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I am a huge fan of colour in the garden, whether it is from the planting or the structures such as fences and gates, furniture and timber structures as well as walls. Colour can either perk up a grey day, of which we have had far too many lately, or it can be enhanced and illuminated by bright summer days.
Paint is an important garden material and I think much overlooked. Colour can add depth, interest, focus and contrast to any garden provided you have the relevant surfaces available to be painted. We do have a British tendency to be reserved about the colours we use in our gardens and tend to shy away from bold colours, but rather than go the whole hog and paint everything blue, adding accents and emphasising particular features or furniture can transform a dull space into something far more individual and exciting.
Exterior paint is most widely used on walls and furniture but paint can also be used on fencing and garden buildings. There is an amazing range of colours available for either timber or masonry, but the masonry paint colours tend to be slightly more restricted at the bolder end of the colour spectrum.
Paint extends the range of colours and textures available. A painted background colour on a wall can harmonize a group of plants. A painted highlight on furniture can provide an accent to a colour composition. The natural solution is to use gloss paint on furniture, to enhance the highlight, and matt paint on walls, to allow planting to become the highlight. Ordinary emulsion paint works well out of doors. To avoid everything looking too brand new, sandpaper can distress the texture and create a more worn look, which might appeal to some people, particularly where the garden is older and more established.
There are also coloured lime-washes available to use on older buildings particularly in conservation areas or on listed buildings where often it is more appropriate to use natural materials, these come in a range of colours from various suppliers.
A coat of the right coloured paint can transform an old structure and immediately help it to blend in with a new garden. This can work particularly well with old sheds and fencing, or stonework. Likewise, colour in the garden is often associated with minimalist gardens, using large blocks of bold colour with minimal planting.
I have been hugely inspired by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and his picturesque village at Portmeirion in North Wales.
Roy Strong, in Garden Party said:
“Clough, one knows from Portmeirion, was never afraid of colour. The buildings are colour-washed ochre, terracotta, primrose, a dusky blue.” The greeny-turquoise of his ironwork in the garden recurs on houses. “How many people ever think of linking house and garden colour-wise? He reminds any gardener that colour is not only flowers. It is what comes out of the paint pot, and the possibilities for the imaginative are limitless” (Roy Strong, Garden Party, 2000).
A walk around Portmeirion on a sunny day is rather like being dipped in a paint pot of intriguing and wonderful colours. Everywhere it is possible to add colour, there it is. Either in the buildings, the sculpture, the many architectural features, the palette is predominantly strong and capable of coping with the elements of north Wales whilst at the same time mimicking a very strong Mediterranean influence.
Bold splashes of rich colour abound, blues and ochres, turquoise and yellow. Often colours are deliberately gradiented (lighter toward the top) as a forced-perspective trick. Sometimes multiple colours are painted on the same wall to create the illusion of grandeur. The entire effect is dazzling and stimulating.
On a much smaller scale, there is a lot of inspiration to be had from these techniques and which can be applied to the smaller garden with stunning results. Whether you paint a wall a bold colour and plant contrasting-coloured plants in front of it, or simply paint a bench and allow the colours to shine out.
As Sir Clough Williams-Ellis wrote in Portmeirion: The Place and Its Meaning (1963) “design and colour really do matter profoundly to all of us as a powerful source of pleasure, if we will but use our eyes as we ought.”