Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Color in the Garden: White

I am often struck by the infusion of color in the high drama that is international relations: white papers, green parties, orange revolutions, and purple slates reside next to less attractive invocations of color such as red scares, blue ants, black lists, and yellow peril. To wit, in my previous entry, I may have identified an entirely new kind of “yellow peril”—the kind that compels us to do naughty things (like steal a tulip or, argue that “really, officer, the light was yellow when I entered the intersection,” which prompts the response, “So, would you rather have me write you up for speeding through the intersection, which you did, or running a red light, which it was when you left the intersection?”). Yeah, yellow is the color of contradiction: caution, slow down; or speed up and hope you don’t get caught.

I also mused that divinity itself must be responsible for reintroducing every spring the loveliness of yellow. Yet yellow is not the color of the divine; it is but a product of the divine. We just need to learn how to negotiate our uses of and responses to yellow. If yellow is the color of contradiction, the color of human frailty, then white is the uber-color, the untouchable (guys: wear a white suit to a fancy soiree and you’ll understand what I mean). White symbolizes not royalty, whose color is purple, but, by cultural association, divinity itself (whether white represents purity, or serves as the color of mourning, the divine and the afterlife are neatly, crisply, encapsulated into the breathtaking magnitude of this color and, by extension, even the most limited appearance of white in the garden).

Immediately, we conjure images, perhaps even blankets, of white flowers: snowdrops, crocuses, paper whites, alyssum, phlox, lilies, and sundry other lovely flowers. This white Siberian iris stands alone in my garden, a valiant beacon in a luxurious sea of green, a peace offering, a lone beauty, a stunning reminder that above all human frailty, beyond all the reach of all impropriety, stands perfection. Whether perfection is divine, or divinity is perfection I’ll leave to the reader; suffice to note that the triangulations of my iris (“my iris;” how haughty! How human!) could not have been produced by anything less than the divine exaltations of nature herself.

And then there is the brief spell of the white feather hosta, whose white gradually turns to a soft cream and then a diluted pale green. We often associate color with flowers—a natural association to be sure, but a somewhat narrow one given the various hues of leaves, not to mention their diverse textures and shapes. Perhaps more a function of my indecision rather than my intellectual predispositions or aesthetic principles, some of my garden beds are more experimental: working hypotheses of aesthetic design and the consequence of impulsive seductions and random flirtations in the garden shop. This white feather hosta has thus far served me well; she glows. All visitors to my gardens immediately look at her; not even the serenity of the Buddha elicits a first glance, for her fluorescence immediately arrests the eyes.

I accept that commandment: start with me, the white feather hosta demands, then look around. For divinity makes only brief appearances in my garden: the paper-whites (which somehow, for some reason, do not to me speak in the vernacular of the divine); the white Siberian iris (thank you, Aunt Annie); the white feather hosta; and, much later in the season, a few white chrysanthemums. I opt not to infuse my garden with white, but rather with brief experiences with it, and with anticipations of the divine in the form of foliage: White Christmas hosta (in front of the garden Buddha) and Liberty hostas, among some others. The lemon scented white flowers of the Sum-and-Substance hosta evoke divinity in mid-summer, and positively glow at dusk and dawn.

But I have opted to keep the divine at bay. Perhaps this is a function of my aborted blue theme and subsequent inability to fully embrace a mix of colors in my garden. Or, perhaps more philosophically, my decision reflects my imperfectability, my inability to imitate, to approach, divinity. As I write this, I feel a sense a wabi, and I am sadly happy, comforted by my perfect imperfectability.


  1. Matt - I am really enjoying your blog. keep it up :) -- tracey smith

  2. Thanks ever so much, Tracey! The support and encouragement means a lot, and spurs me on...