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Entries in contemporary color in landscape (1)


When Color Becomes the Essential Ingredient in Garden Design; a book review for

Contemporary Color in the Landscape, Andrew Wilson, Timber Press

Each new era brings a shift in garden design trends while introducing novel ways to use color in the landscape. Previously, generations of gardeners planned functional designs with polite color schemes. These landscapes served specific purposes for rulers, landowners, parks, and residences. Today, it is mostly homeowners who continue to recreate traditional gardens using long established, safe color palettes. Contemporary designers, by comparison, are not remaining cautious. Contracted to handle large expanses of land, both public and private, they are turning instead to a newer and more dramatic use of color in landscaping; one that is based upon a personal concept of the designer. The author’s goal, which he achieves admirably, is to explain how a designer’s inspiration may come from an idea, a feeling, or a mood and he demonstrates how that inspiration influences the final appearance of a landscape. This contemporary philosophy of garden design is known as conceptualism and its essential ingredient is color that is used in a most innovative manner.

Conceptualism refers to a designer’s original idea, or concept, that inspires an overall design. It may be a reflection of a personal response to the garden’s physical location which, according to the author, may appear spiritual, sinister, fascinating, or sensuous. It may also reflect the political or social history of that location. Using plants, stones, wood, metal and resins, the conceptual garden is a creative expression realized through a depiction of warmth, coolness, depth, infinity, brilliance or contrast. All of these aesthetic notions are established in the garden by the use or absence of color in both architectural and plant materials.

Conceptual garden designers work mainly with perennials and ornamental grasses, whose palettes range from monochrome and muted to rich, vibrant, and bold. Similarly, where once the brick, stone, and natural colors of walls and hardscapes supplied a neutral setting, contemporary designers are covering surfaces with tropical colored paint and are using construction and decorative materials, both organic and synthetic, in vivid and heavily saturated tones. The resulting gardens may be hauntingly serene or electrifying.

Mr. Wilson’s exposition begins with an overview of the science that explains our interaction with and the relationship between colors. Gardeners who are not scientifically inclined or who prefer to experiment with color rather than read about it, might skip this portion without diminishing their appreciation of the book. The author’s work is enriched by lavish illustrations supporting color theory, which are quite powerful and instructive on their own. There is a lot to learn simply by studying the images.

Beyond the introduction to color and its effect on people, Mr. Wilson develops his theme with demonstrations that rely on copious images of gardens created by influential contemporary designers. These spot-perfect pictures help the reader understand a garden designer's personal response to color, how color can be manipulated, and how contrast between colors ignites energy. They also help to explain the emotive qualities of color in landscaping. The author includes a fascinating discussion on how the use of a restrictive palette can maximize visual impact and demonstrates, in an eye-opening report, the visually riveting gardens that result when rules about color relationships are ignored. He concludes with a chapter on the colors found in nature and how they inspire designers and become part of a landscape.

The dramatic works of the cutting edge designers, surveyed in this publication, may jolt some readers. It is a reminder that even hobbies and professional skills that are usually rooted in tradition are not immune to change. Historically, gardens have reflected the cultures that created them. Therefore, it is understandable that they should also reflect changes in society when they occur.

While traditionalists may consider this modern philosophy to be audacious, forward thinking gardeners will find it inspiring and exciting. This publication confirms that conceptualism results in exceptionally entertaining and moving landscape visuals. One cannot remain indifferent to them. Perhaps that is a reflection of the times in which we live because concept gardening seems to echo the current generation’s preoccupation with visual technology. By demonstrating how contemporary ideas push boundaries, this book will rock your boat. Welcome to a new millennium of garden design.