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

Spread the love

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.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on January 6, 2014 at 7:54 am, in the category Designs, Tricks, and Schemes, Everybody’s a Critic.

Previous post
The politics of decay
Next post
Blast From the Past: Botanical Cocktail Ingredients, 1858 Style


  1. 6th September 2015 at 4:39 pm —


  2. 25th August 2016 at 6:14 pm —

    Absolutely! I hate the idea of there being a single color to define a year or a garden. Besides, won’t most of us forget it soon enough? Plant what works.

  3. 13th September 2016 at 3:15 pm —

    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.

  4. 23rd October 2016 at 1:06 pm —

    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?

  5. 8th November 2016 at 10:22 pm —

    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.

  6. 12th November 2016 at 3:31 am —

    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?

  7. 12th November 2016 at 4:13 am —

    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.

  8. 18th November 2016 at 2:36 am —

    Here are my color schemes: if the plant makes me happy, it’s in. If not, it’s out. Very simple. Pantone would be horrified, but seriously, so what? It’s not their garden.

  9. 18th November 2016 at 10:35 am —

    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.

  10. 19th November 2016 at 9:30 am —

    I was told my garden has a lot of Pantone’s color for this year. lol Trendy for one year.

  11. 21st November 2016 at 3:43 am —

    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!!!!

  12. 22nd November 2016 at 2:11 am —

    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.

  13. 24th November 2016 at 5:07 am —

    My favorite color is plaid.
    (inject sarcasm)

  14. 24th November 2016 at 1:13 pm —

    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.

  15. 24th November 2016 at 1:53 pm —

    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.

Leave a reply


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