Monday, December 8, 2008

On Contrast

I have just been reading Joy Larkcom's wonderful book, Creative Vegetable Gardening*. In fact, I've read it once, browsed it once, and plan to read it again before I return it to my library. I won't review it here, but I will tell you that it is the kind of gardening book that makes you want to garden. And what greater recommendation could there be?

As you can guess from the title, the book is about creating potagers. I have never been particularly enamoured of potagers, feeling that they were pretentious, and a waste of garden space with all that box hedging, but Joy Larkcom covers not only the formal potager but the semiformal and informal types. The photographs are beautiful, and really do illustrate the text -- which shouldn't surprise me, but it does. I have grown used to photos that are tangential to the text.

Joy Larkcom says that there are two planting strategies for potagers. The first is the patterned type, involving geometric plantings like lines or blocks of identical plants. It is possible to contrast colours as well, such as red and green lettuces of the same variety. Of course that is the approach usually taken with the formal kind of potager, such as at Chateau Villandry.

The second approach is more a "landscape" approach: to plant specific focal points and have a tapestry effect around them, made up of various colours and textures. As my garden has a permaculture basis and is semiformal rather than formal, this approach suits me better. We need reminders from time to time that we can add arches, arbours, bird-baths and pots to our gardens, and that while star pickets and netting support climbing peas, there are other, more attractive ways to do it.

Somehow, I've been finding my vegetable patch lacks soul this year. The plants are going well this season, because of the rain we've had, yet I've been dissatisfied. Both the health and the chaos of my vegetable garden are visible in the photo above. I'm happy the soil is covered, happy about the growth of the plants, but it's a bit dull to look at, and this book explains how I can improve things.

One great help is the enlightening list of different textures.
Joy Larkcom lists the following:
Crepey, eg Savoy cabbage
Crinkly, eg curly parsley
Feathery, eg asparagus
Glossy, eg silverbeet
Mealy, eg borage

I am inclined to add Smooth, to cover plants like the onion family, or peas. The leaves aren't glossy, but they don't really fit any other categories. In the spirit of illustrative photos, here are some delicate white celery flowers contrasting with rugged blue Tuscan kale. I don't find this a jarring contrast at all.

What makes some contrasts annoying and others alluring, anyway? The celery differs in colour and texture, though not so much in habit or height. Somehow this contrast brings out the delicacy of the flower. So why don't the contrasting textures work in the top photo? I'm still figuring it out.

The other contrast, implied in the text, is of habit. Beetroot, parsnip and non-hearting lettuces all have the same general shape. Hearting lettuces and cabbages have that rounded look, while the sweet corn, sunflowers and onions are all strongly vertical. I am sure I can do more with habit, texture and colour than I have been.

The only omission from the text is in how to deal with plants that need staking, like tomatoes and the larger eggplants -- unless you buy those expensive twirly metal stakes. However, I think I have found a solution to unattractive stakes at Chloe's Garden!

* Larkcom, Joy (2004). Creative Vegetable Gardening (rev.ed.). Mitchell Beazley, London.


Linda said...

Ad the stakes can be even brighter and better. My beloved wants to repaint these every year!!!! So I am not putting patterns and dots all over them.

Just to see a purple stake with green sweet corn behind it is enough to make your heart sing.

I have Joy's book, and love it. Had it out again yesterday, looking at it. But I have to admit my strategy is mix flowers and veggies, and then stop worrying about design. It works for me.

Anonymous said...

I love Joys book - totally inspirational.

Jamie said...

And I'm going to get Joy's book, sounds like it's what I need. I'm bumbling along right now trying to create my first informal potager, and my biggest problem is trying to get growth rates of all the components coordinated so everything will end up looking nice at the same time.

Colleen Vanderlinden said...

What a coincidence! I'm reading Joy's book right now, and I'm finding myself utterly overwhelmed by how amazing the gardens in the book are. My plots are all pretty straightforward affairs, lacking any of the artistry displayed in the book. But, they're pretty in their own way, I suppose ;-)

Chookie said...

I'm glad I'm not the only person enjoying this wonderful book. I looked in my vegie patch yesterday at a great parsnip flower-head with a ladybird and a wasp on it and realised that it does look rather nice, even if it is small.