Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Black and White Approach


Plant associations (that is: which plant to put next to which) are always difficult. They are complex because you have to take into account colour as well as time, since colours change with each season when flowers bloom and fade. And you also have to take into account shape, which is more subtle and more permanent. Like many aspects of gardening, plant associations are also a question of taste and consequently the results of your efforts will be judged differently depending on the experience and taste of the viewer.
We all have different ways of deciding which plants we will grow together, but one approach I find very useful is what I call the Black and White approach.


Bonsai grown on a millstone at the Jardins de Métis
Bonsai on a millstone at the Jardins de Métis




On the whole, I think that we tend to give to much importance to colour and not enough to shape. This includes the shape of flowers, of plants and of their surrounding structures (the bones), and how these shapes relate to each other. One technique I use to identify  shapes more clearly, without being distracted by colours, is simply to look at a plant association in black and white. 



Though perhaps not great, the above association of erigerons and rhoeas poppies is pleasant enough in the colour version, but when you look at it in black and white, all you see is a rather uninteresting muddle.

Compare it, however, to these two simple clumps of chives with a carpet of marjoram on the right in the following picture. The black and white version stresses the clean shapes and is just as striking as the coloured one.


One of the advantages of black and white is that it emphasizes the "bones" of a garden. Strong bones always make a scene stand out as you can see in the following two examples.

Government House Garden, Victoria, British-Columbia
Jardins de Métis, Mont-Joli, Québec

On the other hand, compositions that rely only on colors are less impressive and can be downright boring when the plants are not in bloom. These regale lilies growing among California poppies in my own garden do have a cottage garden charm but, as is indicated in the black and white picture, the ensemble lacks structure, and once the blooming season is over, nothing will be left to recommend this bed. 

Regale lilies in a bed of California poppies at Roche Fleurie Garden

Even if the following association will also be boring when the flowers are gone, you can see that while they are still in bloom these poppies and false asters create a more interesting dynamic than in the previous picture because of the "clean" contrasting shapes.

Shirley poppies and Kalimeris incisa at Roche Fleurie Garden

To end with, a view of a bed where everything comes together. There is an interesting use of yellows and blues with just a touch of pink for contrast. The shapes create a lively rhythm, especially the muleins  (at the end) and the tiered structure of Phlomis russeliana (closer to the photographer).

Entrance bed at Larkwhistle garden, Ontario

17 comments:

  1. I like the poppy photos. Wouldn't it be good to be able to 'see' ultra violet too and see how a border will look to the bees?

    ReplyDelete
  2. it's a very interesting way to build a garden! It's easier to see the structures, the forms or the lack of them!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good evening Alain,
    I totally agree with you about too much attention being put into the colours of plants schemes etc. I hadn't thought of seeing schemes in black and white though, it does change the perspective from an architectural point of view doesn't it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is not a planning tool as much as something to do with your garden pictures on a long winter evening. It helps you see what combinations work less well.

      Delete
  4. Good tutorial. In her photography, sometimes E.g. makes a photo black and white to emphasize the composition -- colour just gets in the way -- so I sort of know what you mean. As for my gardening, the first four years have been spent seeing if I can get one plant or another to grow at all! Hopefully I can soon start focussing on more subtle aspects, and implement some of your ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  5. What a fantastic idea and it really does highlight what works shape wise. I am almost afraid to try it in my garden as I might find that it has no shape anywhere!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Very interesting. You are right, of course, that structure and form matter more than color. But I have always found it hard, if not actually impossible, to factor in all the elements - structure, form, color, as well as other not insignificant factors such as growing conditions. And that, in a nutshell, is why I will never be featured in any garden magazine!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Good idea, Alain, and works best if we want to see how shapes and textures compare with each other. Foliage should be more thoroughly considered, also evergreens. Have these pictures been taken in your own plot?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Annette,
      The close up of plants were taken in my garden. The views were taken in other gardens.

      Delete
  8. Z pewnością na czarno - białych zdjęciach bardziej się zwraca uwagę na kształty. Ja jednak wolę kolory oraz czas kwitnienia i nimi się sugeruję sadząc rośliny. Miło, że byłeś
    u mnie. Pozdrawiam i zapraszam.
    Certainly on black - white photos more draws attention to the shapes. I prefer the colors and the time of flowering and planting them to suggest plants. It's nice that you were
    with me. I greet and welcome.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Using black and white is a great idea to distinguish shapes, although I have to say that I do like a "tangle" too as opposed to neat distinct clumps. In the end, it is pretty subjective and I think the only goal should be to create a garden that pleases the gardener :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely agree with you. You cannot make a garden to please others. Once you have created something you yourself really like, it transcends taste and others, even if they would not have proceeded the same way, can appreciate what you have done.

      Delete
  10. Very true. It shows the relationship between textures and massing so well.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You are right Alain. The white and black photos show the shape of plant better. Good idea!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hello Alain
    Thank you for stopping by my blog .. I too think Chocolate Joe Pye is an elegant Fall plant to look forward to : )
    This is a very interesting way to scrutinize how you plant pairings hold up in black and white without the distraction of colour getting in the way. It is a much more physical bias to examine what truly works together on that level.
    I hadn't thought of looking at my garden this way .. thank you for this great idea!
    Joy

    ReplyDelete
  13. That's an interesting idea. The thing I find most frustrating about companions is that what can look great one year, is worn out the next, as one plant begins to fail, or spreads beyond its alloted space etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are quite right. It is a never ending job and some years it turns out much better than others.

      Delete

It is always nice to hear from you!