When it comes to yellow, my wife and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum. I love yellow in the garden; flowers in particular, but fruits too.
The real reason Robert Guyton loves yellow in the garden.
But not so much with Robyn. She has an aversion to the colour; especially the vivid expression found in the likes of the forsythia or kowhai¯ flowers that abound here during the springtime.
She has that reaction to the bright yellows because of two things: gorse and the yellow no-passing lines on roads.
As a girl, wee Robyn suffered greatly from car sickness – an unfortunate affliction for a child in a family with a father who loved cars, loved driving and loved taking his family on holidays to
far-off places that could only be reached along winding roads.
Every time the poor wee lass felt her stomach churn and her head spin, her mother would tell her to “look out of the window”, which she did – straight at, that’s right, hills covered in flowering gorse, or the aged butter-yellow centre line of the road.
So the flowers of the ornamental brooms I love to grow don’t excite her, nor do those of evening primrose or dandelion. Red hot pokers, especially the variety ‘Sunningdale Yellow’, don’t win her approval either, but I love them and tuck them into places I think (and hope) she won’t visit, at flowering time at least.
For a long time, I wondered if my liking for bright yellow flowers was some perverse test of our devotion to each other, that if we could live with opposing views about one of the primary colours, we’d be able to weather life’s other storms.
But one day it occurred to me that, while Robyn’s aversion to yellow seemed odd to me, there must be a reason why I like it so much. Other people I’d spoken to about this didn’t have the same feelings toward the colour as I did and it dawned on me that colour blindness was the problem – mine, not anybody else’s.
I have the common red/green colour confusion which many males exhibit, meaning I can’t take a lot of pleasure from flowers, fruits and leaves that may or may not be the colour I believe them to be, and in fact, change from one to the other as the day progresses and light levels rise and fall!
Yellow, to me, is always yellow and reliably easy to see.
The apparently beautiful flowers of the ‘Sir Robert Peel’ rhododendron that towers over my driveway are completely invisible to me, even at the height of the tree’s flowering. The only way I know it’s in full and glorious bloom is from the sound of the bees, mainly bumble, visiting the cerise throats. Or pink throats. Or some colour… I just don’t know unless I ask.
This frustrating state of affairs has led to my favouring the blatantly obvious yellow end of the spectrum and I’ve planted accordingly. Poor Robyn.
So I’ve sown moth and woolly mullein wherever there’s a sunny spot in my garden.
I’ve OK-ed my daughter Hollie’s passion for planting sunflowers, en masse, beside the path to the henhouse. I tried to establish a bank of yellow-flowering dahlias right in the middle of my forest garden, to mimic a sunlit clearing, but that was a step too far and too bright, and pressure from my sensitive wife meant that was a temporary planting only.
In any case, the yellow flag irises that I was given many years ago, regarded by many as a pest plant and thereby arousing my interest immediately, have spread, not alarmingly, but pleasingly, around the base of several of the more unusual trees in my forest garden: the saskatoon berry Amelanchier alnifolia, the blue-podded Decaisnea fargesii and the dogwood I’ve always thought to be Chinese, but may in fact be Cornus
florida, with its tiny flowers and bright orange edible fruits. All are set off charmingly by the drifts of yellow iris flowers that briefly light up the understorey around Christmas time.
There are clumps of goldenrod (solidago) out there as well along with king’s cup or marsh marigold ( Caltha
palustris) and lady’s mantle ( Alchemilla mollis) with her gentle but still-yellow flowers, so I’m not going without.
I’m intending to plant crocosmia with flowers in my favourite colour and read that the variety I’m most likely to adore is ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’.
White seems to be common ground for Robyn and me.
We both enjoy blooms that have no colour and by very good fortune, most, but not all, of the blossom on our hundreds of apple trees are white. There’s pink in there too, I know, and other subtle blushes of colour, but white dominates, as it does on the plum and pear trees.
Blossom time is the best time for the pair of us to walk hand in hand through the orchards, as there’s no colour friction or need to steer partners away from contentious flowerbeds.
Apple blossom season is probably a good time to take a trip in the car as well, I’d have thought.
Apple tree blossoms.