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  • Anne Jennings

Colours of the Rainbow - and more


‘But we are running out of colours,’ said Mr. Violet, intervening. ‘That cannot be the case,’ said Mr. White. ‘There is an infinite number of colours.’ ‘But there are not that many names,’ said Miss Taupe. ‘That is not possible. A colour must have a name.’ ‘We can find only one hundred and three names for green before the colour becomes noticeably either blue or yellow,’ said Miss Crimson. ‘But the shades are endless!’ ‘Nevertheless, the names are not.’ ‘This is a problem that must be solved. Add it to the list, Miss Brown. We must name every possible shade.’

Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

Beautifully simple rainbow drawings stuck to the windows of family homes and chalked onto pavements have secured the essence of the image, representing hope, thankfulness and recovery. The spectral colours appeal to the child within us all and when combined with the simple arc that illustrates a rainbow, it’s hard to resist smiling even in the greyest of times.

I am hugely unqualified to attempt any writing about the science of colour so will not attempt to do so. Suffice to say that – it is said – the number of colours the human eye is able to distinguish in a spectrum is in the order of 100. That seems a lot but when we get into shades and tones and tints, surely it must be more?

I despair when clients state they want year-round colour as part of design brief as ninety-nine percent of the time they are disregarding green but aspire instead to a garden full of blooms (usually shades of blue, pink, white and lilac).


Yet green – what a wonderful colour, filled with the richness of life, varying from darkest, near black of holly through to the vibrancy of a lime tree in youthful foliage soon followed by matching, pendulous flowers. How those greens flutter and change in the breeze, displaying undersides of grey-green and veins of red with stems of near yellow. And after rain, illuminated by watery sunlight their greenness is enhanced and exaggerated.

If there is one colour I could never lose in the garden for plant combinations, seasonal pots and cut flowers it would be the iridescent lime green that is so evident at this time. Certainly, those freshly opened leaves that will never again through the year have the same vibrancy of colour, are invaluable as a backdrop for all that is happening outdoors and essential in filling around cut flowers in the house.


But add into this the deliciousness of lime green flowers, again most prevalent at this time and the palette become increasingly tantalising.


My lovely Cornwall-resident friend, horticulturally wiser, helped to identify a glorious specimen in my garden. Only planted a handful of years ago, I had no memory of its origins or name - it is the magnificent Mathiasella bupleuroides ‘Green Dream’ with scented angelica-like leaves, and flowers not dissimilar to the also lovely green flowered Helleborus foetidus and H. argutifolius. It has been in flower now for over a month, nestling close to an inherited deep violet rhododendron - a stunning combination.


Thankfully acid green colours do extend into early summer - think of Alchemilla mollis in leaf and flower, although the latter leans slightly toward yellow, but that’s OK. I love this plant partly for memories - my young daughter and I used to marvel at the jewelled raindrops suspended aspic-like on the leaves.


The Lady’s flower stems can be individually cut and when combined with electric blue Delphinium ajacis, larkspur, makes the sweetest posy anyone could cut from a garden. Or substitute the larkspur for a deepest richest red Snapdragon, Antirrhinum 'Amalia Dark Red’ or the ubiquitus but can’t-do-without purple of Verbena bonariensis. And that’s the point of lime green – it lifts other colours to be magnificent.

I’m a bit of a sucker for seasonal planters filled with annuals that provide riots of intermingling colour for 5 months or so (planted after frosts have passed). This year growers need all the support possible to ensure these plants are sold, so go online and see what you can find.


Don’t be afraid to over-stuff a large pot full of young plants early in the season as they will not mind the congestion as long as they are watered, fed and dead-headed through the summer, so they can continuously provide joyous colour and keep bees and other pollinators busy.

Free for all, here is my personal planter recipe:

Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’

Petunia Surfina Lime

Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’

Lobelia ‘Rosamund’

Verbena ‘Temari Red’

Trailing Geranium (Pelargonium) ‘Precision Dark Red’


Drama – in bucketloads.

Now, this reminds me of a wedding (well, the Blog claims to be meandering!). We are blessed to have the loveliest of family friends with whom we have shared the best of times (often in our almost neighbouring gardens). The gorgeous daughter was to be married and a summer outfit required. A limey-pea-acidy-green dress already hung in the wardrobe waiting to be launched at a suitably wonderful occasion such as this – all I needed was to accessorise. Never previously one for outrageous shoes, I nevertheless spotted a perfect pair, peep toed, stilettoed, shrink-wrapped in black satin and splashed with vibrant green and the deepest most shocking pink – with matching clutch bag and even a fortuitously sourced wrap with replicated colours. The whole ensemble was an attention seeking (sorry, bride), glorious cacophony of gardenesque colour and playfulness – a huge success (though my feet were killing me by mid-afternoon).

Anyway, back to gardening greens. Not all viridescent flowers are in fact flowers, but adapted leaves called bracts that create a choir boy’s ruff around a minute flower at the centre - think hydrangea. These structures provide colour for much longer than flowers, fading through maturity, like us all, to an elegant version of their former selves, muted in tone like a silk chiffon, faded by sunlight. My favourite at this time of year is Cornus kousa with bracts ranging from lime-tinged white to pink edged pistachio green, depending on form.

So, just as a puppy is not just for Christmas, green is not just for spring. There are infinitesimal ways to experiment, create and celebrate its lush variances and subtleties throughout the gardening year.

And don’t forget frocks…….

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