GARDEN EUPHORIA

exploring the plants & spaces that beckon

Learning to love pink

What's not to love? The heavenly pink-petalled cones of Echinacea.

What’s not to love? The heavenly pink-petalled cones of Echinacea.

I have never been a big fan of pink. There, I’ve said it.

It might seem a little elementary to be thinking about a single colour and its merits in the garden, nevertheless here I find myself. I don’t think I have ever actively tried to incorporate pink in a deliberate way in my garden and I can’t recall a client asking me for a pink colour scheme. If I have the choice of a plant that flowers in a variety of colours, I will always seek out the purples, rust oranges, dusky apricots and sparkly lime greens, well before pink.

How short-sighted of me!

For a long time I have been more interested in foliage contrast – the leaf textures, shapes and shades of green, grey and silver – while flower colour has always been secondary. I have several books on the subject and still believe that foliage is incredibly important for bringing depth, light and shade and structure to a garden on a more permanent level – while flowers come and go.

Then I arrived in my new garden and discovered that nearly every existing flowering plant was either white or pink! Suddenly I found myself pondering pink more than I ever thought possible – I couldn’t ignore the two pink flowering Crepe Myrtles, an unidentified pink Azalea, a pink May bush (Spiraea), pink Gazanias and a pink flowering lemon-scented Pelargonium.

Exisiting Crepe Myrtle in my garden.

Exisiting Crepe Myrtle in my garden.

Existing pink Azalea.

Existing pink Azalea.

Pink Spiraea

Pink Spiraea

Pink Gazania

Pink Gazania

If you dive into the depths of any garden design book on colour, you will be reminded that pink is considered restful and quietening if it has a blue/mauve base, but can invoke more lively and cheerful emotions when it is at the warmer red-pink end of the spectrum. All excellent qualities to find in a garden don’t you think? Pink flowers can also represent romance and femininity – something I happily embrace in my favourite cut flowers – peonies and lilies.

In reality, we don’t often see a single colour used in complete isolation in gardens. When you look at some of the beautiful meadow plantings of Europe and the US, they would be lost without pink. Combined with colours like purple and red, pink becomes luxurious and powerful. The Bishop’s Border at Frogmore Gardens near Trentham is a case in point – it knocked my socks off when I visited recently. Perhaps I could be changing my mind?

Frogmore Gardens' Bishop's border shows how powerful pink can be in the right combination.

Frogmore Gardens’ Bishop’s border shows how powerful pink can be in the right combination.

I might not gravitate towards pink, but I realise that many of the plants I love also happen to have pink flowers. Often it is their scent that attracts me in the first place, and the colour is secondary, but if I start making a list, there are many: Luculia, Veltheimia, Belladonna lilies, Nerines, Bergenia, Sweet Peas, dusky pink Hellebores, deciduous Magnolias and of course those sweetly-scented little woodland Cyclamen. I’m sure there are others. Many of these plants have a very limited flowering season – perhaps it’s a colour I’ve only been brave enough to enjoy as a fleeting fancy up until now?

Bergenias provide great flowers and foliage.

Bergenias provide great flowers and foliage.

Veltheimia bracteata are a brilliant surprise at Rick Eckersley's Musk Cottage.

Veltheimia bracteata are a brilliant surprise at Rick Eckersley’s Musk Cottage.

I cannot pass a Belladonna Lily without leaning down to inhale its super-sweet perfume.

I cannot pass a Belladonna Lily without leaning down to inhale its super-sweet perfume.

Luculia is another old-fashioned favourite I can't help sniffing and admiring.

Luculia is another old-fashioned favourite I can’t help sniffing and admiring.

Nerines are charming & cheerful Autumn bulbs.

Nerines are charming & cheerful Autumn bulbs.

My current herbacious perennial indulgence (let’s call it what it is) is a rich source of incredible pink flowering plants. So what the heck – if my new garden seems dominated by pink, let’s go all-in and go on a pink voyage of discovery.

Have you ever gone shopping for a particular ‘thing’ and suddenly found yourself seeing that ‘thing’ everywhere? For me, a little pink light-bulb went on and suddenly I was seeing everything through rose-coloured glasses. There are several plants I haven’t had the opportunity to grow for myself  – these include Eupatorium ‘Gateway’ (often paired with perennial grasses, which is my intention), Echinacea purpurea, Centranthus ruber, pink Salvia nemerosa, Clerodendrum bungei (a stunning plant for dry shade) and Teucrium hircanicum – just to name a few.

Eupatorium Gateway

Eupatorium ‘Gateway’. Photo: Bluestone Perennials

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea

Clerodendrum

Clerodendrum bungei is a stunning plant in dry shade.

Centranthus ruber

Centranthus ruber. Photo: The Digger Club

Salvia nemerosa 'Amethyst'

Salvia nemerosa ‘Amethyst’. Photo: Lambley Nursery

Teucrium hircanicum. Photo: Dans Plants

Teucrium hircanicum. Photo: Dans Plants

I intend to balance the pink with harmonious mauves, undertones of wine and burgundy and some pops of lemon and lime. Foliage plants will still be there to keep everything grounded. Even so, it feels like a lot of pink for me. Time will tell if I have gone a blush too far, but I have to admit my eyes have been opened and I now see that pink deserves to be elevated above its place as the stereotypical ‘colour for girls’. It can be sophisticated, elegant and altogether grown-up.

What are you favourite pink flowering plants?

4 Comments

  1. Your fresh look at this colour has almost convinced me, Kate, that it’s a colour worthy of greater consideration. I’ve also resisted pink for many years as colour in my paintings unless a twilight scene really called for it. Pink in the garden though seems like a cheery idea to me. I have always loved the deep pink camellias in my parents’ front garden and my Dad had a thing for pale pink and bronzey coloured orchids. As for pink clothes on my baby girl? Well, I’m going to tell her that pink can be sophisticated, elegant and altogether grown-up.

    • garden euphoria

      09/06/2016 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks Melanie. I love those old fashioned pink camellias too. There seems to be a colour tolerance scale and we all seem to have certain colours that our eyeballs happily drink up, and others (pink and yellow for me) that I can only take in bursts. And yet I could gaze at a pink sunset for far longer than a setting sun allows – go figure?!

  2. Great article! I have just moved from a green, grey foliage focussed garden where I planted only white flowers to a ‘floribunda kaleidoscope’ with clashing pinks, oranges and purples – and it’s a breath of fresh air. My new ‘almost anything goes’ garden is full of colour, interest and surprises as the seasons pass. Waiting for the dozens of camellias plants to bloom – I bet they are a every shade of pink (and not one white!). Sarah

    • garden euphoria

      09/06/2016 at 10:38 pm

      Thanks Sarah. It can be so liberating to throw out the colour rule book in the garden and there’s nothing more exciting than moving to a new house and garden where you’re not entirely sure what colour the flowers are going to be. Your kaleidoscope garden sounds lovely. I’m currently watching like a hawk as a few unidentified bulbs have started to push up through the mulch in my new front garden – it’s like a lucky dip!

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