Himalayan Blue Poppy at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens/Kari Wilner
Years ago, in an effort to distract my middle-school aged daughters, I took them to an avant-garde exhibit at Washington, DC’s Hirshhorn Museum. The show was a one-color retrospective on the works of the French artist, Yves Klein (1928-1962) and it focused on the color blue. Specifically, it featured a supersaturated blue created by Klein that made you feel like you had been sucked out to sea and were drowning. Needless to say, it left an indelible impression on us all.
Klein’s commentaries on blue accompanied the exhibit. He wrote:
“All colors are associated with concrete ideas whereas blue calls to mind first and foremost the sea and the sky, that which is the most abstract in tangible, visible Nature.”
BLUE IS AN OPEN WINDOW
For Klein, blue was an open window that defined the very edges of our visible reality. Think about it – do the sea and sky have any detectable boundaries? In Klein’s view, blue distinguished what was visible while expressing what was not.
To illustrate this idea, he worked with a chemist to develop his own brand of blue. Introduced in Milan in 1957, the supersaturated ultramarine pigment took the world by storm. It came to be known as International Klein Blue (IKB).
Yves Klein Blue Monochrome 1961
BLUE IS THE HARDEST TO SEE
Klein was definitely on to something. Due to its shorter wavelengths, blue is, in fact, a harder color for the eye to see.
BLUES IN THE GARDEN
So what role can blue play In the garden? Does it add the same abstract note, evoking a sense of wonder and mystery? Or does our difficulty in seeing it provide an important structural element to our compositions? The answer is all of the above.
Bigleaf hydrangea and Blue coleus, Plectranthus thyrsoideus
WHAT BLUE DOES TO PERSPECTIVE
In perspective, ‘hot’ colors appear to move forward in space while ‘cool’ colors seem to recede. As a ‘cool’ color, blue can add depth and volume to a composition. Often, it appears more as an ‘impression’ than as a discernible flower.
Notice below how the blue catmint is harder to make out than the yellow daylily.
Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ appears as a blue ‘haze’ in this garden
When paired with yellows and whites, blue flowers provide contrast, helping to point up the brighter colors.
The blue hydrangeas make the white orchids ‘pop’
On the other hand, when paired with pink, apricot, butter cream and violet blooms, blue flowers form pleasing harmonies. Below, the blue Pride-of-Madeira add volume to the composition.
Blue and apricot make a pleasing harmony
BLUE AND PURPLE COMPOSITIONS
It’s not easy to find a true blue flower as most tend toward shades of purple. This explains why combining blue and purple makes for a restful composition. Sometimes, however, it helps to inject a note of bright green to liven up these peaceful garden spaces.
A blue and purple garden
GREAT BLUE FLOWERS
Following are some outstanding blue flowers, all photographed at Longwood Gardens’ spectacular ‘Winter Blues’ exhibit. See if some of them don’t work in your own garden!
HIMALAYAN BLUE POPPY, Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’: A hybrid perennial poppy that produces large, sky blue blooms in late spring. Likes partial shade and grows to a height of between 3 and 4 feet.
Himalayan blue poppy ‘Linghom’
HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA ‘NIKKO BLUE’ is a great shrub for the semi-shade border, big blue blooms in early summer. Blooms on old wood.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’
BLUE COLEUS, Plectranthus thyrsoideus, also known as Bush coleus, is a member of the mint family. Originally from Africa, it is grown primarily as an annual in our area.
BLUE FLAX, Heliophila coronopifolia, is a delicate blue daisy grown as an annual in full sun.
Blue flax (a little more purple than blue)
BLUE DAISY, Felicia amelloides ‘San Gabriel’ produces blue, daisy like flowers from summer to autumn. Grow in full sun.
MUSCARI AUCHERI ‘BLUE MAGIC’ , also known as grape hyacinth produces fragrant, true-blue flowers in late spring. Best naturalized in large groups in full sun. Plant bulbs in fall.
Muscari ‘Blue Magic’
PORTUGUESE SQUILL ‘SAPPHIRE BLUE’ is a perennial bulb with large, conical racemes of star-shaped violet/blue flowers in early summer.
PRIDE-OF-MADEIRA, Echium candicans ‘Select Blue’ is an evergreen shrub with gray-green leaves and long stalks of periwinkle flowers that bloom in late spring to early summer. Hardy to about 25° F.
DELPHINIUM ‘BLUE JAY’ bears tall spikes of deep blue flowers in early summer.
Delphinium ‘Blue Jay’
Ground-Ivy Sage, Salvia glechomifolia is a creeping perennial native to the highlands of Central Mexico. Bears light blue flowers atop scalloped, yellow-green leaves.
Ground-ivy sage paired with lilac pansies
Columbine, Aquilegia, ‘Bluebird’ produces large, 3″ light blue and white upward facing blossoms in late spring. Grows 12 to 24 inches.