50 Shades of Black and White

In recent months The Linden Green has been working on an utterly dreamy high-end residential project. The client has the ability, confidence and vision to trust our concept, building and plant suggestions while still maintaining his own voice and point of view. In short, we have a healthy and collaborative design partnership, and creating his exterior space is exciting. His property has the size to incorporate a variety of different landscape elements, which suits me to a tee, as I am nothing if not a maximalist. In my mind I am a purist – minimalist, uncluttered and focused, a disciple of John Pawson perhaps. The actual me is more of a boho/undisciplined/instinctive Id who could never withstand the rigors of Pawson’s discipline. And yet… I am finding in my work my own kind of (totally un-Pawsonian) discipline, and for this project it’s manifesting itself in a very tight color palette. John Pawson interior Photo: WhatMakesUsBlog.blogspot.com, January 2011

Over the expanse of two acres, we're using a palette of purple, claret, cobalt and white, with highlights of sky blue and the palest blush. But at the entrance to the house where things are most manicured and conceptualized – as opposed to the orchard at the fringe of the property, where things are most naturalistic and undesigned – the palette is an even tighter one of monochromatic black and white. Black in a horticultural sense is really very, very, very, very, very dark purple or red, but set against stark white, these non-colors create a field of high contrast that actively resonate against one another. The Stones are talking our language again this week, taking us painting last week’s rainbows black. (As a side note, I fear that followers of the blog may not be getting the Spotify embedded songs within their inbox-delivered posts. This is problematic!  Darling followers, you must hear the songs! Solutions in the works, but in the meantime, check the website for the tracks…)

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Bridget Riley, Fall, 1963 Photo: Tate Collection

In the early 1960s, ‘Op Art’ (short for optical art) exploded onto the art scene and the discerning retinas of critics, curators and collectors. Bridget Riley (b. 1931) was a young British painter whose black and white paintings, such as Fall (1963) shown here, appeared to throb and flicker, tightening and compressing around the curves of their parallel lines. She said of these early works that she ‘wanted the space between the picture plane and the spectator to be active.’

Audrey Hepburn in costume, My Fair Lady, 1963 Photo: Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby's

In 1964, Audrey Hepburn delighted audiences in ‘My Fair Lady,’ due in no small part to the help of Cecil Beaton as costume designer. The story is set in the early twentieth century, and Eliza Doolittle famously visits Royal Ascot dressed in a striking black and white ensemble, along with all the other racegoers. The highly stylized scene was inspired by the infamous ‘Black Ascot’ of 1910, in which English society ladies were faced with the conundrum of looking fetching while appropriately mourning Edward VII.

Proenza Schouler F/W 2013 Runway Photo: Moda Operandi

Black and white was a huge Fall/Winter 2013 trend on the most recent runways. Proenza Schouler balanced minimalism and ornamentation with their textural, streamlined collection. Gwyneth Paltrow and Moda Operandi feature it heavily in today’s Goop post. My dear and über-stylish friend Hannah Teare sends reports from Paris of Alexander Wang’s new collection for Balenciaga, calling it ‘pure, clean, simple and gorgeous.’

Photo: Alexander Wang for Balenciaga, F/W 2013

The ultimate multidisciplinary iconoclast in my mind is Anouk Vogel, a Swiss-Dutch landscape architect whose concept-led landscapes can't (and shouldn't) be separated from art. Unlike the longevity of a painting in a museum, a film viewed over decades by successive generations, or even a fashion collection photographed extensively and recorded for posterity, gardens have an innate ephemera to them; one of the primary design factors we consider when creating new landscapes is time. Vogel created an installation for the 18th Chaumont-sur-Loire Garden Festival entitled Du noir de l’eau au blanc du ciel, in which pairs of black and white ‘cousin plants’ were laid out in a meadow gradiated from dark to light and based on the M. C. Escher drawing Sky and Water.

Anouk Vogel, Garden of Escher, Chaumont-sur-Loire Photo: A10.eu

M.C. Escher, Sky and Water I, 1938, woodcut on laid japan paper Photo: National Gallery of Canada

As for my black and white garden leading to the entrance of my client’s house? Well obviously the un-Pawson in me wants all of this somehow incorporated. But restraint is the order of the day here, and as is the point when we’re playing without color, the focus is on texture, form and height. In the shady areas of this garden I’m combining Calla lilies, Lamium ‘White Nancy’, and Japanese painted fern with Ophiopogon planiscapusNigrescens.’ In the sunny areas we’ll mix Geranium phaeum, Iris ‘Ruby Chimes’, ‘Persian Princess’ poppy, Narcissus cantabricus and Nemophila ‘Penny Black.’ And for a maximalist shock of electric brightness that is neither black nor white, I'll add Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’. It is Linden Green after all...

Clockwise from top L: Calla lilies, Lamium 'White Nancy',  Ophiopogon 'Nigrescens', Japanese Painted Fern

Clockwise from L: Geranium phaeum, Iris 'Ruby Chimes', Poppy 'Persian Princess', Narcissus cantabricus, Nemophila 'Penny Black', Choisya ternata 'Sundance'