It’s just my personal taste, but while white flowers such as this double hollyhock entrance me, I’m rarely convinced by white borders. I take in the overall effect, think “Ooh! A classic white border. Perhaps it will be better at its peak?”, then move on.
This year’s Tatton Park Flower Show gave me an insight into what twist a white border might have that would truly inspire me: chalky pastels.
Imagine this recipe: take pure white flowers, sully the mix with flowers that have creamy, ivory or white backgrounds decorated with streaks or blotches of pink, peach, yellow, lavender and green, then add a good helping of pure, pale pastel flowers. Use colours as soft as you dare to create a dreamy effect – I’m thinking of Edinburgh rock colours.
We often see pastels being used in floristry – perhaps half of wedding flowers have a white, cream or pastel theme – but I can’t recall ever seeing a summer garden full of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I did see plenty of bright, bold colours at the Tatton Park show. Colour trends in horticulture don’t work in quite the same way as they do in the more prescriptive world of clothing fashion and even in fashion, we expect to see several colour themes per season. Gardeners are free spirits – we know what we like; with a little effort, we can usually find out where to get it; and we see no good reason to follow the herd.
Even a cursory look around a major flower show like RHS Tatton Park will reveal almost every colour combinations you can imagine.
This lime green echinacea, discovered by master planter Piet Oudolf, was a new combination for me, planted with chocolate coloured foliage plants, but it was the chalky halo effect round the hedgehog style centre that set me thinking.
For while part of me views horticultural colour trends with suspicion, a bigger part knows that one of the pleasures of visiting a major English flower show is the chance to look out for new colour and plant trends. Imaginary or real matters little – call it an intellectual exercise that helps me process all the different things I’ll see there.
Sometimes what I find is not what I was expecting. If you’d told me the colours that would resonated most with me this year would be whites, greens and soft, sugary pastels, I’d have crinkled my nose.
I first saw Primula vialii ‘Alison Holland’ a couple of years ago and was immediately smitten. The ‘ordinary’ form of Primula vialii is a striking plant, with red hot poker style tiers of tiny cerise pink flowers tipped with a cluster of vibrant red ones. This green tipped white version is a beautiful twist and the pairing with cream edged hostas at RHS Tatton seemed inspired.
I could tell you a little about each of the flowers I’ve chosen to include here – some old favourites, others newbies – but it’s the effect of combining them that really interests me. You might take a moment to scroll up and down to see what I mean. Together they remind me of the balanced charts of soft paint colours designers have long used to coax us away from white, grey or magnolia interior walls.
While for decades the British have overwhelmingly embraced safe neutrals to decorate our houses, we’ve had no such inhibitions in our gardens. The heat of the summer sun traditionally brings out flowers in bright, intense, fun colours – yellows, reds, oranges, pinks, purples, blues – the more the merrier.
The flowers I’m highlighting here are the same ones we typically see in a summer garden, except it’s as if a heavenly colour mixer has tipped in a whole bucketload of white paint to take away the glare, to soothe us, to pare everything back. The whole look is a contemporary take on retro.
Rosa ‘Emily Brontë’ is a great example. This new(ish) English Rose has a subtle, restrained hue which reminds me more of the works of Anne Brontë than her tempestuous sister. It would be easy to find other English Roses that would also suit a chalky pastels trend: Rosa ‘The Lark Ascending’, Rosa ‘Tottering-by-Gently’, Rosa ‘The Mill on the Floss’, Rosa ‘Olivia Rose Austin’… and we could pop the green rose, Rosa viridiflora in for good measure. I haven’t seen this year’s Rosa ‘Eustachia Vye’ in the
flesh petals yet, but I imagine that would be perfect.
Restricted colour in the garden is nothing new. Designers have given us red borders, such as the famous one at Hidcote; hot borders; yellow borders; and the white borders I was mean about earlier, sometimes called moon gardens because of the way the moon makes the white gleam.
So am I going too far to hope for summer pastel borders, a sweeter take on the classic white? The more I look, the less I know why these colours should give me pause.
Slender towers of pearlescent pink and white Francoa sonchifolia would fit in beautifully, such as Francoa ‘Pink Bouquet’. It’s weird how after a few minutes spent paring everything back and immersing ourselves in the softest shades, Francoa ‘Pink Bouquet’ and these two Nanus Gladioli almost seem punchy.
I can imagine a few of you agreeing with me that Allium ‘Pink Jewel’ is on the lilac side. No matter – it pales beautifully as the flower ages and the green centres and creamy stamens make it perfect for the theme.
I could have included some dreamy rambling roses – in a real world summer pastels border their panicles of blooms would surely be indispensable. I’m ‘making do’ here with clematis, which would pair well with roses tumbling around an obelisk or pergola.
Flowers like Allium ‘Silver Springs’ draw us in to admire their subtle contrasts. Sometimes marketed as a white allium, the tiny florets are packed with fine details. The outer white ring has a green streak down the back that appears like an echo through the translucent petals; the next layer opens purple, fading to the palest pink over time; the stamens are tipped with plentiful primrose yellow pollen.
This erigeron frothing its daisy flowers out on wiry stems has a similar blend of colours. I’ve seen erigeron used to great effect this summer in formal and cottage garden settings, in particular at Hestercombe Gardens and Cothay Manor. Daucus carota (ornamental carrot) was popular at the show too.
I could have mentioned campanulas, phlox, Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas ‘Angel’s Choir’), scabious, antirrhinums, echinaceas, lupins and delphiniums, but you get my drift. Almost any flowers being actively bred today are now available in modern, pastel versions.
My final selections show that deep maroon and purple can be incorporated while keeping a soft, dreamy feel.
The possibilities are endless and the more I have written, the more I feel convinced that there must be pastel themed summer gardens out there. If you know of a great one I can add to my to-visit list or enjoy virtually here on WordPress, let me know.
The last week or so, taking a hint from Sarah Emily Porter I started to post a few pictures to Instagram. The jury is out on whether I will take to it, but if you’re active there, please call in and say hello. You can find me here.