When we think of master colourists in the garden, Canadians Nori and Sandra Pope come to mind. The couple became famous for their extraordinary use of colour during their 20 years of stewardship at Hadspen Garden in Somerset, England. Their designs favour monochromatic, tone-on-tone planting schemes that move from light to dark.
The Popes refer to the language of music to help explain their colour theories. Their gardens have rhythm, says Nori, because a monochromatic scheme brings into focus the structure and movement of the plants, while repeated patterns draw the eye along the landscape. In a piece of music, he explains, too many different sounds at once are unpleasant. Similarly, using a riot of colour in a garden is like a “visual car crash.” The Popes’ gardens are peaceful and comfortable—so much so that it’s easy to take for granted the artistry involved in how they’re created. Although the couple’s designs merge seamlessly, they each have their own style. “Sandra,” says Nori, “is sublimely classical, while I’m more boogie-woogie.” In addition to being designers, the pair are also plant breeders, which gives them an enormous advantage. When they’re unable to find the perfect plant for a combination, Sandra tells Nori, “Just make one.” And he does. This has resulted in such gorgeous introductions as ‘Hadspen Blood’ masterwort (Astrantia major ‘Hadspen Blood’) and ‘Goldheart’ bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Goldheart’). Other plants they’ve developed, though, have just been for their own use—to fill a hole in the garden or to complete a grouping.