by Tom Fischer.  Beautifully photographed by Clive Nichols this poetic homage celebrates and explores that most obvious and evocative element of every garden.

Everyone’s already worn out the “box of chocolates” metaphor – but really, this book is just that.  My darling daughter, when faced with a toothsome display of delicious morsels, takes a discreet bite out of every candy in the box – on the backside of course.   Why limit herself to just one when they’re all so good?!?  That’s sort of how I treat this book, only without the resulting unsavory, sticky and disappointing mess for the next person sampling.

A color will catch my eye…whether in my messy office, at the Sunday farmer’s market, or yes – even the garden, and I’ll dig into The Gardener’s Color Palette to get Fischer’s take on it.  Just like a good bittersweet chocolate – his words are deep, luscious and fruity yet don’t make your teeth hurt with cloying sweetness.

Here’s Fischer’s take on Orange:

“It brings tropical warmth and brilliance into temperate gardens, and begs to be combined with other sharp colors: magenta, bright yellow, electric blue.  Orange goes with margaritas and music that has a really good beat.  As it modulates toward peach and melon, it becomes another creature entirely, losing none of its glow but acquiring more social graces, like a practiced hostess at a large party: ‘Miss Peach, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Brown and Miss Lilac.  May I pour you some tea?'”

Some people can’t stand orange flowers; I just ignore them – the people, not the flowers…I adore orange flowers!  But some magenta flowers really do make my teeth hurt.  Lord knows, fortunes have been spent in pursuit of a true blue blossom, and let’s not overlook  that haute horticultural fashion – black.  I’ve certainly been known to plunk down some coin for a good goth garden effect, despite the (obvious) fact that black flowers are virtually invisible in the garden.

True confessions… Tom is editor-in-chief at Timber Press – the publisher for my next book.  I don’t want to be seen as “brown nosing” here.  But, really?  The best part of this book is how he doesn’t leave out the quirky, uncomfortable, or less-well-accepted colors.  Anthony Bourdain would call these colors the “nasty bits”.

But BROWN…brown is my favorite.  I love brown in the garden. Foliage, flowers, ripe pods and seed heads, bark, rusty metal, wet dirt, aged manure (especially if someone else is spreading it!).  Tom didn’t leave out brown.  I find that delicious. Brown isn’t just for autumn any more.  Here’s a little pictorial essay of some of my favorite garden browns at their peak right now:

rumex flexuosa

Rumex flexuosa is quietly dashing year after year in my zone 8 garden

PCH iris 'juno'

the nearly ecclesiastical vestments of PCH iris 'Juno'

Physocarpus 'Coppertina'

'Coppertina' ninebark - is this where pennies come from?

epimedium x rubrum

Emerging foliage of the red-flowered bishop's mitre - what's with the high church references?

auricula primrose 'Douglas Black'

Theatre-worthy auriucla primrose 'Douglas Black' - sounds like a Supreme Court Justice

auricula primrose

...and the unfortunately named '#2' auricula primrose

Don’t let my chocolate fantasies put you off this delectable book which has a treat for even the most dyed-in-pastel-wool color traditionalists.

“It’s not all cotton candy and strawberry ice cream.  Although pink can seem too sugary in certain settings (and has perhaps not been aided by its link with Mary Kay Cosmetics and the movie Legally Blonde),  when used intelligently it’s capable of both great delicacy and great strength.  Pale pink inevitably carries associations of youth, freshness, joy , and spring.  As it deepens, however, it sheds the chaste veils of innocence for the low-cut, slinky evening gown of experience.  Hot pink and magenta don’t take sass from anyone, and they’re ready to show you a good time.”

Hmmmmm –  maybe it’s time I take another look at “sassy” magenta.

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6 Responses to “Behold BROWN!”

  1. Christina Salwitz May 5, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    LOVE the chocolate theme! I’ve been doing more than one combo pot lately based on Chocolate, Caramel and other yummy to look at color schemes. They look so contemporary and unusual when grouped with some of the “old reliables”.

  2. Willi May 6, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    Ooh! I dig the skull with the brown grass. Kind of ironic if you think about it!
    .-= Willi´s last blog ..Dew Drops =-.

  3. lorene May 6, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    kinda hip, huh?

  4. lorene May 6, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    hmmmm…maybe we should call them flavors not colors!!!

  5. Van Schilperoort May 3, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    The book looks fab! Love you list of brown flowers. Love, love, love Rumex flexuosa. How cool is that? I must find a place for that in my garden! And the auriucla primrose ‘Douglas Black!’ Lorene, it’s a good thing you don’t tend bar!


  6. Lorene May 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    Lemme find a lil’ brown sprout of R. flexuosa for you… My friend Rick used to call it Circus Talk… who doesn’t want to run away and join the circus??!?