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!

Rita Urbanski February 17, 2014 at 8:18 am

Hi Susan,

I am past president of the Michigan Division of Woman’s National Farm and Garden. Do you know what has become of Mrs. King’s House in Alma? Is it still standing?


Susan February 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

Hello Rita,

From what I have been able to discover, the house is still standing. It serves as a Funeral Home. Unfortunately, the area that was once the garden is now a parking lot. I am planning a trip to photograph the house as it sits today once the snow melts. I would be happy to share my photos.

Susan Yeager February 9, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Dear Susan,

Here am I, yet another Susan who loves gardens and gardeners. You have embarked on a wonderful project and it is one many of us will await with great anticipation (just like our wait for spring in 2014…). I found your posting as I work to update the website for the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association. I hope you are familiar with some of our members since MI remains the strong hold with the most branches and members. We would like to hear more from you and I invite you to be in contact. All the best, Susan Yeager

Susan February 15, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Thank you for your kind words of encouragement Susan. It is always wonderful to meet another garden lover! I will definitely keep you posted on my book. My progress is slow, but it’s a labor of love. I’ve enjoyed learning about Mrs. Francis King. She was a fascinating character in garden history.

Camilla W. von Bergen May 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Mrs. King was my great grandmother. I have all of her books (of course) as well as some of her correspondence and magazine articles.

Susan May 14, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Are you serious? That is simply amazing. Do you know any details about her gardens in Alma, Michigan? Oh..I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear anything you know about her. As I read her books I think that I wish I could have met her. Please leave another comment if you wouldn’t mind e-mailing me to talk about her.

Thank you SO MUCH for leaving your comment!

Allison Giddens June 13, 2015 at 6:31 pm

She was also my great grandmother! (my dad’s mom’s mom’s mom)

Camilla – that’s a trip, we’re related!

Susan – you probably have more info than I do on her, I’m only just now starting to really learn about her, but if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to talk to my living grandmother to see if she can answer anything!

Susan December 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Your garden is INCREDIBLE! I can’t begin to imagine how Mrs. King’s influence will make it more beautiful than it already is. It truly is a piece of heaven on earth.

Thank you for sharing it with all of us!

Susan December 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm

You are so sweet Susan!

Deborah December 2, 2012 at 12:11 am

What an ambitious project! I’ll look forward to following your future posts .

Deborah (from the Beach)

Susan December 2, 2012 at 11:35 am

Thanks for the encouragement. It has been great fun trying to locate sources for the heirloom bulbs featured in Mrs. King’s books. The great thing about projects like this are they put you in touch with some wonderful people. Have a great week!!

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