The Bold and Brilliant Garden by Sarah Raven, Photographs by Jonathan Buckley, Frances Lincoln
A book arrived by post this morning, on the shortest day of the year, when the sky was dreary, the temperature had dipped below minus twelve degrees centigrade and fifteen centimeters of snow were predicted to fall. The unwrapping of the book was the equivalent of lighting a bonfire in my living room. It arrived at the best moment to warm and illuminate the day.
This publication is about color; not about any color and not about the colors we traditionally associate with polite flower gardens. This is a book about sizzling color that sets a flower garden ablaze. In the introduction, the author declares that the use of bold and brilliant color is the result of a need to redefine the palette of her own garden. Having tired of “delicate” color schemes, she was ready for “passionate”. However, when these strong colors were introduced into her garden, they turned out to be either too rich or too dark and needed brightening up in order to set them off. To achieve the desired color saturation, the author began to mix tomato-soup red flowers with purples, orange with magentas and crimsons with gold. As a background for these intense combinations, she used acid green and silver plants to achieve the most eye popping results.
The introduction of the book ends with a double page montage of the twenty four vivid flowers that the author relies upon to create brilliance. Sorted into an eye catching color sequence, they range from blue Meconopsis to red Allium, from purple Salvia to scarlet Poppy, from ruby Clematis to tangerine Arctotis and from gold Helianthus to acid green Euphorbia. Never heard of some of these plants? Never mind! By the time you’ve finished reading this book, these flowers will have seared themselves into memory and you will never again look at a garden in the same way.
Readers with an appreciation for music will enjoy the author’s metaphors. Traditional gardens with delicate coloring are compared to the string section of an orchestra, while richly colored gardens are referred to as the brass section. The deep red flowers that give a garden its overall structure are called base notes, while the adjective “jazzy” is used to describe any vivid colored flower.
The main body of the book is an exposition on how to use intensely colored plants in each of the growing seasons. And, within a season, the plants are sub divided into those suitable for damp grounds and into those that require sun, shade or partial shade. Sprinkled through out the book, are care instructions for high maintenance plants such as Roses and Dahlias, as well as advice on staking flowers and soil preparation. Each page is brimming with detailed information about recommended flowers, suitable companion plants to create vividness, anecdotal details about the personalities of the suggested flowers and intensely colored photos.
Another helpful feature of the book is the use of colored blueprints to help the reader plan gardens similar to those illustrated in the book. These suggested layouts include a list and quantity of the plants required, as well as a guide to where they should be planted in relation to other flowers. The essence of the author’s advice is that bright colors need strongly shaped flowers to showcase their vividness; and that dramatic foliage, texture and fragrance are also required to create a sensory balance.
A gardening publication needs beautiful pictures, as well; this book takes garden illustration to such a higher level that it is necessary to acknowledge the photographer, Jonathan Buckley. His brilliant colored photos are imbued with finely textured details that allow us to touch the flowers with our eyes.
Read more book reviews at Bookpleasures.com