It’s a funny thing but I’ve noticed that, when I ask new clients about their favourite colours for the garden, green is hardly ever mentioned. I suppose it’s because we take it for granted that a garden always involves green.
Green is seen as the backdrop, the first colour-wash on the canvas over which other -more important – colours are layered. And because of this it’s easy to overlook the vital importance of this colour in our own gardens, as well as in parks, streets and other public spaces.
Following on from Annabel’s blog about colour last autumn The colour wheel and garden design
I thought it would be interesting to reflect specifically on the colour green – especially as we are currently in the depths of a grey and washed-out winter! Here are some of my musings.
What colour is nature?
For me, as for many other people, green represents vitality, living things growing and thriving. Green reminds me of the giant trees of the Amazon rainforest, meadows where animals graze peacefully, and rows of salad leaves in my garden. For you, the detailed associations may be different. But most of us strongly associate the colour green with nature and its benefits.
Green places, verdant minds
It’s a familiar idea now that being in nature, in green places, makes us more relaxed, less stressed, and promotes our mental health and general wellbeing. (Here I must give a shout-out for Thrive, the UK charity which uses gardening amid green spaces as therapy to help people flourish again).
As garden designers, we’re increasingly finding that our clients see their gardens as being therapeutic – places where they can forget the stresses of the day by immersing themselves in nature and in natural things.
A vitality of greens?
Any artist knows that there are a huge variety of greens – from zingy lime-green through soft sage-green, bright energetic apple-green to luxurious emerald-green and dark, earthy forest green. Then there are the green textures – contrast the glossy dark green leaf of a holly with the woolly grey-green of a stachys byzantina leaf (aka lambs lugs). The variety is almost infinite. And they pretty much all communicate to us the sense of being alive, growing and thriving. I don’t know if there is a collective name for green colours but I would like to nominate the phrase ‘a vitality of greens’. All comments welcome!
Part of our job as garden designers is about reviving once lovely gardens that have fallen into bad habits. Often these are gardens that once had great structure and presence, but now are full of stodgy evergreen shrubs, unloved and unwanted.
Some of these shrubs can’t be saved. But surprisingly often we can renovate evergreen plants and re-instate them in a revived garden space. They are a god-send to us designers, as such plants are essential to give a garden space good ‘bone structure’. The celebrated garden designer John Brookes called them ‘skeleton plants’, plants that put definition and character into a garden. “Most good skeleton plants are evergreen for an all-year round effect” he wrote, “providing an evergreen core to a mix of perennial plants and deciduous shrubs, so steadying the overall concept and maintaining the structure [of the garden].”
My green favourites
Among my own favourite skeleton plants are viburnum tinus – an undemanding large shrub great for screening out ugly buildings, it opens its blush-white flowers all winter even if planted in a shady spot. Then there are pittosporums, native to New Zealand and now rightly popular in the UK for their bushy, slow-growing habit and mini holly-style glossy leaves. And finally laurus nobilis; you may know it as bay. It can be clipped into neat topiary shapes, made into a hedge, or left to grow naturally. Use the aromatic leaf clippings to add depth of flavour to stews and curries.
A closing thought about green
“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver”. (Martin Luther)
 John Brookes Garden Design, pub.DK 2001