How Impressionist painters help gardeners

It may seem that the broad-brush style of the Impressionist painters clashes with the science and plant by plant design of the gardens that they so often painted.  However, Impressionist paintings can help us in the process of tweaking or totally redesigning beds and borders in our own gardens.  And October is an ideal time to review and revise planting schemes.

Summer border photo

Early morning sun lights up my late summer border

The Impressionist painters were very focused on the relationships between different colours in the colour wheel and the way that one colour appears to change depending on what it is placed next to.  Also they explored the way that colour responds to different light conditions.  Some ideas are simple to use at home: a red leaved shrub placed to catch the evening sun, for example.

But the biggest lesson to take from Impressionism is when we are choosing a colour scheme for a specific area.  Here it is precisely the broad brush lack of detail that is important.  I have a very interesting book with photographs of well-known Impressionist paintings and suggested planting schemes that the artist might have painted.  When helping people to think about what they want their gardens to look like, it is the paintings that help to answer questions like “what about hot colours?” and “do you prefer pale and pastel?”.  We are able to focus on the overall effect without being distracted by details such as “Azaleas don’t thrive in my soil” or “I don’t like Dahlias” that arise when looking at actual garden planting for inspiration.  These statements are not invalid of course but ruling out Dahlias does not mean that you have to rule out a hot, tropical border altogether.  It simply means that you use different plants.

I have said before that once you know what style, colour and texture you are aiming at, you can set about choosing plants to suit your garden, your preferences and your time commitment to create that effect.  Looking at the paintings of Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Cezanne may just provide that spark of inspiration for you to turn your borders into a work of art this autumn.


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