“Malignant Magenta”

Some interesting revelations in a book I’m currently reading called One Writer’s Garden, which is about the Jackson, Mississippi garden of Eudora Welty and her mother Chestina

Last night I read this explanation for the shunning of magenta flowers back in Welty’s day (early 20th century, but the magenta aversion continues today for many gardeners):

“Historian Susan Lanman..points out that arsenic was was commonly used in pesticides, giving crops a magenta color that indicated that the lethal poison had been applied.  [Gertrude] Jekyll and others distressed by the effects of industrialization eschewed [magenta]for such associations with pollution, and its manufacture from aniline dyes, which themselves were derived from the coal whose smoke blackened England’s skies.”

Byzantine-gladiolus-row

Byzantine gladiolus. http://www.bulbhunter.com

Ew.  So magenta=toxic was part of the reason they didn’t like it. 

But also many gardeners and designers just found the color plain nasty.  Apparently, Gertrude Jekyll is the one who tagged it “malignant magenta” and another British garden writer called the color “that awful form of original sin.”

Geez.

Poor magenta.  It doesn’t seem fair.  Everyone has their tastes, but who wouldn’t want to stumble upon that lovely sweep of Byzantine Gladioli (pictured above) on a drive through the country?

(Source: One Writer’s Garden, by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown.)

Comments

  1. Just so happens that I have ew, magenta, toxic plant in my garden. I look forward to seeing it each Spring, summer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there!

  2. Me, too. I have Bletilla striata. I did move it because it was blooming right next to a pinkish red azalea and they CLASHED big-time. But once I found it a new home, it looks super pretty.

  3. Elissa Steeves says:

    Really enjoyed this edition. My comment….this glad, in my garden, is not magenta..it is pink with overtones of orange. The buds/flowers of saucer magnolia are magenta.
    Elissa Steeves

  4. Really? I don’t grow this glad but have been wanting to. Strange how different plants’ colors look in different pictures, esp. on the computer. I googled “magenta flowers” while writing this post and got everything from light pink to deep purple popping up.

  5. Color is just so subjective…and so susceptible to whatever the prevailing trend of the moment is. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite color, but, as with everything, it’s all about context. One of my favorite plants, Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’ has not only SHOCKING magenta blooms, but chartreuse foliage…a combination that, on paper, doesn’t sound at all appealing…but I love it…especially paired with cooler blues and purples…it’s electric!

    • Right on. I am going to look up the geranium you mention…sounds intriguing! Personally I have trepidation about using Gold….I HATE that Gold Mop Chaemyciparis shrub. Ugh. But of course in many gardens gold leaves are beautiful.

      • I’m glad to hear I am not the only hater of “gold mop.” I “accidentally” mangled one with inept pruning, maybe just so I could take it out. However, now that I have planted a gold Sedum ground cover, I was just thinking how I needed some gold in the adjacent bed to tie it all together!

        • At the risk of losing all credibility, I like Golden Mop! Or at least Golden Thread, one of which I have in my front bed. He’s so bright and stringy, like a McDonald’s Fry Guy of the garden world.

  6. lol, Val. I think a gold mop could be worthy if it’s surrounded by the right things (just like all of us). The very WORST way I’ve seen gold mop used was along a public building alternating with purple barberry. I know some well-meaning person was going for “contrast” but for the love of god….

  7. That is very cool to know the historical connection to Magenta. I am not a fan in the garden of using the color. My favorite colors are purple and blue and I think magenta is just a muddy purple. The combination of hot red and cool purple kind of turns me off. However, in containers I throw out all my rules and often go with some wild combinations and like the boldness of a color like magenta.

    Thank you for providing a fun fact.

    PS – I can’t stand the gold Chamy’s either, I feel all evergreens that have yellow or variegation seem too unnatural, but that is just my opinion.

  8. I LOVE that color. Totally underutilized.

    It’s an important link between pinks and purples–and used in just the right shade, even oranges. It’s also a color you can see from a distance, so it reads more strongly than others.

    I’ve got a lot of that Gladiolus byzantius in my garden I planted last fall. Can’t wait to see it!

    • Sweet! You will have to report back on how they work. I have been smitten by them ever since I read Heirloom Gardening in the South. I want everything in that book.

  9. Magenta is not my favorite, but I don’t consider it malignant. I wouldn’t want a magenta-themed garden. On the other hand, a lot of wildflowers are magenta (marsh phlox, for example) and in the right mix I think it looks good.

  10. Joel Thompson says:

    Mary, I really enjoy your posts. You have a deft use of humor that keeps my guessing what’s coming next. What’s so bad about Magenta? I like it. By the way, have you read Seeds by Richard Horan? I thought of it when you mentioned Welty and her garden. http://www.amazon.com/Seeds-Serendipitous-Inspired-American-Faulkner/dp/0061861685/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365507320&sr=8-1&keywords=writer+tree+seeds

    • Many thanks, Joel. I’m not sure why Magenta gets picked on more than the other colors. Most people seem to like it fine. I have not read Seeds, but at your recommendation I will certainly look into it!

  11. I personally love Magenta…but I also absolutely love shocking oranges which most people find “trashy”. ::sigh:: One of my more…seasoned… co-workers explained to me that no one who was around in the 70′s can like orange because it was everywhere and they still have nightmares from it. Interesting how magenta suffers from a similar toxic fate.

  12. I did not know that, thank you. I am glad times have changed, as magenta is about the only shade of pink I can stand.

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