Hey, Pantone! Roy G. Biv called; he wants his rainbow back.


The colorblind gardener (photo by Jim Charlier)
The colorblind gardener (photo by Jim Charlier)

Color trending is silly by definition, but it’s a way to make a living. I have followed Pantone’s (and Color Marketing Group’s) successive “colors of the year” for over a decade now. Every year, a color—with maybe a secondary color—is picked, and then touted among home design and fashion types. The images they use to illustrate the colors are always lovely. This year, I suppose a few people will buy skirts or bags in “radiant orchid,” or maybe even drench their walls in it. Though what do they do in twelve months when their color has expired?

There’s has already been some blowback against the fact that this year’s selection is pink and the word femininity has been—most unwisely—used in some of the marketing language. Indeed, the descriptions that attempt to mine these colors for their essential meanings are the worst components of the  promotion.

I do like the Pantone mugs that are being sold at my neighborhood art store—they are about the only items I would buy in any of these colors. Otherwise, I sort of feel like the heroine in The Devil Wears Prada, who is obliterated by Meryl Streep when she can’t see the difference between two blue belts. Boy, does she ever get told.

When it comes to gardening, however, these arbitrary picks make no sense.  And like the Renegade Gardener, I think the Pantone people should stay out of gardening. Or maybe the gardening industry should be sensible and not bother to report the colors. They do report them, though, and go further than that; Proven Winners has at least a dozen cultivars with the shade attached to them. (Although most of the flowers do not seem to actually be in the shade.)

I know very few gardeners who pay rigid attention to color when planning or planting their gardens. If they’re smart they look at successive blooming through the seasons, and if they’re really smart they focus at least 60% of their attention on foliage, because the predominant shade of their gardens will always be some variant of green.

Besides, worrying about color seems to be at the least limiting and at the most very frustrating. Although I know some gardeners who avoid one color or other because they simply don’t like it, most of my friends aim at year-round color of some type and as many different colors as they can get. A “riot of color” is a positive thing, at least in my neck of the woods. And one of the biggest hits of the 2010 garden blogger gathering here was the garden of a colorblind gardener (shown above).  His and every other great garden I’ve seen demonstrate that color’s something you want, but it doesn’t do to get hung up on it.

Previous article2013 in my Garden and my Town
Next articleThe Joy of Giving: To Seek and to Share a Little Crab Apple

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. The one thing I’ll say for picking a color scheme is that it imposes a kind of discipline–like writing a sonnet or haiku rather than free verse. And it can help keep you from going hog-wild-round-the-bend when ordering plants or visiting a nursery.

    Also, I really, really love blue flowers.

  2. The Pantone Color of the Year, while indeed rather silly, offers a lot of crossover opportunities for the gardening world. It’s a way to share the beauty, vibrancy, and design potential of plants with folks in other visual and creative industries. How is that such a bad thing?

  3. Using color is a design tool just like any other. Gardeners need to think about the depth and breadth of design tools available to them. They don’t often enough. Even you note the differences in greens with foliage being, ‘some variant of green’, noting that there is a difference between them. Used well, color in gardens can add to the experience of them.

  4. I remember that garden but I don’t remember knowing that its gardener is colorblind. I get it now — that’s why it was so texturally rich as well as riotous. Even though I studied color theory in art school and think it’s fun to try to apply that stuff to garden design, what I really shoot for –and respond to– is fearlessness. Color rules! So why not break them all?

  5. I call that great aunt/grandma lilac purple. My great aunt’s old farmhouse kitchen was painted that color. Everything Wall, floor. Purple paisley oil cloth on the table. And grandma had a pantsuit in that shade. But the color pickers at Pantone are probably too young to remember when only old ladies liked lilac.

  6. Over two decades ago, when I first got into gardening, I read all the books and puzzled over having (as the books suggested) some kind of a “color scheme.” I mentioned this to my gardening mentor/sister-in-law and she said, “Just plant what you love. It’ll look like a bouquet!”

    She was right.

  7. The thing about the color of the year….My clothes wear out and sometimes it can be fun to try something new (even though I always look best in shades of purple even when no ones selling any).
    But no way am I going to start ripping out my plants because they’re not part of this year’s palette. Maybe you can design, plant and enjoy your entire garden in a year, But for me, it’s a multi (make that many) year process to grow a garden with a variety of colors that suit me and the space.

  8. Radiant Orchid is the barfiest color ever! I am a lover of color, and I love Pantone’s color aid papers, but they ALWAYS choose the WORST colors to highlight as “Color of the Year”. The lilac-y pink is so syrupy – I can’t see anyone who is truly interested in design liking that color. Not even as an accent. And I LOVE PINK!
    As you can see, I’m a little angry at Pantone. Every year I pick an alternative color of the year – this year I picked a lovely mid-range charcoal gray.
    I believe that gardeners should embrace all colors. Not everyone needs to love hot, brash, in-your-face colors, but a nice dose of color is important! We aren’t the only ones who see color and are attracted by it – our pollinators are seduced by color just like we are, which is why I believe in a range of colors. More vibrancy! More life!
    But EEEWWWW to Radiant Orchid!!!!

  9. I have to say I like radiant orchid for the garden, though not so much for a dress, handbag, wall, or any of that other jazz. That color is the best blender with hot colors, really anything except blue, in my opinion. Looks like Verbena bonariensis, and who doesn’t like that? Well, maybe there’s a touch too much pink.

  10. I’d never heard of Pantone’s color of the year until I saw color-themed makeup at Sephora. That tie-in actually works really well. I loaded up on the tangerine makeup two years ago.

  11. I’m late to this party- I just wanted to mention that I ended up with a color scheme in my garden sort of by accident. The plan was for purple and yellow but somehow I always ended up buying things with hot pink flowers! So we’re just giving in and sticking to that. It’s not like I have to try very hard when those are the only plants I seem to notice!

  12. The garden illustrated above is pretty tame compared to the gardens created by Keeyla Meadows, who has done vibrantly colorful display gardens at the SF Flower and Garden Show. She’s also written a book entitled Fearless Color Gardens, where she details her method.

    I love the names of colors!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here