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GARDENING SENSES

By Mark Trumball / February 22, 1994



SEATTLE

Rosemary Verey is not content to think just about how a garden looks. The influential British gardener says plants should be appreciated with all five senses.

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Her talk at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show held here recently was titled ``Color Through the Year,'' yet she begins with smell: A slide shows a Victorian woman savoring the scent of her floral potpourri. Meanwhile, birds sing or ``you hear the bees arriving with their pollen sacks empty,'' ready to go to work amid the blossoms. Taste is used in eating vegetables. And feeling: ``If you're a good gardener, you'll know what the soil feels like.''

Verey is the author of numerous books; one of her prominent contributions to the art is in the area of color - ``planting in layers'' so that color and texture will be present throughout the year, but with different plants dominating at different times.

While she displays a painter's talent for design, Verey cautions: ``Don't think you can do things better than nature can.'' She tells how a volunteer fennel plant seeded itself near some poppies, playing wonderfully against them.

``Nature doesn't make a mistake about colors very often. I don't think I can think of any,'' she says, pointing to a slide of an iris that combines purple, yellow, and white in a splendid pattern.

Verey uses a color-wheel diagram to explain her points. Pointing to red, blue, and yellow, she says ``those primary colors don't really mix well in the garden.'' Instead, complementary secondary colors are often her choice: ``Yellow looks so good with purple.''

Her enthusiasm draws in listeners, even making the Latin names for plants interesting by explaining their meanings. Her slides are frequently of her own property, Barnsley House, whose grounds, which she has managed for more than 40 years, are open to the public.

Verey also designs gardens for clients who have included the Prince of Wales. ``He's a jolly-good gardener,'' she says.

What advice does Verey have for those just getting started?

``I would read books [her own library includes works going back to the 16th century]; go to one or two shows; go and look at other people's gardens; and always take a notebook.'' She keeps a diary about her own garden. Finally, she says to be patient, since understanding and developing a garden is a gradual process.

Verey shows no signs of losing her desire to learn and to share with others: ``We could talk about scent endlessly, but we haven't got time, because we're talking about color,'' she says, drawing a laugh from the crowd.