Mother Nature 'gets it' concerning flower color
Do you have a favorite flower? It's interesting how color in the garden changes according to the light. The famous French painter Monet realized that color is merely reflected light and, as a result, the same flowers would change hues many times a day as the sun went across the sky. He noticed that the evening sun shed a warm glow on his blooms so he created a "sunset border." He planted red, gold, yellow and orange flowers there that took on a special luminosity against the setting sun. Then on the garden's east side he mad a "sunrise border," planting flowers of pink and mauve that harmonized with the soft light of morning.
When I first planted my garden here I was thinking of my mother's rose garden in England where she had many fabulous roses in pastel colors, so I followed her example. Now several years later I realize that my roses, instead of glowing in the gentle light of the English garden, look "washed out" in the intense summer of California.
I think Mother Nature knows more than we do about color because she made March a mostly pastel month with the primroses, daffodils, forsythia and epimediums that look so nice in the soft spring light. She saved most of the "hot colors" for the brighter days of late spring and summer, like poppies, marigolds and tropical hibiscus.
Hot colors jump out at you. They make a statement. Too many, though, could make a small garden seem claustrophobic. I think I might put some hot colors at the front of my borders and back them up with colors like blues and purples.
Blues are useful for creating a sense of distance, for conveying the impression that the garden is larger than it really is. Blue is one of the last colors to show itself in the early morning or evening where it just fades into the twilight.
White, on the other hand, is luminous in the twilight. I have an evening garden behind my house where most of the plants are white or pale and very fragrant at night. This is because they're only pollinated by bats and night flying moths.
Many native New Zealand plants have white or pale colored flowers that are open and flat in shape - just the type to appeal to flies and moths but not bees. Compared to our country, New Zealand has very few indigenous bees.
Bees and insects are attracted to purple and yellow flowers like rosemary, buddleia and coreopsis but are blind to red. To a bee, a red flower is black.
The colors of flowers are designed by nature to attract animals and insects in order to assist in pollination and seed dispersal.
As well as color, flowers have also developed certain devices to lure bees and other insects. Among these are "nectar guides" which may be dots or lines of contrasting color leading inward from the petals, some of which may not be visible to our human eye. Petunias and morning glories have clearly visible nectar lines, whereas dots in the throats of foxgloves invite insects to enter and partake of their nectar.
Today, plant growers are constantly trying to grow new and better colors. Molecular biology has come a long way and genes have been isolated from one species and transferred to another where they have displayed the new characteristic and have successfully passed it on from one generation to another. Two American companies plan to insert the genes responsible for the blue color of the dye plant indigo into cotton plants in such a way to produce bolls of colored cotton. If so, we'll have natural blue jeans.
Me - I'm still waiting for the true blue rose.
Backyard Gardener runs Saturdays. Write to our local master gardeners in care of the Appeal-Democrat, P.O. Box 431, Marysville, CA 95901.