A Rant In Defense Of Yellow


Some people don’t like yellow!
(Alcea rosea ‘Charter’s Double Yellow)


I know, right?


Yellow is the first color that draws the human eye, like a moth to a flame, which is also yellow. Just saying.
(Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’)


Be it the palest cream or the darker school bus hue, we love all shades here at the Fairegarden.
(Rudbeckia hirta)


Yellow in the garden enhances the attractiveness of its neighbors, as aptly demonstrated by Oakleaf Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’ with Hydrangea ‘Lady In Red’. ‘Nuff said. Except…

(Inula magnifica)
Every night, as part of the bedtime ritual to plant the seed of garden dreams, books and magazines are propped upon raised knees, my sleepy head cushioned with several pillows and a neck roll for perfect reading enjoyment. Perfect except that the enjoyment is on occasion diminished by the words written by well respected garden writers. The latest stumble in my garden reading trek to Nirvana is by the famous Gertrude Jekyll. Pronounced Jee-kel, so the book says.

(The yellow/white garden)
To quote the passage that had me ready to toss the book across the room, ala MMD, Mr. McGregor’s Daughter:

…In massing plants in such places it does not matter how common the plant may be, so long as it is placed with forethought and definite intention and some kind of consideration for colour harmony. For instance, nothing is more usual than to see a mixture of Aubretias and yellow Alyssum, a garish contrast that no doubt gives pleasure to many who may not, either from endowment or cultivation, have acquired an eye for colour in the more refined sense.*


I was born under the sign of Taurus, the bull, and that last sentence waves the red flag in front of my flared nostrils back and forth and in a taunting fashion. It makes my blood boil on so many levels. Well, let’s just calm down here, Frances. High blood pressure is not good for anyone, regardless of their age, or astological leaning. It sounds so snooty, from endowment or cultivation, refined sense, indeed. The mix of purple and yellow is the epitome of good taste, to some of us lesser mortals. Acquired an eye. Snort.

(Hosta ‘Sunpower’ under Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’)


Please don’t mistake this rant as dissing the Brits or even Ms. Jekyll, for I am a hopeless Anglophile, loving everything about the United Kingdom, especially it’s gardens, history and past/present writers and bloggers, several of whom are my friends. We even went to England in 2010 for the trip of a lifetime, click here to see the posts about it. But, there is no denying that snobbery about color is firmly entrenched in British society, even today, and in the selection of what is considered to be in fashion or even, cough, gag, in good taste in garden design. People like what they like, and should feel free to mix and match colors to their own satisfaction. If it is their own garden, they should be free to follow their vision, even if it offends others with more delicate sensibilities. That is my opinion, anyway.

(Golden raspberry ‘Anne’, definitely in good taste)

*A Gardener’s Testament by Gertrude Jekyll, page 240, chapter VIII, The Spring Garden.

Frances, (hoping there is no offense taken by anyone in this harmless defense of the color/colour yellow, even when mixed with mauve/purple.)

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27 Responses to A Rant In Defense Of Yellow

  1. Kathy Stilwell says:

    I Love, love, love yellow and purple together! It’s a feast for these unrefined eyes of mine! Sail on, Frances…great post.

    Hi Kathy, thanks, so nice to see you here. That is a perfect blend to my unrefined eyes as well.
    Frances

  2. debbie in knoxville says:

    My favorite combination is bright lime/chartreuse (like your oak leaf) and hot hot pink…guess I’m not too refined either!

    Hi Debbie, thanks for dropping by. Yes to the lime/hot pink mix! We cannot help our lack of refined taste, I guess.
    Frances

  3. Carol says:

    I hope never to be refined.

    Thanks for the back up, Carol.
    Frances

  4. Susan says:

    Whatever happened to taste being personal? I for one LOVE the combination. Of course, I also love Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream, too! Oh, how gauche!
    I so hate garden “snobs”. I started gardening under the premise that my garden was for MY pleasure.
    Old Gertie would sure hate my place!
    : )
    I’m with you. I love the British gardens, etc. But they ought not to speak!

    Hi Susan, thanks for speaking up! Yum to the ice cream, too. Snobbery of any kind gets under my skin, especially rulings by the home associations in fancy developments here about what you can or cannot do with your own property. We once were thinking about moving to one that had in the thick book of rules, no birdbaths!!!!! Needless to say, we did not move there. To defend the Brits, this was written many years ago, but *good taste* still has its proponents, sad to say, both here and across the pond.
    Frances

  5. Liz says:

    Hi,
    I don’t naturally go for Yellow; I think it’s because I cannot wear yellow as it looks horrendous on my skin tone!
    However, I do have yellow blooms which are particularly attractive to wildlife, so they are welcome but I just don’t naturally like it.

    I’m trying to broaden my horizons though, as I bought a Coreopsis at the weekend, and did actually plant a number of Rudbekia which don’t seem to have made it… So I’m getting there 🙂

    Hi Liz, thanks for adding to the conversation with a British point of view. I don’t look good in yellow either, but as you say, the pollinators are mad for it. Good for you for breaking with cultural upbringing! Some of those Rudbeckias don’t winter over here, either.
    Frances

  6. I am finding that the more I garden the more open I am to using just about any color. I have lots of purple and yellow this year in my containers. I have a new geranium that has yellow-green leaves and blue flowers, great looking.

    Eileen

    Thanks for joining in here, Eileen. It was when we moved to this house, in 2000, that my neighbor Mae eductated me about nature being the best colorist. They all go together is what she told me. I agree and now see the light.
    Frances

  7. People are funny with their color idiosyncrasies. I like yellow just fine; I like orange even more…

    Hi Helen, so true. I have written about orange a couple of times, and know there are many, even in the US that find it objectionable. Their loss!
    Frances

  8. CurtissAnn says:

    I, too, love yellow and purple together. Had not thought of it before–thanks for making me aware. Boy, this learning about gardening design–or at the very least trying to compliment–takes a very long time. Don’t you just love the sort of yellow light early in the morning, or when a storm is approaching?

    Hi Curtissann, thanks for adding here. I do love early morning light, especially for photo taking ops. When a storm is approaching is my most favorite time of all, Okie girl and all.
    Frances

  9. Donna@GWGT says:

    I wonder how she would feel about orange and purple, or any such contrasting combos. I read the passage and thought snooty too. I am pretty sure Mother Nature does not raise an eyebrow over yellow brightening any garden. After all, look how many blooms are yellow!

    Hi Donna. From reading the entire book, I get the feeling orange was not even to be considered! While reading the book, a compilation of her writing oveer many years, I tried to cut her some slack since my views have changed much over my gardening career. There were so many passages that were irksome in the same way, by the time I got to that one, it was too much. Mother Nature made these colors, she only raises her eyebrow at our sad prejudices, is my humble opinion.
    Frances

  10. I have one local friend who hates yellow with about as much passion as your defense. I’ve never understood it. Lighter yellows can be a wonderful transition between contrasting colors. However, you know how much I love bright, bold color in general, and you have guessed I adore yellow in all its hues.

    If you look at the gardens Jekyll designed, she used a lot of pink so it’s obvious she didn’t like bold color. She also didn’t live in the south.~~Dee

    Hi Dee, thanks for adding here. You are so right that the intense summer sun of the southern US requires saturated color to not be washed out. And daylilies come in the very best colors like yellows and oranges to combat it. Maybe if she had visited your garden, her opinion would be changed. About your friend, what can we say?
    Frances

  11. Rose says:

    I recently watched a gardening show hosted by Alan Titchmarsh, who mentioned Ms. Jeee-kyl’s name. Thank goodness, or this country bumpkin would have called her Gertrude Jekyll (as in Jekyll and Hyde!) at some point in public:) But I digress….I’m not a big fan of yellow, probably because like Liz, it doesn’t look good on me. But I can’t imagine a garden without yellow–it’s a cheery reflection of the sun, and it’s a great complement to any other color. Looking at my garden with its excess of Stella d’Oro daylilies right now and the first Rudbeckias, people would assume it’s my favorite color!

    Hi Rose, thanks for visiting. I would have not pronounced it correctly, either, her name. I like yellow clothing, but with my au natural hair color, it is not good. In the garden is a whole other matter, and the daylilies and susans make a garden sing from summer into fall.
    Frances

  12. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, Thank you for writing what I have been thinking about for a very long time! I take my cues from what grows naturally together and Aquilegia canadensis is a perfect example of how good yellow can look with red! Yellow is such a marvelous color; I can’t imagine not having a garden overflowing with Susans and never, ever think that glorious color should be called Screaming Yellow! I’ve planted a red dahlia in the midst of some Susans and hope it blooms for me. Btw, Sunpower looks stunning with Crimson Queen! xoxogail

    Thanks Gail. The Aquilegia is a perfect example of Nature’s color genius. What would we do without the susans? Your red dahlia will be lovely. I am just now warming to the color red, myself, after years of not wanting it. We can all learn new and better ways, no matter our age.
    xxxooo
    Frances

  13. Nicole says:

    Hmm, why would anyone not like yellow ( or any color in the garden, for that matter? In the garden I especially like yellow against my lavender and dark purple hues. My favorite garden colors are red and orange.

    I Nicole, exactly. Why have bad feelings about any color that nature produces? I like your favorite colors.
    Frances

  14. Marguerite says:

    Just what I needed. I’m working on a new bed that includes whites, pinks, purples and YELLOW! I was questioning the insertion of yellow because I keep reading what a bad colour combination that is but the thing is I just like it. How lovely to read there are those who agree. The yellow will stay.

    I am so glad Marguerite. Your new garden bed sounds divine.
    Frances

  15. Lola says:

    I’m certainly not refined in any way. I have yellow glads with lavender wildflowers. I think it looks natural. Yellow makes one smile as it looks like a happy color. I also have yellow with red. That looks good also. No offense taken at all here.

    Me neither, Lola. I agree, those colors look like what occurs naturally in the wild. We could all take lessons from that.
    Frances

  16. Racquel says:

    After all the beautiful examples you shared today, how can anyone not like yellow! 🙂

    Exactly, Racquel, how indeed.
    Frances

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  18. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion especailly in their own garden. Just ignore that color snobbery. Good for you to speak out about that beautiful sunshine color.

    I agree, Lisa. Color snobbery, or snobbery of any kind doesn’t belong anywhere, for some of us, anyway.
    Frances

  19. Nell Jean says:

    Yellow needs no defence — note the spelling. One of Mama’s favorite cliches was, “You have to come up with the times.” Miss Jekyll gardened a hundred years ago. Her principles might hold true today but her personal taste is a bit out-dated and perhaps out of place in American gardens. Yellow dances in and out of my sunny beds. Black eyed Susans will soon be replaced by magenta periwinkles.

    I get it, Nell Jean, the spelling, thought about doing that in the title, even. Thinking was quite different back then, on many levels. We are smarter now about water usage, pollinators, natives…and color. Life without yellow would be quite dreary.
    Frances

  20. Our Landrover is probably schoolbus yellow!

    Now who was it, one of the English bloggers has a post up with lime yellow yarrow and burgundy …

    Hi Diana, thanks for joining in the yellow love-fest. It sounds like times have changed in England, too.
    Frances

  21. I have a Tanacetum vulgare ‘Isla Gold’ that is blooming right now…..the yellow just jumps out of garden….gorgeous. I love your hosta and Japanese maple grouping…..and the ‘Little Honey’…………really want one of those babies.

    Hi Janet, thanks for joining in. That tansy sounds perfect for my garden, will have to look for it. Little Honey is great, very bright even for a still young specimen.
    Frances

  22. “The mix of purple and yellow is the epitome of good taste”

    I agree, your photo proves that.

    Snooty indeed that para. Mind you, it was all a bit like that in Victorian/Edwardian England. A little too much country house gardening methinks. Times have changed, thank god. In many ways their shouldn’t be any restrictions about pairing colours. Wildflower meadows are never colour selective, and they look good!

    Love the shaggy heads of the Inula by the way.

  23. Karina says:

    Wow!! The Alcea rosea is beautiful! I was never a fan of the color yet, but you do a great job in making me love it because of your lovely photo captures!

  24. Now, see, I find that quote hilarious. I can just picture Gertrude, nearly blind, sitting on a chintz sofa with a cup of tea saying that. You must remember that she was English, writing for English gardeners, before Christo made it ok for them to use bright, garish colours. (Like how I spelled that?) But really, what she meant isn’t a condemnation of mixing yellows & purples, she’s saying that the brassy yellow of alyssum looks barfy with the washy, grayed lavender of Aubretia, with which I completely agree. Strong yellows need strong complementary colors. The washier purples & mauves can go with paler yellows. Dark purple goes with everything.
    P.S. Thanks for the shout-out.

  25. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Frances, some combinations please my eye, some don’t. What’s important is that it works for the gardener who created the garden. I’ve learned over the years that different people quite literally see things differently: some people’s eyes perceive certain colors one way, while others see something totally different. My late pal Amy & I always argued over color, especially a particular shade of aqua/turquoise. I called it blue, she called it green.

  26. Paul Daniels says:

    Howdy, I couldn’t add a thing hardly to what you said in your original rant and all these folks above already said.So I’m just going to say this.

    “CORONATION GOLD” YARROW WITH “KOBOLD” LIATRIS SPICATA

    http://gallery.mac.com/sinai#100245&bgcolor

    I REST MY CASE……:)

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