When I was an impoverished art student, I took to painting dead flowers. I don’t think it was the fact that I couldn’t often afford to replace any flowers I bought that led me to paint them, more that there was some intrinsic beauty in them that captivated me.
This painting (below) was one of these college paintings (I studied Textile Design but spent as much time painting as I could get away with).
I’m still captivated by fading blooms now, and I think it’s one of the (many) reasons I love autumn so much. I recently met someone who bemoaned the fact that her garden was ‘over’ for the year, and it struck me as being very sad – especially when we have some of the best delights of the garden to look forward to.
It’s not the flowers, nor the colours of the leaves that makes it so special, but more, perhaps, the quality of the light that enhances the ephemeral qualities of grasses, the intensity of changing leaf colours, the papery beauty of fading blooms.
This quality of light is one of the main reasons I like to use grasses in my planting designs. Like other faded flowers, their own flower stems are pale, stripped of vibrant colour, but able to capture by their incessant movement every last drop of sunlight – the effect is magical. Add to this intensity of light some contrasting dark stems of seedheads – such as the Salvia Caradonna below – and you could never say that your garden was ‘over’ by October – the show is only just beginning.
Perhaps there’s also an element of seeing the raw beauty of a plant or flower; unswayed by intoxicating colour or scent, you can appreciate the form, the texture, the essence (such as these Allium sphaerocephalon with Molinia grasses, below).
And perhaps it was this quality that instinctively I found myself drawn to as a student, and that I find myself equally captivated by today.