Garden aspect changes with the season

Garden aspect changes with the season

Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Claude Monet, the famous French impressionist painter, said there are no fixed colors. Whatever color is perceived, he claimed, depends on the light.
He was right. Think for a moment, of an azure blue sky. As evening approaches, the sky changes, almost imperceptibly, into royal blue, then morphs into purple as darkness descends, until, at some point, it becomes black. All because of differing degrees of light.
Same with your garden. A flower border or blooming tree can assume many kinds and degrees of colors depending on the light. It is a fact that a green lawn will look much different under the soft, yellowish light of autumn than it did with a high sun and sky in June.
And it is not just color that changes. Change includes different perceptions one receives from varying angles and aspects. Thus, the clever methodology of a talented landscape architect that “blinkers” views between enclosing trees, hedges, walls, buildings or any number of other appurtenances. Another trick is to harbor niches of pleasure viewing hidden in a garden until they are close at hand.
To prove this latter point, go into your garden — or into a field or woods, for that matter — and take a long look at some aspect. The, turn turtle and view the same scene upside down from between your legs. It won’t look the same and, incidentally, not because everything is upside down, because it isn’t. Strangely enough, even though your head, with its eyes, is upside down, the view won’t be. The wondrous human brain takes care of that. But, again strangely, it will appear different.
Well, all that to say this: Aspect, or its perception, is one of the most critical elements in planning and making a garden. A garden, said the famous doyenne Gertrude Jekyll, is no more a mere collection of plants than a watch is a collection of parts. Some master hand must take control of the elements to make either of them work.
Jekyll would have agreed forcefully with Monet. She was, after all, an artist and colorist in her own right, in addition to being a masterful gardener. Jekyll often talked of color in the garden and its perception. She would write of color tricks manifested by staring at one color for a period of time then looking at another color, whereupon the original color would take on a different hue or tone in the mind’s eye.
A garden’s aspects changes from season to season, and even from day to day or hour to hour. Early morning perception is different from that at noon, particularly in high summer. And autumn perception, needless to say, is far different from that of spring, even though the declination of the sun is about the same.
Part of that is, of course, because of the different plants that take center stage from one season to the next. A mixed border rife in April with daffodils, spring phlox, spirea, peonies, tulips and so forth is a horse of another color (no pun intended) in autumn, with mums, asters, goldenrod, salvias, sunflowers, et al.
This constant change is what makes a well-planned perennial border such a joy. It takes years and years to perfect, if it ever is. In the hands of novices, it can bring on a nervous breakdown.
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From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Headlines are supposed to be succinct and to the point. I think we got it right years ago when one column dwelt on the spare look of the garden after autumn leaf-fall and produced the following head: “Sans leaves, aspect changes.”
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 5.10.11

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