There is a sense of softness that pervades the long border at Crabtree Gardens in the fall, not only due to the tall grasses arching over the edges of their allotted space, but also due to the unique color of their seed heads. That wonderous color is mauve, and it has quite an historic past.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the color mauve, it is a heavenly cross between pink and purple but with a lot of grey in it. It was “the”decorating color of the 1980’s according to Brian Patrick Flynn, home makeover TV program producer and interior designer. This I know because I chose mauve for my kitchen counter tops in a previous home, a decision that I don’t know if I would have loved today if I still lived there.
Mauve appears in several places through out the gardens. The hydrangeas (paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ hardy in zones 3-9) turn from creamy white to dusky mauve at this time of year, these old fashioned shrubs are a staple in our gardens. They withstand deer browsing and rebound every year with even more blooms for us.
This odd color is used for theatrical stage lighting to convey the light of a sunset. It can evoke a feeling of warmth and romance (Romantic Gardens- future post). On the color wheel, mauve would be located directly opposite of green thereby making it a complimentary color to it.
In early fall, many perennials begin to wane with the exception of Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’. Its seed heads begin their colorful journey as light pink, then they turn more mauve with each passing week and finally in mid to late October they exhaust themselves into brown. It’s one of the best late summer-early fall bloomers in our gardens.
There is even a mauve hint of beauty that can be found in the American Pokeweed, not that we advocate its use in gardens, as it can be highly poisonous if ingested by humans or livestock. However it is of great value to songbirds as they easily ingest the berries.
Consider using mauve in your late summer and fall plantings. You will be rewarded with a warm restful glow backlit by the lower angle of the autumn sun. Planning a garden that provides color throughout all the seasons takes some work, but will be well worth the rewards.