Background Color

Last weekend, in Singapore I caught sight of a bright pink banana flower, framed by a fan of lime tinted leaves  set against a bright blue wall and it was stunning. Years ago, I think it was in the textile museum in New Dehli, I took away an image that has remained indelible in my mind - blue walls wrapped around a courtyard with a large tree swimming in a pool of Tradescantia Pallida Purpurea. The power of this image, the dark gnarled trunk, the shadows of its leafy branches and the vibrancy of the purple Tradescantia against the blue has since, always made me aware of how effective a strong background color is in a small garden space.

Blue walls have been a signature of some famous gardens belonging to artsy types - most famously the cobalt blue walls of Jardin Majorelle, Yves San Laurent's Moroccan getaway and there's also Frida Kahlo's Blue House, not as deep a blue but more intense than the one I have pictured above which, like the one in Dehli casts a little lavender. A blue background is a a great foil for these orange flowers in the Mission district of San Francisco and the lime tones of spring in Manhattan. The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Penang shows how this color is as much at home with Marrakesh cactuses and Mexican yuccas as it is with Chinese shutters and lotus flowers.

The other wall color I keep coming across in Singapore is red.  Although it has clear oriental associations with the color of red lacquer and the walls of the forbidden city, this color has for me many more global associations from the Brownstones of Manhattan and the saltbox houses of New England to many a Tuscan wall, the Dutch Buildings in Malacca and the stone walls of Agra. Here in the tropics the warm tones look great with the warm browns of wooden shutters and pink plumeria  or a gnarly bougainvillea, as above. On Cape Cod a stand of hollyhocks perhaps and in Tuscany, a line of terracota pots with huge red geraniums.

I saw a few yellow walls in Malacca, pretty but somehow they weren't quite right. Yellow can be a diffcult color especially when it casts green. This image of the jade green walls of the Peranakan mansion in Penang, combined with wood shutters, gold decorative accents, on the other hand looks like the perfect starting point to embelish with potted foliage in a range of greens.

How does one choose? Well end use would probably help inform that decision. The psychology of colors tells us that low arousal colors of blue and green would be best for a spot intended for quiet reverie- a shady enclave to escape the afternoon sun or a peaceful breakfast nook. High arousal reds that stimulate the appetite would be great for an outdoor dining area particularly for use at night, the glow of lanterns and candelight making the space warm and intimate.

Doesn't all this color talk just make you want to pick up a paintbrush?

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