Variations of the color green all blend comfortably together in the author’s garden. A starring chartreuse- leaved coleus is supported by plants with gray-green and pure-green foliage.
Years ago, my husband and I spent some time in California and were very taken with the Napa Valley. We even toyed with the idea of living there, but when the dry season came and the hills turned brown, we felt homesick for Connecticut, the smell of rain, and the color green.
Nature, of course, is not sentimental about color. Her preference for green is entirely practical. It is the color of life and, wherever there is sufficient rainfall, the prevailing color of the natural landscape. Using the sun’s energy, the pigment molecules in chlorophyll magically convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen into carbohydrates, which sustain both plants and animals, including us. Green leaves pump oxygen into the atmosphere, allowing us to breathe; we exhale carbon dioxide, providing plants with the raw material of food production.
Besides its critical role in this ingenious exchange, the color green is a soothing, middle-of-the-spectrum hue that is easy on the eyes. The electromagnetic wavelengths that produce this agreeable color are of medium length and require less effort and adjustment than the long wavelengths of red or the short ones of blue.
Regrettably, the undemanding nature of green led to its excessive use during the forties and fifties in schools and hospitals. According to The Color Compendium, by Augustine Hope and Margaret Walch, “institutional green” inspired loathing in an entire generation. Although of that generation, I have the highest regard for the color that I now consider the single most important hue in any temperate zone garden. However, in my early gardening days, I barely gave it a nod, so enthralled was I with the brilliant panoply of daylily colors. As daylilies (Hemerocallis spp. and cvs., USDA Hardiness Zones 3–10) were the first plants to flourish in my inexperienced hands, I pledged allegiance to their vivid reds, flaming oranges, and glowing yellows and golds.
Daylilies in these hues are still the backbone of my summer border, but I’ve come to realize that their effectiveness depends on their leaves and the contrast between the hot flower colors and the cool green of the foliage. If the leaves are fresh and unblemished, the bright colors sing; if not, they suffer. In gardens and in nature, green is the secret of all successful color schemes.