Hours before its partial eclipse, and hours before its totality, the waxing gibbous moon rose in the dusky blue sky above Wilmington. At first, it was barely noticeable, a faint disk set against a hazy, steel-blue backdrop. But as it ascended into the darkening azure sky, its color became more pronounced: its reddish hue became deeper, richer, then gradually shaded to salmon, and now, at 9:11 p.m., appears vibrant red-orange. Here it is: the Strawberry or Rose Moon, Vanguard of the Early Summer Evening Sky.
Red: the color of the lascivious and the corporeal. Red pulses through our veins; titillates the extremities and urges; commands attention; connotes courage; signals danger and, in some cultures, death; and pushes the bounds of excitability.
Tempestuous and audacious, the primal force of red awakens the creative spirit, propels, compels, seizes, and rejects. The most dynamic of colors, red magnifies its own power, elevates its self, and projects energy into the world. Paired with the vibrancy of green, red is intensified and uplifts. Juxtaposing red to yellows and oranges inflames its passion. Red set against blues or silvers at first dramatizes, then tames an otherwise mercurial display.
Red—electric and bedazzling—needs tempering, and I think Rose Mallow (Hibiscus coccineus, ‘Blaze Starr’ varietal) knows it. For now, she has swapped the stunning burgundy red hue she has donned over her deeply lobed, palmated leaves for a vibrant green. And I have a theory. In a few weeks, she will sport those accoutrements than have earned her the nickname ‘summer poinsettia’: stunning scarlet red flowers, each with 5 elongated petals, yearning to be ogled and touched.
Rose Mallow is a refreshing garden resident. Her stalwart beauty cheerily greets all who venture to 410’s front steps. And she is confident without being cocky; she relies not always on her floral display to attract attention, but is content to permit her unusual red-hued, serrated foliage to do the work for her. And yet even while she shines, she comfortably recedes into the panoply.
This year red lacks a prominent floral display in my garden: Rose Mallow and a blood red dahlia are left to carry the load that was once shared with red chrysanthemums, among others, which the February winter storms eliminated. But I am finding that lack of red acceptable, for it concentrates and thus heightens the impact of this most vibrant of colors.
I have also found opportunity in those winter losses: I welcomed both Rose Mallow and a Japanese maple into the garden this spring. And I have (re)discovered the joys of texture, color, and variation of foliage—certainly a more understated approach to introducing diversity into the garden, and, I sometimes think, a more effective way of communicating to the outside world and working with color. Sure, we all want to seduced by brilliant, colorful flowers—but too much can be, well, too much. The eye scans, cannot rest, and the garden is a blur. Pockets of color interspersed among rich tapestries of textured, serrated, variegated, hued foliage offers the eye and, more importantly the mind, opportunity for repose and reflection. The garden becomes you, and you become the garden. And we take it with us.
This year, the brilliant red new growth star-shaped leaves of Mountain Fire Pieris japonica, Rose Mallow’s burgundy attire, the potted Vancouver Geranium’s rich burnt red (which intensifies with increased exposure to the sun), Ligularia dentate (Britt Marie Crawford) and the quintessential red Japanese maple serve as the Vanguard of the Garden, quietly ascending, offering, like the Strawberry Moon, a dazzling array of colorful variation and permitting us to see deep into and beyond the early summer haze.