Feb 24, 2010

Turquoise and Lime

Anyone else out there been enjoying the turquoise and lime graphics coming from the Vancouver winter games? I saw someone on TV criticizing the Olympic graphic art as wimpy and not sports-like, but I’ve long adored that color scheme. I find myself focusing more on how well the figure skaters’ costumes coordinate with the backdrop than on whether they land their quads or triple double doubles or whatever the heck they are.

Turquoise-lime seems to have been in fashion the last several years, since you see it everywhere, and it’s a combination that I find at once soothing and stunning. I first fell hard for it years ago while idly leafing through a book on interior design in India. I turned to a page featuring a kitchen with one full-on turquoise wall adjacent to a full-on lime wall, and on the table a simple vase of shocking pink bougainvillea. When I saw that picture I pulled one of these:

I think it was at that moment that I decided I must one day own a home, so that I could recreate that picture. When I finally did get the chance, I took the paint a few shades darker and substituted Clarkias for the bougainvillea. Here are my supermodels posing in front of each color. (The Clarkia vase is only in spring--and only out for about a minute before it has to be removed from the curious supermodels' reach).

Nature has its own version of the turquoise-lime scheme in California—it employs similar hues but a bit less intensity—and as with the picture in the Indian book, when I see it I want to recreate it at home.
While contrasting deep greens with light blue/grays is a classic California look, and one I’m sure professional designers sign off on enthusiastically, because it contrasts not only hue (color), but also value (light/dark), but I’d like to make a case for mixing the medium tones—using lighter, more yellowy greens with the blue/gray standards. Throw in a few really dark greens for grounding and you’ve got a scheme so pretty you barely need flowers.

Nature wields the blue-green scheme masterfully on the chaparral-covered hillsides of Mt. Diablo. I’ve hiked there sometimes and felt like I would keel over the side of a sandstone outcropping, so dizzying was the beauty of the vistas. It’s especially effective on misty days when everything is damp and washed, and the sky is a neutral white backdrop. Mt. Diablo’s chaparral pallet consists largely of two Arctostaphylos species. Arctostaphylos auriculata, or Mt. Diablo Manzanita, has a lovely, muted blue tone, like seafoam—or like crest toothpaste, or office scrubs. But Crest or scrubs or no, it’s a lovely color, let’s face it. Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp. laevigata is more of a bright, limey green, and it is also a plant on the not-small list of plants found on Diablo and almost nowhere else. (Don’t ever let anyone tell you Mt. Diablo is not a special place.) I find a hillside covered in these two manzanitas pretty much unmatched in the pastoral beauty department. I wish I had a photo that did it true justice, but I seem to forget my camera on the most photogenic days. I hope you can get the idea somewhat.

Mt. Diablo also works the blue brush with the majestic Pinus sabiniana, or Grey Pine. I love this pine with its enormous cones and long wispy needles, a foothill species that also comes down to our elevation to mingle with the chaparral and scrub, providing a blue counterpoint to the bright greens of coyote brush.
I’m also blown away by my favorite color scheme on my drive to work each morning. On a vivid, rain-washed morning like today, it’s all I can do to not drive off the road when I see the silver-blue bush lupines scattered among the limey grasses and mosses. Also this time of year, native roadside willows are putting on chartreuse spring leaves, and when I see a baby slate-blue Eucalyptus in among them, my lizard brain has moment of pure reflexive joy before my cerebral cortex steps in and says Whoa whoa whoa, those Eucalypts don't belong. For that matter, most of the brilliant green grasses don't either, but the colors still astonish.

In the garden, there are many ways to go green-blue. The list of bluish California natives is long, since blue/gray leaves are an adaptation to manage little water and lots of sun. To mention a few, Artemisia pycnocephala and A. californica, Lessingia filaginifolia (actually now called Corethrogyne filaginifolia), Penstemon palmerii, Epilobiums, Salvia leucophylla and apiana and many cultivars, Leymus condensatus (Canyon Prince especially), Datura wrightii, Eriophyllum confertiflorum or nevinii, many (most) Eriogonum, Lupinus albifrons, Atriplex, Dendromecon, Lepechinia ,and many Arctostaphylos.
And for the the lime green component, some choices might be: Trichostema lanatum, Mirabilis californica, Heucheras, Salvia spathacea, various Mimulus, Galvezia speciosa, and just about any native grass or sedge. And many Arctostaphylos. For a blue and green groundcover, trusty yarrows could fit both bills, as the species and many cultivars are lovely bright green, but the cultivar ‘Calistoga’ is marvelously silvery. And some plants go either way, depending on conditions, or even change with the seasons. For example, when I see Artemisia douglasii or Lepechinia in other people’s yards or in the wild, they’re usually distinctly gray, but in my yard, where they get quite a bit of shade, they are pure, fresh-looking green.

In the garden section pictured below, my idea is to mix the bright green of the Trichostema (Woolly Bluecurls) with blue-gray Artemisia pychnocephala in front and Canyon Prince Wild Rye (Leymus) behind. The Datura is pretty dark, but also bluish.

If a color scheme is stunning on a roadside or stunning on Mt. Diablo (or stunning around the Olympic skating rink), then bring it into the yard. Human eyes have more color-sensing cones than almost any other mammal, so why not swoon over these lovely variations and schemes every single day? Last night I went to dinner with some coworkers to an astonishingly great vegan restaurant and talk inevitably led to comparisons of other vegan restaurants. The consensus around the table came down hard against a place that makes their wait staff ask each customer, “What are you grateful for today?” I can appreciate that it would be hard to pull such a thing off without seeming sanctimonious or corny. But actually? When you think about it? I’m grateful as hell for Lupinus albifrons atop lime green moss, and for green and blue manzanitas lining hiking trails, and for the cone-heavy human eyes that allow me to see them.


  1. Artemisia douglasiana is lime in my yard too.

    I agree that turquoise/lime is an interesting combination, but to my mind, no color combination will ever be able to compete with purple/orange/green. Which is a big part of the reason I'm having major trouble coming to terms with the fact that silver bush lupine just really doesn't want to survive in my yard. Last spring I got this perfect color combination, but last summer my silver bush lupines died. I replaced them last fall and those died. I replaced them this winter and those died too. None ever lived longer than the one in the photograph, which only lived six months. It's time to give up on growing this beautiful plant in my yard, but I'm going to miss it terribly.

  2. Your observations are always spot on Jess. Great descriptions.

    This Lizard Brain loves Festuca rubra 'Patricks Point' which is blue/gray in the summer and rich green in the winter.

  3. Hello Jess, I'm a first-time commenter. I saw your first blog posts in the fall on Blotanical and then lost track of it. I rediscovered your blog this past week and have become a fan. I have a "Blog of the Month" feature on my blog to introduce my readers to blogs they may not know about. Your blog is one of three I've named for the month of March. It will be featured on my sidebar, and I'll have a special post (it should appear on Tuesday) introducing my choices. Best Regards, -Jean

  4. Thanks for the comments. Take heart on the Lupinus albifrons, because I think it is notoriously difficult. (What a *beautiful* picture you got, though!) I don't know what makes it so hard, but I planted one last winter and it grew marveoulsy and I had the highest hopes for it--then it seemed to survive the summer but then shriveled up and died in the fall. Sigh. I think it is a species to just appreciate in nature!

    As for Festuca rubra, I agree it is great--I have Pt. Molate, which I think would be similar, except I can't see it right now because it's completely covered in wildflower volunteers. Those things are rambunctious!

    Jean, I'm very flattered and will check out your blog! Thank you!

  5. Mount Diablo not special? Whaaaaaat? It has wildflowers! It has crazy rock formations! It has wild tarantulas! It was the first place my sweetie tried to "hike" after his spinal cord injury.