University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

Color by Design. Nori and Sandra Pope, 1998, SOMA Books in No. America.

There are several books available on how to effectively use the most important aspect of flowers-- color-- in garden design, and this is one of the most recent and best. Originally growing plants in a nursery on Vancouver Island and designing with them, the authors have for more than 10 years now been doing similar at Hadspen House in England. Currently one of the most acclaimed of the leading gardens in the world and often featured in magazines, this serves as the badground for this book and its many excellent photos by world famous garden photographer Clive Nichols.

The authors are really amazing in their knowledge of design from both the aesthetic and scientific perspectives. They treat equally well the science behind why men and women see colors differently, and so perceive beds and designs differently, or even design them differently; or the science behind light theory; and at the same time treat the aesthetics of using color. With their knowledge of plants and years growing them, they give well grounded advice on plants that work well together from a cultural as well as aesthetic view. And they have even bred or selected some of the choicest new perennials, such as Astrantia 'Hadspen Blood' or Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart'-- the latter with striking gold foliage contrasted with the typical pink flowers.

Similar to their gardens which are basically color theme beds, the chapters of the book are by color, beginning with blue, ending with white. Each chapter begins with a couple pages on the color and its characteristics, then how it is used in the garden, photos and descriptions of how they (and you perhaps) can achieve seasonal progression of each color, and ending with two pages of close-up photos of flowers of that color, both standard cultivars and some new species and cultivars. White in particular is of interest, as many use it to unify, while they point out that "white in any quantity seems to draw a line through the landscape, becoming a dash of negative space, a separator."  Perhaps this is because the eye is a thousand times more sensitive to black and white, as it is to color.

In school and texts one is taught that horticulture is a blend of science and art. No where is this more evident than in this book. Great photos, great ideas on color combinations and new plants, interesting and new facts and science of plants and light, make this a valuable reference for all serious gardeners in North America or abroad.

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