Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A typically tropical moment

I've been feeling a bit dispirited about the garden recently. I know I've been joking about dithering and dawdling, but it really has been an effort to get out and get anything done, or think up new ideas, or muster any enthusiasm.
The spirit of the garden seemed to suffering too. It used to be quite in-your-face, a larger-than-life space full of larger-than-life plants. Now it seems a bit lacklustre, a bit - dare I say - boring.
I remember when I first moved in, someone came round to pick up their child and when they saw the garden, they exclaimed: "Goodness! It's like the Riviera." Wow, I said, that's a nice compliment. "Actually," said the mother rather waspishly, as she looked disapprovingly at the variegated cordylines and scarlet cannas, "I meant the Devon Riviera."
Actually, I'll settle for any riviera you care to mention - French, Cornish, Bulgarian, Mexican, German or Italian. (Well, maybe not Mexican.) I love that combination of blue skies and brilliant flowers, that on-holiday feeling that comes from being surrounded by Gauguin-bright colours and sub-tropical plants.
My garden used to give me that feeling. Sitting outside felt like being on holiday, especially on a sunny day. I decided that what I had to do was to try to recreate that atmosphere, even if it meant offending the gardening style police, who hate variegated foliage, and bright colours, and anything that looks remotely like municipal park bedding or French roundabouts, and doesn't look like Sissinghurst.
Usually I spend far too much time worrying about what other people think. However, on a visit to our local B&Q DIY store yesterday, to buy some screws to reattach the hinges on a kitchen cupboard, I came across a selection of the brightest, most garish geraniums (ie pelargoniums) you could hope to find outside of a floral clock. I didn't spare a thought for what more sophisticated souls might say. I found myself beaming with delight, and my hand stretched out, almost without me being aware of it, to take one down from the display.
Reader, I bought them. I bought the multi-coloured foliage ones ('Contrast') and the bronze foliage ones ('Vancouver Centennial') and the bright yellow foliage ones ('Occold Shield') and even the dark brown foliage ones (I think they were called 'Chocolate Twist'). Being B&Q plants, they weren't particularly expensive, though they are really well-grown - bushy, with lots of strong, sturdy stems and flower buds. Buds that will produce bright red flowers. How did I ever have the nerve?
And you know what? I went home and put them down on the terrace, still in the black plastic trays I'd filched from B&Q to keep them upright in the car, and felt happier about the garden than I had done for ages.
So what am I saying, that garish is good? Well, possibly, but more importantly I think the message is that we should have the confidence go with what we   like. Whether your taste is for box parterres, or garden gnomes, or massed busy lizzies that spell out Manchester United, indulge yourself. After all, it's you that's got to look at it most of the time.
There's a picture below. You might want to put on a pair of dark glasses.


VP said...

What you need now is lots of those large olive oil cans to put them in for that truly authentic Mediterranean touch! Oh and a flight of steps or a balcony to arrange them on ;)

I'm glad you treated yourself - I've been amazed at what good things B&Q have had in lately.

easygardener said...

Let's give a cheer for bright and garish and boo to the style police! I love brightly coloured Pelargoniums.
No matter how good the garden looks I need to be some new additions (however small). Change perks the whole garden up - and me too.

Sylvia (England) said...

Victoria, I am surprised at you, vivid colours, garish! Why not, people who think they have style are usually 'sheep', following the crowd. I love your colours especially as you have lots of green. As you say it is what you like that is important, you convinced me but did you convince yourself? I hope so. I will have lots of bright colours, containers and hanging baskets, soon. I love to see the plants having fun and 'strutting their stuff' if they are happy I am happy.

Best wishes Sylvia

Victoria said...

VP: Steps and balconies are great for creating arrangements, aren't they? Sadly, I don't have any, apart from the step down into the garden. I felt a bit guilty about buying from B&Q instead of a small nursery, so I'm going to a small nursery on Saturday to buy yet more colourful things!
easygardener: It's a bit like clothes, isn't it? A new T-shirt or even some new socks always makes me feel my wardrobe has been rejuvenated. It's the same in the garden. I guess it's a form of taking control.
Sylvia: Yes, I was convinced! You put your finger on it when you said there was so much green in my garden. It can actually take quite a lot of colour, especially foliage colour, and I find I have to remember that, otherwise it starts looking a bit dull and dingy, especially if it's not sunny.
I'm tempted to leave my geraniums just as they are. I think they look lovely, like an old Persian carpet. I won't though, I'll plant them up properly. Promise!

EB said...

Yes yes yes, couldn't agree more.

I will now go and invest in 45 alchemilla mollis plants - bought, not 2cm wide self-seedlings, oh the extravagence. And promise myself not to care when x relative/friend/workman asks me when the clematis alpina which is in full flower, will be flowering.

patientgardener said...

Fab - I worry about what people think too much as well so can understand but it is your garden and so its up to you what you grow. I dont think they are garish at all, they arent those red salvias after all.

I think you were probably feeling generally despondent and really needed some cheering up and the plants just hit the mark.

As for the garden police they generally have boring and contrived gardens IMHO!!!

Jake said...

Good for you! Do whatever makes you enjoy your space even more; dont even pause to think what the nay sayers would say.


petoskystone said...

green looks dull without the contrast of vibrant colors.

Anonymous said...

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Frances said...

Oh Victoria, I love them all! Being a bit of a garish lover anyway, you should see my hair color, I am all for the riviera look, even Mexican if that is what sails your ship! That is the key, isn't it? Your garden and your whole life really, should please you, even if that is not what we are taught. I had to laugh about the spelling of Man U though, for we are big fans here in Tennessee, maybe the only ones. HA


Exmoorjane said...

I am SO with you on this.....I love a dash of vivid colour - preferably neon pink clashing with full-on red and gleaming orange (in summer of course - don't do that colour combo in winter) - what am I like??? You should SEE my garden (overrun with ground elder) while yours is a thing of shimmering immaculate beauty.
You're right about Twitter of course (I've come back to find 100 emails which is seriously scary)....but thank you SO much for such a lovely lovely comment. jx

Pam/Digging said...

I think those leaves are quite handsome. You made a good find! I love hot colors too, and we have lots to choose from in our hot, semi-tropical climate. Yippee!

emmat said...

you are bringing down the neighbourhood. I am disgusted.

Cindy, My Corner of Katy said...

Those are some very healthy and colorful plants ... I say keep dragging down the neighborhood that way! Tropical lover that you are, you'd thoroughly enjoy the tropicals nursery I visited in an urban backyard here in Houston. Check out and be prepared to ooh and aah!

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria

I would like to discuss a possible blogging partnership opportunity with, please can you get in contact rob.lyons[at]


LittleGreenFingers said...

I think they look fab, and even if they didn't, who cares as long as they make you smile.

I am a fan of the poem Warning by Jenny Joseph:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit
And purchase garish plants from hardware store chains...

OK, so I added the last bit (and you are most certinaly not old) but the sentiment is surely to be embraced!

Rob said...

They're like Coleus. Just more drought-tolerant. Nicely shaped leaves. Nicer flowers. Tolerant of cooler temperatures. Thumbs up from here!

Mo said...

Gorgeous I say! I often find myself obsessing and ruminating about my garden to the point of disliking it intensly some days. Then I will go out the next morning and the light is falling in a slightly different way, and I am in love all over again. Us gardeners are so self critical dare I say? You did just the right thing by acting spontaneously.

Gary said...

Good for you, if we had a B&Q out this way I would probably get some as well. I think you always need change in the garden to stop it getting boring, otherwise you might as well put down decking and astroturf!

Martyn Cox said...

I love pelargoniums and many other garish plants. Last year I went coleus crazy - such a great plant for filling gaps in the garden

mothernaturesgarden said...

I am always amazed how one little splash of color can change my whole attitude. It is so much fun to surround myself with beautiful, tantalizing, personally selected for my own delight colors from a nursery. Add a little fragrance and I'm delirious.
Happy gardening,

Victoria said...

EB: Oh, that's so annoying. I love the fluffy seedheads you get on the alpina types.
Patientgardener: I know one can acquire a taste for almost anything, but I don't think I'll ever acquire a taste for red salvias. Not when there are so many nicer salvias around.
Jake: Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the moral support!
Petoskystone: Yes, it needs some sort of contrast, doesn't it? Pump's still working by the way!
Frances: How on earth did you come to be a Manchester United fan in the middle of Tennessee? This requires a lengthy explanation.
Exmoorjane: Ooh, yes, orange and pink, now you're talking.
Pam/Digging: I'm determined that even if we don't have a hot summer, I'm going to have a hot garden...
Emmat: I think the neighbourhood agrees with you! They're all awash with pink blossom and ceanothus. Very pretty.
Cindy, My Corner of Katy: Thank you for visiting! A tropical backyard in Houston sounds like my idea of heaven. The last time I was in Houston, my daughter was a toddler, so it would be great to go back.
LGF: I loved your poem, the last bit made me laugh out loud. Yeah, the geraniums are still making me smile.
Rob: Yes, that's exactly what I thought! I've never tried growing coleus outside (and never had any success inside), so I thought these were a safer, and thus thriftier, bet.
Mo: Thanks for visiting! I know exactly what you mean about self-critical. If anyone comes round, I show them all the bits of the garden that I think don't work. A cup of tea helps, I find, then I can vent my frustration on the flies that fall into it.
Gary: Decking and astroturf, now there's an idea. Actually, I bought a couple of decking squares the other day. The tree surgeon asked me if I was going to deck the bit where the trampoline was and I told him, no, I was going to build a bug house. He looked at me rather strangely.
Martyn Cox: I would really like a masterclass on how to grow coleus. Half the time it doesn't even look good in the garden centre - you see it sitting there all limp and sorry for itself.
Mothernaturesgarden: Donna, you're absolutely right. Having done that one thing, I find I can now think of other things to do and I'm moving things around and creating a new look. It kind of unblocked something.