The Queen of Color Design

by Susan on November 30, 2012

Mrs. Francis King (1863 – 1948) was considered one of America’s leading authorities on flowers.  Using her personal garden in Alma, Michigan as a laboratory, she became a master of color harmonies.  She wrote numerous books and articles that influenced garden style especially during the period from 1915 to 1930.

Her writing appeared in House and Garden, Country Life and The Garden magazine and she had a regular column in House Beautiful (1922-1925).  Her first book, The Well-Considered Garden, was published in 1915 and describes how to create successful color harmonies and plant combinations in the flower garden.

She was a contemporary of Gertrude Jekyll, one of England’s most famous gardeners.  They were kindred spirits and friends. Gertrude Jekyll wrote the forward for The Well-Considered Garden.

Mrs. Francis King seen sitting at her desk

Photo of Mrs. Francis King sitting at her desk courtesy Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

 

Mrs. Francis King is a fascinating character in garden history and the subject of a book I am writing.  I fell in love with her writing and wanted to learn more about this incredible woman.

I started researching. The more I learned, the more obsessed I became. I traveled to the Clarke Historical Library to visit their archives which houses over 200 black and white photographs of Mrs. King’s Alma garden, the garden described in her book The Well-Considered Garden.

As I looked through all those black and white photographs,  all I wanted to do was walk through that garden. Imagine my horror when I learned the garden was paved over to make a parking lot.

Mrs. Francis King's garden in Alma, Michigan

Mrs. King’s Alma garden was laid out by the English horticulturist, William Constabel. She described it as a garden made up of 32 flower beds separated by grass walks with two central cross walks and an oblong pool used for watering (shown in the photo above).

Mrs. King's Alma garden

Photograph of Mrs. King’s garden in Alma, Michigan courtesy of the Smithsonian American Garden archives.

 

Now I have a simple mission.  I’m writing a book about Mrs. Francis King and the color combinations that made her famous.  Since her garden only exists in black and white photographs, I plan to recreate example color schemes in my own garden and capture them on film.

Color lantern slide of Mrs. King's garden in Alma

Color lantern slide of Mrs. King’s garden in Alma, Michigan courtesy of the Smithsonian American Garden archives.

 

Mrs. Francis King's Alma garden

Color lantern slide of Mrs. King’s garden in Alma, Michigan courtesy of the Smithsonian American Garden archives.

 

Path leading from the garden to the orchard

Photograph showing the path between the flower garden and the orchard courtesy of the Smithsonian American Garden archives.

 

Front of Mrs. King's house in Alma, Michigan

Photograph showing the front of Mrs. King’s house in Alma, Michigan courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

 

Mrs. Francis King's garden in Alma, Michigan

Photograph showing the fan-shaped sitting area Mrs. King created between the main garden and the orchard courtesy of House and Garden magazine, March 1921.

 

I hope you will join me on my adventure to learn more about Mrs. Francis King. This is going to be an awesome project!

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