Anything but yellow
Colour fashions in gardening come and go, but perhaps the most consistently divisive colour is yellow. This seems to be despite its obvious psychological appeal. Every year we glory in the welcoming sight of daffodils and Celandine in spring, shoot abroad in the summer to soak up the golden sun on some far flung sandy beach before revelling in the buttery tones of autumn maples. And yet the most popular response to the query ‘what colours do you prefer in a garden situation’ the response is quite often, though not always, ‘pinks, blues, purples and whites.’
I must confess when I started out in the world of horticulture all those years ago I would probably have answered the same. But now I couldn’t possibly deliver this safely classic combination without at least trying to persuade my client to add a hint of yellow. (In fact it’s much harder to add white to a colour scheme, where it will totally dominate your attention, than yellow.) Whether this is through the fresh lime greens of Euphorbias, the vibrant rich yellow spires of Eremurus, the buttery tones of a delicate Trollius or the soft yellow of Santolina Primrose Gem, adding yellow gives not just warmth to a colour scheme; it also brings depth and complexity. Without yellow purples can be flat, pinks can look washed out and blues lack definition.
Examining the colour wheel you will see yellow is directly opposite blues and purples and therefore an ideal contrast. For perfect harmony I like to use soft against hard or rich against pale. So the delicate yellow Salvia Lemon Light would be a great contrast for the rich purple Salvia Caradonna. Equally the hazy blue of Perovskia (Russian sage) is the perfect foil for the rich yellow of Rudbekia, Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus or Achillea glashoff.
Strange though it may seem pinks also show up better with a hint of yellow to give them some depth. We can take our inspiration for this from nature itself - from the yellow centre of pink flowered Rosa rugosa to the yellow cones of Echinacea purpurea. Early in the year try combining Euphorbia x martini or spreading groundcover Euphorbia cyparissus to a mix of pink and purple tulips such as the lipstick pink T. Mistress and the dark T. Passionale. For further depth add in a hint of peach with Tulipa Menton. Pink roses equally benefit from a warm green or yellow foil, whether that’s the rich pink of Rosa Gertrude Jekyll or the pale pink of Queen of Sweden.
One of the most crucial parts yellow has to play in any garden plan is within the white garden. Here it brings alive what would otherwise be a whitewashed, bleached arrangement. It also acts to bind together plants of differing forms – so the burnt sienna central cone of Echinacea White Swan provides a visual link through form and colour to the pale yellow buttons of Santolina as well as to the rusty tones of Digitalis ferruginea.
Go on – give yellow a try. You won’t regret it!