Friday, 8 November 2013

Too much Pink?

 `Lady gardeners tend to use a lot of pink, but it’s too sweet for me’ says Dutch gardener Lumine Swagerman in The Garden (June 2010).
Until I read this my nebulous negative feelings towards pink seemed wayward but this simple statement encapsulates my position perfectly; it’s often difficult when one feels apart from the norm. My post about Rhodohypoxis (21/10/13) almost gave me indigestion with its large pictures of pink flowers, particularly that strong cerise one – but I was surprised how people loved the flowers.
I’ve just seen a pink David Austin rose, probably `Wife of Bath’, and it is a saccharine experience. The solid candy pink of Nerine bowdenii is pretty indigestible too. Why do we keep them?

Landing in the letter box, Lambleys latest list includes a picture of silver Artemisia `Powis Castle’ with Salvia `Raspberry Royal’ and I am less than enamoured - it’s too pink, or cerise, somehow.

Silver and raspberry were the colours - raspberry flowers foiled by silver foliage - that I was planning for a new garden bed but now I’ve had second thoughts.
Either I’ll change my plan to using plum with my silver - mainly Artemisia types, silver, not grey (which I find dull) - or rework the bed and add to the flowers of raspberry: plum (oriental poppy, Dierama atrata (seeds available at last!); pink-plum (Allium, dark Fairy’s fishing rods); soft plum (Lepechinia, Penstemon); dull pink mauve (Phlomis tuberosa, Caryopteris `Pink Chablis’); and perhaps a little delicate blush pink (Clary Sage with those wonderful furry silver basal leaves) along with soft pink lilac (Centaurea bella (leaves hopefully tending towards silver rather than grey) and Iris pallida `Amethystina’).
Why did the small flowers of bright raspberry-pink dismay me so? Pink is a popular colour and a little can look lovely in the garden particularly when teamed with burgundy or soft purple and a little white. The flowers were tiny, not like the big roses with their solid unrelenting assault on the cones. (Gertrude Jekyll might politely call it saturation.)

Maybe pink, or some pinks - like red and orange - need to be used with great care in the garden. It is late spring, too; we are past that early, post cold-winter period, when we welcomed any flower and all flowers, all colours, jostling in all hues of the paint box at once.

This rose is one solid colour; that is its primary fault. Lashings of green around, soft pink cranesbills at its feet, burgundy salvia or deep green hedge behind, standing back 100m: nothing can redeem it.
Unlike these pink-cerise Gladioli in the garden of Christopher Lloyd (who was the best male colourist I know): small bright flowers that are transient are offset by a large amount of deep green: the balance is perfect. 
 Small flowers and delicately coloured ones are easier to take. One of the sweetest species roses is Rosa rubrifolia with single pink flowers, white centered, foiled by grey foliage. The 2-toned effect is repeated in this farm hedge I saw last spring with its lovely mixture of 2 different pink roses; here the scale was right; a blur of colour to motorists in the horticulturist strip of Silvan. 

Bizarrely, my problem is possibly – partly - political: my dislike of the over pink-ification of girls and girl-women and their (our) infantilisation or seeming frivolity. Gender stereotyping in marketing has become more pronounced this century. It’s reflected in the current government’s inability to realize that it’s a boys club; men unable to see merit in terrific women. (MP Barnarby Joyce thinks that Tony Burke can’t praise a woman’s merit because he is a man! Oh dear!) But I digress.
Too much bright pink in girls toys, girls and women’s clothes and other products and it seems too often brash and virulent, a colour that says we are a species apart, unfortunately; let alone those companies cynically slapping on some pink to their products for a quick sale, however unrelated to the charity they purport to support (breast cancer for instance).

I’m over it.
It has turned me away completely into wanting a majority of purple (with some blue) in the garden; it’s partly my feminism, my rejection of commodification and not just sheer indigestion of all that dreadful hot pink: in society and also the disappointment of roses like `Wife of Bath’ or `The Mayflower’ (solid candy pink with no subtlety) that I’ve finally introduced into the garden. (J was prejudiced against roses and I gardened for 20 years without any roses before planting some David Austin types, perfumed and pretty.)

I still love gentle roses like blush pink Scepter'd Isle when carefully placed, and the passion of crimson The Squire is an event; yet the garden beds of purple perennials woven with blues, white and perhaps a little lemon or chartreuse is more intricate, satisfying and interesting.
(I get over-warm too often to want hot colours - red, orange, even strong yellow - near the house but a red and grey bushfire garden is planned to the north, out of sight from the house.)

Some people clearly love the colour pink and long may they enjoy the many shades and tints. But please don’t expect me to be enthralled by pink because of my gender, oh no. It’s never that simple.

Jill Weatherhead is garden designer, horticulturist and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design ( working in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Victoria.

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