Book Review: Colour In The Garden

I received Val Bourne’s Colour in the Garden for Christmas, and in the lull of short dark days at the end of the year I sat by the fire and devoured it cover to cover. (Not literally, of course).

Colour In The Garden, by Val BourneThe vivid pink cosmos on the front cover held me in instant thrall, reminding me of some of my favourite tall ‘Sensation’ cosmos that danced in our borders a few months before. I was a little wary, however, that the book would contain a dry litany of colour theory; interesting reading but perhaps not to be digested in one sitting.

How wrong I was! A relatively brief introduction presented a simplified colour wheel and danced gently around the interplay of colours of different groups, soon drawing upon real planting combinations to demonstrate the theory, with consideration to seasonal appeal and longevity. After my initial misgivings, my one criticism would be that perhaps more detail on colour theory at this point would have been well received.

After this light and interesting prologue, the remainder of the book is split into three different colour combinations for each season; such as Spring Zing and Summer Sparkle. Far from prescriptive plantings, however, these twelve sections embrace colour and season with real flair. The writing is exuberant and lyrical, invoking a wide range of plants that present the author as both plantswoman and poet.

This is the first book by Val Bourne that I have read, though I have enjoyed her writings in newspapers and magazines when I have come across them, and it utterly captivated me. I love her enthusiasm for plants and breadth of knowledge, and could not put the book aside until I had finished it. The pages are full of beautiful photographs, which make a volume that is as enjoyable to look at as it is to read.  It is a wonderful tonic for the dark days of winter, firing up my imagination for the growing season ahead, and I suspect will have many re-readings.


18 thoughts on “Book Review: Colour In The Garden

  1. Thanks for the review; its always nice to hear others responses to new books. The book I used to enjoy was about colour based on Hadspen garden in Somerset by Sandra and Nori Pope. Colour preferences are always very personal but a good book certainly helps with the rules and can provide ideas. Christina

    • I’m not sure that I would have chosen this book myself, at least not on concept alone, I am inspired by plants first and foremost and am drawn more to reading garden diaries and notebooks than regimented colour schemes, but I really enjoyed this book. I think the author’s love of plants came out strongly, the colour schemes seemed to be just a part of that.

  2. I keep telling myself I shouldn’t buy any more gardening books, but after reading your review maybe I need just one more. On a similar theme I have always found ‘Colour for Adventurous Gardeners’ by the late Christopher Lloyd inspiring, particularly as he makes a few unconventional suggestions as far as colour theory is concerned.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve recently finished Christopher Lloyd’s In My Garden, another Christmas gift, a collection of his writings which I thoroughly loved. A secondhand copy of the Well Tempered Garden is next in my to-read pile – I may have to add Colour for Adventurous Gardeners after that!
      I tend to stay away from books that are too prescriptive – I love that CL crossed boundaries with his planting and broke the rules so well. With our modest garden there is no space for grand design schemes, my drive is to fill it with as many of the plants I love as I can, no doubt proving along the way that some combinations really should be avoided!
      It is always interesting to read about pairings that work well though, particularly those that apply on a smaller scale, and when they are considered not just on colour but also form and season and all the other variables that can’t always be predicted.

  3. That sounds like a lovely book. Will keep a look out for it. I’m a great fan of Sarah Raven’s Bold and Brilliant Garden full of sumptuous colours to fire the imagination on a dreary, wet day.

    • The only Sarah Raven book we have is her Garden Cookbook, sounds like I should add another to the list! We do have space still to fill on our lovely bookshelves after all…

  4. Thank you for the recommendation! I too receive garden books for Christmas, three years running. They are my favorite presents.

    I think that the combination of passion and experience with plants makes for a very engaging garden author. Thanks for pointing me to another such person!

  5. This was one of my Christmas presents to myself but it still in the to be read pile. After reading your review I am looking forward to reading it all the more Alison and may move it up the pile 🙂 I bought it on the basis that I really enjoyed reading her other books ‘The Natural Gardener’ and ‘The Winter Garden’ as well as like you her writing in newspapers and magazines. She is as you say enthusiastic and knowledgeable and once you start to read her writing you are well and truly hooked. Would second Wellywoman’s recommendation and also suggest Mary Keen’s ‘Colour Your Garden’ though I am not sure whether the latter is still in print. Perfect excuse for a visiting a second hand bookshop though 🙂

    • I hope that you enjoy it too. I must look out some more of her books, starting with those you mention. I even won some book vouchers in a little competition at work recently – though I already have more books on my wishlist than vouchers but it’s a start! Ah, second hand bookshops. I lose myself in them! 🙂

  6. Hmm – that sounds interesting, and inspiring too (at this time of year, especially welcome – everything is grey). I’m wedded to Penelope Hobhouse’s old classic Colour in Your Garden, but perhaps I need an update…

    • Ah, another book I should investigate then!
      I loved the fact that while colour is the focus, this book is all about the plants, packed with information on a huge range of different cultivars and suggestions. Can’t recommend it enough.

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