Friday, 3 June 2016

Hot Colours in the Edible Patch

I'm having so much fun in the garden. And it's in the edible patch!
I consider myself a colourist, but until recently hadn't thought of applying these principles to my vegetable garden. Recently I planted the pink (and purple) edible patch; now I've planted a bed where hot red sits against black Tuscan kale. But a whole bed (about 4m by 2.5m with a central path) dedicated to red is a lot; and we only have five. In fact, because my little hens are always scratching in a fallow bed, enriching it (thank you girls), we can only ever plant out four beds at one time.
So - a hot colour bed instead. 
Just as with my pink veg bed, which deepens in hue flowing from soft pink to ruby to purple as the eye progresses, so here, too, the eye (and either side of the feet) progresses from soft apricot and travels through orange to bright red and dark blood-red.

J was consulted - a little! - and the parameters decided, that all plants must have an edible part, so flowers that may be eaten are included along with vegetables. This makes it fun, a challenge, prettier...and hopefully a colour scheme that's beautiful, sings even.

So my little garden has soft apricot pansies and orange Calendula (`Green Heart Orange'), lettuces green and red, nasturtiums of orange and red and Beetroot `Moulin Rouge' which will likely have stems of red. Behind these: purple heads of broccoli `Red Arrow' and then the picture culminates with dark kale `Cavolo Nero', tall wigwams of teatree planted with peas (`Purple Podded Dutch'; we still want lots of peas; there's no red ones, I believe; besides, I like my rustic teatree tripods) and in front of them: Nasturtium `Empress of India': red blooms over dark (almost blood-red, I hope) leaves.

Little Viola at the `start' - the sweet ones my (English) mother called Hearts-ease, but Australians call Johnny Jump-Ups, were planted in soft orange (and soft yellow, a mistake, really) but (conservationist) J recalled that these can self-sow too much - and this area is rather near lovely bushland. The Hearts-ease were replaced with pansies - all apricot-orange - and much better. Most of the colours in the bed are shades of orange or red now. And green - as ever - of course.

I'm not sure why it's so important for me to start with a soft colour and then gain momentum into the deepest hue. It just feels right, and it gives the eye impact as it travels along the bed, which Gertrude Jeckyll (1843-1932) - surely the greatest garden colourist ever (author of `Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden', which I devoured in my 20's. After reading it, I could only garden with an eye for colour, see last picture: my first hot-colour-bed, circa 1988) with her painterly eye - would (I think) agree with.

These are all winter vegetables or winter-growing plants, of course; it will be fun to do it all again in spring for the summer veg.

Just as with the ornamental garden, now I have a colour sensibility, I don't think I can ever lose it or shake it off (not that I want to).

The next bed? Yellow and...well I just love that black kale. We'll see. 

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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