As far as I know, Claude Monet is the only major artist to have had the guts to go and create his own garden so that he could paint it. All the rest just sat around in warm waterproof studios, safe from the rain and the slugs and the mud. Did van Gogh grow his own sunflowers rather than buy a bunch and stick them in a vase? He did not. So I’ve always had a soft spot for Monet, and whenever I’ve been able to visit his wonderful garden at Giverny (where they stick very carefully to his original planting), I’ve looked closely at what he chose. Because, as gardeners, we all work with colour, and while few of us can be great artists, colour is something we have to think about.
As you can see from this picture (pinched from giverny.org), Monet loved his pastel pinks and purples, setting them off against white, soft blue and green, and he used a lot of tulips.
You can see this combination of colours over and over in his paintings, even in those of his winter haystacks. But even if the mice left the bulbs alone and the wind left the tulips upright, these are difficult colours for a garden getting on for eight hundred miles north of Normandy. In Scotland, we don’t need to be soothed from the sun, but need something that leaps out against grey skies and rain. You don’t often see this kind of thing in Scotland: (recognise it? – clue: google Seurat) That’s one reason (apart from not being able to paint) why I’m not Monet; I have rain in my blood, and need warmth.
So I tend towards the hot colours – the yellows, reds, oranges, and lime greens. But I also love blue, so that gets a look-in. Here’s a combination that I wait for every year –euphorbia palustris ‘Wallenberg’s Glorie’ against vanilla iris siberica
This, too, makes me happy – primula ‘Inverewe’ against rh. luteum, with another shocking red azalea just coming into flower in between.
I’m not so sure about this red/black combination. I used to think that the velvety-black iris chrysographes worked with almost every other colour. But I’ve changed my mind.
I’m starting to think this is a mess; the bright vermillion of the poppy is not doing the black any favours at all, and it’s all looking vaguely sludgy. I’ve thought of adding white to the mix, but it would probably just confuse the issue. Big blue delphiniums might work instead of the poppy, but they don’t flower at the same time as the iris. Whatever the case, any change is going to involve manual labour, as the iris will need a pickaxe to shift it. Artists have it easier – just buy another tube and overpaint the errors…..