Dreaming in Color – Garden Inspiration with Jean Wells

My Post (9)

Summer Colors seems like a timely topic to explore this month. Summers in Sisters are magical, even though this year it took longer to arrive. I can hardly wait to go to the nursery in town when it warms up and get plants for the patio pots and fill in my vegetable garden. What I love about gardening are the surprises. You never know if they will all bloom, or exactly how they will look together.

I want to start out with a tip that came from my daughter, Valori, when she was just 21 years old and I had hired her to take photos of some gardens for a book I was writing. She spent two years at art school as photography major and she saw me randomly shooting pictures in the gardens. She said, “Mom, stop for a moment.” As I looked through the lens she said, “it takes less than a minute to move the camera up and down, and back and forth until the image feels right.” It was wonderful advice and I now realize after teaching students about composition for years that we all have an innate sense of balance. We know when it feels right! In my last three books the inspiration photos all came from me.

I have chosen some photos with the summer color theme and I will comment on them and hopefully encourage you to look at color ideas in a new way.


Planting nasturtiums in the planter boxes at the store in mid June is one of my favorite activities. I have no idea where the different colors will appear because nothing has bloomed yet. To me green is nature’s neutral and some form of green will always play well with other colors. Look at the proportion of the golden color in comparison to the bit of red orange and the soft pastel orange. I probably would not of thought of that combination in a quilt, especially the pastel color but with the cool greens it just feels yummy.


The first evening of Quilter’s Affair, I invite all 32 of the teachers to my home for an outdoor picnic dinner. These are the flowers I arranged for the tables that sat on white tablecloths with river stones. I am a huge sunflower fan and have volunteers that come up year after year.  We often talk about temperature when it comes to color and here you can see a cooler yellow in the yarrow compared to the warmer one in the sunflower, and a yellow green in the centers of the little white flowers. Yellow in a variety of ways.


For those of you who live in the northwest, close to Seattle the Chihuly Glass Museum, its outdoor garden is a must see. The landscaping is beautiful and the glass shapes are partnered with plants creating magical scene after scene.


Dahlia’s showcase value and intensity of color so beautifully, like no other flowers. You can also see color combinations that you might never think up on your own.


I love finding new, interesting shaped and colored succulents for my pots. It is hard to even describe the colors but the combination of the sage like green with the rosy red orange and lavender is so sophisticated. To work with this combination for a quilt I would print out the photo on good photo paper and try and match colors to the photo. Then I would pay attention to the proportion of each color and how it relates to the whole. The magic is not just in the colors, but also the proportion of each one to the whole.


I just had to share my volunteer maverick sunflower from my 2018 garden. You can see where these two flowers are joined together. In terms of color the center of this flower really intrigues me as you can see layers of color up close, that from a distance will just look dark greenish brown. The same thing can happen in our quilts when we put two colors side by side in a quilt and you look at the quilt from a distance.

-Jean Wells