When the Sun Goes Down Color Disappears

It’s a pleasure to discover beautiful little gems hidden in unexpected places.  I think gardeners are especially adept at this –we notice the rustle of wind through winter grass, the pattern of frost on a leaf, the first crocus pushing through the snow .  These tiny delights of the natural world are not lost on us.

If you pay attention, you can find such gems in books, too — even when they’re not intentional.  A few years ago, when I was taking my first landscape design class at GWU and trying to practice drawing, I came across an intriguing discussion of color in Betty Edwards’ classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  Color is certainly a fundamental aspect of garden design, and of art in general, but I had never really thought about color in the way that Edwards’ presented it.  Word-Nerd that I am, I decided to turn the passage into a “Found Poem” — which I hereby present for your enjoyment, or possibly your amused pity.  A scan of the original text follows.

When the Sun Goes Down Color Disappears

And what is

Is it merely — as scientists tell us —

               a subjective experience

                                                               a mental sensation

that can occur only if there is     

                                                   an observer

                     an object                                         and

        sufficient light

in the narrow band of wavelengths called the

       v   i   s   i   b   l   e   s   p   e   c   t   r   u   m


Is the world really                  


only seeming to become full of color again when we turn

                                                      the lights on?

We cannot
know.                 What we do

            is that

when the sun goes down                                               



6 thoughts on “When the Sun Goes Down Color Disappears

  1. The idea of garden surprises reminds me of an experience I had earlier in life that helped me understand better some of the hidden value of gardening. My wife and I had just bought a new house in Norfolk, VA where I was starting a new career. The house had belonged to the mother of the couple who lived next door. “Granny” spent her last days in the house. With the house came a beautiful Camellia garden, with azaleas and many perennials that are still with me today. The gentleman next door(son-in-law) was a retired Navy Captain in his mid 70’s. We lived in the house for two years enjoying the garden and adding to it as time permitted. But there were always surprises coming up in odd places. The oddest was an Amaryllis that came up in a place where I knew there had been none before. So I asked the Captain about it. “Where are all these beautiful things coming from?” He explained that his mother-in-law took great delight being wheeled through her garden and finding odd and unusual plants where none had been before. “So now, I plant surprises for Elizabeth, my wife, and for the spirit of granny to enjoy because I know she is still in this garden somewhere.”

    Gardening is many things, but among the greatest is its quality of giving and sharing. That’s what gardeners do. Now, in my 70’s, I am planting surprises for my wife and my granddaughter who both delight in something beautiful and unexpected in their landscape. It is so much better than cut flowers in a vase.

    • Oh my goodness, Charles, this is such a fantastic story, and I really appreciate you taking the time to share it. What a great tradition to “plant surprises” for your loved ones in your garden, and the fact that it’s in honor of his mother-in-law makes it all the more touching.

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