Saturday, April 10, 2010

Color in the Garden: Blue

I’ve made an important breakthrough, I think: a bit of inadvertent genealogical sleuthing may have unearthed the origins of my botanical promiscuity, about which I wrote in my “Public Confessions #1” entry.

My initial garden schematic sought to play upon the buoyancy of blue in the front sun gardens in such a way as to carry the blue of the slate siding on 410’s bay windows, evanescing away from the house into the garden, while blue in the rear shade gardens would showcase that same color’s fluorescence and its tranquilizing, meditative properties. But then Lena Scotch Broom seduced me, opening my gardens to an array of seasonally-hued yellows and golds, reds and rusts, greens and purples…

Of all colors, blue, I self-assuredly and quite incorrectly believed, was simply the most versatile aesthetically, emotionally, and intellectually. Blue, long my “favorite” color, reflected my melancholy and my meditations, my liveliness and my listlessness. The icy blue of “Purple Leaf Corydalis” (Corydalis flexuosa), for instance, positively glows throughout the day, but especially at dusk and dawn. (I’ve photographed it every day since planting it, but no photograph captures its ethereality.) Stare into a single tubular flower, or at the whole of the plant, and you feel roused and soothed, centered and renewed.

Yet all colors have their particular associations and antonymic pairings. True, in their particularity each color remains unique and special. But versatility as a universal property, however, is not owned by a specific color.

But blue in the chakra system—a nearly 3,500 year-old Vedic understanding of the “wheel” of energy in the body contained within seven centers—obtains a special status. Associated with the fifth, or Vishuddhi, chakra located at the neck, the 16-petalled blue Vishuddha serves as the communication center for the body. This blue Vishuddha, the voice of the whole, of the self, symbolizes pure consciousness and creativity, and governs our expressions, inspirations, and communications both internally and externally. And, according to the Vedic/Tantric tradition, once this Vishuddha is closed and all communication ceases, we deteriorate, die, and decay.

Some may dismiss this notion and the chakra system as mystical nonsense, but I urge more restraint. Tony Judt, esteemed historian, intellectual, and professor, conveys the essence of the fifth chakra best. Recently, Terry Gross (of famed NPR program Fresh Air) interviewed Judt about his new book and his moving series in The New York Review of Books that chronicles his life and, now, his struggle with Lou Gehrig’s disease--or what he describes as his “progressive imprisonment without parole.” He has lost all motor ability, and breathes with the assistance of a respirator. His only voluntary movement consists of verbalization. Soon, the disease will paralyze his vocal chords, and this is his response to that impending event:

“Well, I'm pretty clear in my own mind that when I can no longer talk I will have no interest in living, because if you can't communicate then you don’t have a world outside of your head. While I use my head all the time, it's in order to communicate ideas, jokes, support, criticism, whatever it might be to friends, and colleagues and strangers, so no voice, no life.”

On this Vedic reading, blue opens the dialogue. Blue grounds and opens the self to the world, and the world to the self. Blue stimulates the vital meditative impulse—the impulse necessary to communicate with the world beyond. Without it, we simply talk past one another.


  1. You have to turn these meditations into a manuscript... "Ruminations on life through gardening" as you say. I just adore reading them. They bring me such peace and reflection.

  2. Thank you, "ErinB," for your encouraging remarks!