The Spiritual Gardener: Drunk with Colour

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Here, overcoming colour timidity in the garden and going with bolder hues

I can’t get enough of rhododendrons, like this Korean version.

Recently, I went to the garden centre with a song in my heart and a lengthy (spouse-approved) shopping list in hand. At the top of my to-do list was to acquire a fat and healthy rhododendron to replace the gnarled (but still attractive!) specimen we lost this past winter. When I returned from the garden centre, I immediately set about planting it. Then, with rhododendrons on my mind (it’s funny how the gardener’s mind runs in grooves like this), I trimmed back the ones on the patio that had started to lean out, shading the hostas growing there and plucking at the sleeves of people passing by.

I found this gorgeous oriental poppy.

At the garden centre, I’d also discovered a gorgeous bright pink oriental poppy with a bold black eye—the kind I’ve always wanted. Poppies aren’t usually as fond of me as I am of them, which is hardly fair, but I persist in trying to grow them. They are mysterious, are they not? As a general rule, they grow where they want to and not where we put them. They tend to drift around rather vaguely and show up in the most surprising places. They come and go as they please, for purposes unknown. Much like teenagers. Poppies arrive in colours we may not favour, and the ones we do plant in colours we desire don’t tend to thrive. At least, that’s been the case for me. Over the years, I’ve learned that if you’re lucky enough to have poppies in your garden—or teenagers in your house—it’s best to just be thankful and try not to mind that they’re not exactly where you want them when you want them. They’ll be gone soon enough.

I brought home two new pink clematises.

I also brought home two new pink clematises which had a vaguely Asian-sounding name, like “Asao.” One will go at the base of a wisteria vine and the other at the base of a climbing rose at the front of my house. The idea is to sprinkle the pink stars of the clematis among the racemes of the wisteria in a carefree sort of way, and let the other dark pink clematis mingle with the pale pink of the climbing rose—pink on pink, you see. In my mind’s eye, the scheme is very sound; the reality, however, remains to be seen. I filled two rectangular planters on the patio with dark blue petunias and spiky dracaenas, then placed two large pink geraniums in each of the big pots atop my patio columns, together with four of the amaryllises from inside the house (three are still flowering inside, absurdly late—true to form, I’ve mismanaged them once again this year).

This is called a hippeastrum (not that anyone actually calls it that).

A word about nomenclature here. When I say “amaryllis,” I mean the florid South American bulb we all know and love and force to bloom indoors during winter. This is called a hippeastrum (not that anyone actually calls it that), and the true amaryllis is a South African bulb that looks a little like the hippeastrum, which is why, I suppose, they’re often confused. There, is that all clear? They are distant relatives, but nothing more; they likely had a common ancestor long ago, when the continents we now know as Africa, North and South America, Australia, and Antarctica were all one giant land mass.

Don’t be afraid to go bold with these primary colours.

At any rate, the bright pink geraniums will pair well with the creamy pink “Eden” roses and will, I hope, clash interestingly with the bright orange-red canna lilies. Pink and orange-red is a garden combination I never would have had the nerve to try, but having seen it in done in a gardening book that included a segment on Christopher Lloyd and his superb garden at Great Dixter in England, I felt inspired. He daringly threw in a bit of pale yellow as well, and it looks fantastic. But I can’t go that far—at least not yet. Perhaps this whole garden plan is mistaken (mine, that is, not Lloyd’s), as bold garden schemes so often are. We shall see. But at least I’m trying to overcome my colour timidity and be a bit bolder than I have in the past.

I’ve also purchased two tomatoes and put them in a raised pot in full sunlight. I’m hoping to baffle the squirrels and chipmunks this year by planting the tomatoes more than four feet off the ground in a pot that is balanced on two other upturned pots. Think crude little totem pole, without the beautiful carvings. I must admit it looks a bit trashy. She Who Must Be Obeyed thinks I should spring for a proper raised bed for the tomatoes, with perhaps a bit of fencing around it, but I’m reluctant to part with either the extra money or additional space. It’s all probably hopeless, though, and if this doesn’t work, I think I’ll have to give up on the tomatoes. A wise gardener must know when to accept defeat.

Crab apples have delightful pink flowers.

My final purchases of the day were a pot of chives and a pot of rosemary for the patio, 10 hollyhocks for the crescent bed (10!), and six yard-tall lilies for the porch bed. The last 16 beasts had to be left inside until I could get to them; they took over the pantry, and certain people in our household grumbled ominously. They’re already, in fact, driving us all mad, so it’ll be nice to get them out of the house and into the ground at last. All of us, certainly the lilies included, will be much happier as a result, and peace will reign within once again. A half-acre greenhouse would be a lovely solution for these problems, provided it came with a substantial trust fund to pay for its heating and upkeep. You could have a charming little tropical zone at the furthest end from the door, and in winter, you could sit there and read the morning paper with your coffee and toss bits of fish food at the magnificent ornamental koi.

NEXT: Check out my recipe for Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie


1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
1/3 cup light rum
1 pkg. Girl Guide mint cookies (32 cookies)
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, barely melted
2 14-oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup key lime juice
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tbsp. grated lime zest


1) One week before making the pie, split the vanilla bean and scrape out the pulp and seeds. You can use vanilla extract if you can’t find a bean. Add vanilla pulp and the skins to the rum in an airtight container and allow it to infuse for a week.

2) Preheat oven to 375 F. Crush the cookies with a rolling pin and put them in a mixing bowl with the butter. (You can use 1 3/4 cups of crushed graham crackers if you can’t track down Girl Guide cookies). Press the mixture into a 9-inch pie pant form the crush and bake for 20 minutes.

3) Reduce oven temperature to 325 F after the 20 minutes. In a bowl, combine the infused rum, condensed milk, lime juice and eggs. Whisk together and pour into pie shell. Bake for 20-25 minutes and then place pie in the fridge for at least two hours. Garnish with grated lime zest and serve cold, with mint chocolate chip ice cream or lemon sorbet, if desired.

David Jensen writes the popular American blog The Garden Interior which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. He’s also the author of The Garden Interior: A Year of Inspired Beauty