Seeing Red?

Maybe try some green for your eyes.

If you ask any kid what their favorite color is they will always respond quickly and with pride. Our favorite colors have a way of connecting us to our core selves, our identities. If we say that we love a color we are telling you something of ourselves and preferences. If you keep this line of conversation going you will inevitably hear which colors that person doesn’t like.

In working for people in their gardens the conversation will at some point come around to color.

The interesting part is that people will often assume that their color preference should be as obvious as the colors I should know that they hate. All I can say is that almost every time that person will throw in a remark that would have been impossible for me to anticipate.

A favorite client and friend of mine passed away about a year ago. She was an amazing artist and a unique individual. Conversations with her led to ideas, fun with words and, of course, an aesthetic that was completely her own.

“What’s that!” she asked, noticeably upset.

“Um…” my eyes and mind were scanning the flower bed trying to determine what had cause such a sharp reaction.

“That orange! We’re did it come from?”

I. foetidissima, online image.

The orange she was referring to was the open seed pod of the Iris foetidissima.

I wasn’t sure.

“Maybe a bird dropped the seed? “

I told her how that particular iris was grown mainly for its showy orange seed pods and how many people liked it. She was not interested in hearing about why others might like it. I needed to take it out and anything else orange or red that might come up in her garden. Then she said something that I will always remember.

“I can’t bear to gaze upon the color orange!”

I have to admit that at first I thought this statement was added just for dramatic effect. I quickly readjusted myself to take it seriously and with secret fascination. We talked a bit more. Orange (and red) were jarring colors and that sensation would cause her actual physical discomfort when it caught her eye. I got it. The irises obviously had to go!

I have to say the only color I don’t care for is yellow. When I was a kid I actually believed that it was the one color that couldn’t ever be someone’s favorite. Great kid-logic at work there! When I was first dating my husband I asked him what his favorite color was. When he responded that it was yellow, I was like, “No, really, what is it?” Since then, I’ve met more people with this “yellow” preference, usually guys.

Why do colors cause such strong reactions in the eye of the beholder?

OK. I realize I am heading down an endless rabbit hole with this one, so for now let’s keep it contained to the eye.

021All color comes from light.

It is our eyes and brain that translate light into color. When light hits an object some of the colors are absorbed. The colors that are not absorbed are reflected off of the object. It is those light waves that then land on the light-sensitive area located at the back of our eye called the retina. The retina contains tiny cells that respond to color called cones. Humans generally have three types of cones. More than half of these cones respond strongly to red, about a third respond to green and only about two percent vibrate for blue.

I just took a test online to see how many color nuances I could see and it turns out that I’m in that 25% of the population that has 4 different types of cones. This extra type of cone is for yellow! I had to laugh because it said these people are irritated by the color yellow. Too funny, I can’t wait to tell David!

Are your eyes glazing over yet?


Another interesting way that our eyes take in color is that the wavelengths of light are refracted (bent) and then focused through the lens of our eye onto different areas of the retina. This is why red appears to come toward you and blue things look as though they are receding into the distance. The shorter blue wavelength is focused onto the part of the retina that is closer to the nose. This gives you the feeling of peering into the distance. The longer red wavelength is focused on the part of the retina that is closer to the ear making you feel as though the object is not only coming at you but also moving past. The green/yellow wavelength is focused on the center of the retina. I’m wondering if the people that like yellow do so in part because it does have this calm, center of your retina, ‘straight forward’ kind of quality to it.

Color is important in the garden.

What we feel and experience with plants can be heightened by color and their placement. Yet most of the time we are not aware of its influence. Green is calming. Plant it everywhere but, especially where you wish to rest your body and your eye. Red is exciting. It comes at you with lots of energy so, plant it to the front where that effect can be maximized. Blue, gray and dark colors add distance and perspective. This can give a small garden the illusion of depth. White flowers are fresh and luminescent. This quality shows especially well in the shade and at night.

To tell you the truth, black has always been my favorite color. Black tulips, irises and dahlias make me feel happy. The only problem is that black disappears in the garden if there is nothing to highlight it.

The black foliage of the butane contrasts nicely with the bright green if the anemone.

I’ve been trying to open myself up to more colors and flower gardens are part of my therapy.

What helped me was to try to appreciate color combinations. I began noticing that a color that I didn’t like would suddenly appeal to me. Sometimes it was a new flower growing next to it and the colors really complimented each other. Maybe a plant that was next to it had been moved and it was that that had been causing an unpleasant clash.

I can honestly say that now, under certain circumstances, I can like yellow. …just not with pink!

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3 thoughts on “Seeing Red?

  1. It is my belief that you are a reincarnated zen master…I love this! And, I have to tell you, every time I arrive home, and catch the view of your work at the front of my house, I still swoon. I love it so much.


  2. Pingback: GOOD LUCK

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