If you listen very carefully, you might, MIGHT, just hear the whimper of spring. Mind you if you live in the American North East, the whimper is smothered by a 90' blanket of blizzard, but nonetheless, it’s down there, trying to raise its pert little green head. And in honor of spring’s imminent arrival, Pantone has released its 2013 Fall Fashion Color Report (yes, fall). And what do you know? Sitting right atop the list is none other than the lovely 15-0533, aka Linden Green. I’ve always liked to consider myself an early adopter (even if I’m the only one who does), and it looks like in naming my design firm, I had a premonition of Fall/Winter 2013. (Too bad we’ll be passé by Spring 2014, but that’s next year’s problem.) [spotify id="spotify:track:3coJlfo8TsLwqyRFFz8IKF" width="300" height="380" /]
Over the course of the next few months, we’ll draw inspiration from spring fashion trends for the garden – black and white is big, as is lace – but as is the way with fashion’s nonsensical warping of time, let’s first take a look at the colors we’ll be wearing next autumn and how to translate them into the garden.
We begin, of course, with Linden Green. Hervé Léger showed an architecturally engineered jacquard dress representing “the richness of nature … and a garden of urban expression, exposed by nature’s palette.” Crucially for us in garden terms is the focus on organic and nature-inspired vocabulary and tones. In Pantone’s words, Linden Green “brings a lightness and brightness to the deeper shades of fall,” and in the garden, its vivacity brightens dark corners and nooks. Green is generally thought of as a cool, restful color, and in garden settings it almost disappears as a background color. But Linden Green is warm, kinetic and electrifying.
In a sunny but sheltered position, try Clematis florida ‘Flore Pleno,’ a short climber that reaches 6 ½' in total and looks fantastic against a red brick wall or grown amid an evergreen shrub such as Garrya elliptica. Cut it back in winter, just before spring growth begins, and make sure it receives ample water. It won’t love you for subjecting it to severe frosts, so please play nicely, New Englanders.
In a shadier spot, try Helleborus argutifolius, which can take a little more sun than its hellebore cousins and also raises its face higher than its drooping, shy relatives. The color of this hellebore is creeping towards lime and chartreuse, and you can use it to set off other vivid brights, such as yellow forsythia or the orange tulip ‘Ballerina.’ You can also use it to set off pastels like Helleborus x hybridus ‘Ivory Prince’ or Spiraea ‘Ogon.’
On the opposite end of the green spectrum is the Pantone 2013 color of the year, Emerald (17-5641), coupled with Mykonos Blue (18-4434). Deeply elegant and arresting on a catwalk or red carpet – see Angelina Jolie in Atelier Versace or the Vivienne Westwood F/W ’13 runway for evidence – as a plant material, emerald is a neutral blender. Think of it in terms of a shrub or hedge rather than a front-and-center showstopper. Loropetalum chinense is a fantastic, hardworking, good-looking shrub that plays well as background support but actually does sparkle into the forefront when it flowers. It comes in many cultivars, and ‘Emerald Snow’ is a crisp, glossy iteration. Give it partial shade and combine it with Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle,’ Bergenia cordifolia or Choisya ternata ‘Sundance,’ to whom he’ll make a fine Butch Cassidy.
As for Pantone’s Mykonos Blue, true blue is scarce in the botanical world; Meconopsis grandis is one of the few exceptions. Although Himalayan poppy is more mountainous and aloof than queeny Greek beach, this is definitely a showstopper of a plant; an exotic, unusual and tantalizing specimen.
I have never grown it, and from all I’ve read on the matter, doing so isn’t easy, but that makes me want to try it all the more. The color is almost unreal, particularly as set off by its complementary orange stamens. I have made it my horticultural quest to someday grow this plant with its crinkly, papery blooms. I also aspire to a Dior fashion hajj in order to pay my respects to this superlatively uncrinkly Diorissimo handbag in Mykonos Blue.
Acai (19-3628) is a deep, deep purple (Hendrix-esque), that Carolina Herrera used on a high-waisted skirt cinched with a structured belt. Red and purple set each other off spectacularly, making red redder, and purple purpler, and Herrera's gown is a master class in playing these hot colors against one another.
In the garden, add richness and depth with Aconitum napellus, also known as monkshood due to its mantle-like flowers. Aconitum has a sinister history, used for millennia as a poison and even as an execution device in Ancient Rome. Combine it with Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, whose dark foliage is equally moody and whose red flowers evoke Pantone’s Samba (19-1662).
Zipping along the warm end of the spectrum, Pantone lists Koi (17-1452) and Vivacious (19-2045) as must have fall colors. Koi is a “decorative, dazzling, shimmering” orange according to the color library; Glamour calls it “the same color as the fish.” I call it the same color as the humble nasturtium, aka Tropaeolum majus, who in growing terms is light years away from the Himalayan poppy and its finicky exoticism. If there’s a place in the world where nasturtiums don’t grow, I have yet to hear of it. They are bold and cheerful and bright yet somehow kind of elegant too. The flowers (and leaves and seeds) are edible, and the vining stems will climb whatever they can reach. Claude Monet (whose gardening I far prefer to his painting) planted an allée of nasturtiums – or capucines, as they are known in French – along the main path in his garden at Giverny. He originally meant only to soften the edges of the path with dwarf nasturtiums but accidentally planted the climbing variety; he liked the effect so much that he repeated it annually. (And take note, these plants are annuals, though they will reseed themselves.) As Ariane, a Giverny guide and interpreter, states so wisely and Frenchly on her blog, “It is a talent to know how to use one’s own mistakes.”
Yves Saint Laurent was another French master of color, though with fabric not paint, who drew on his French/North African roots to first combine fuschia and tangerine on the catwalk.
If anything screams 1970s Rive Gauche louder than this color combination, I may not want to hear it, and if you want to replicate it in your garden – I do – than try planting the little capucines (I’m going Paris boho now and dropping in French unnecessarily, n’est-ce pas?) scattered among Heuchera ‘Pluie de Feu’ or beneath Rosa gallica var. officinalis, the Apothecary Rose. This is one of my favorite plants, for its color, its scent and its history. It originated at least as far back as Ancient Persia and arrived in Europe on the backs of homebound crusaders. It was indeed planted in cloister gardens throughout Europe, its oil used by medieval monks to tend the sick and its petals rolled into beads to create “rosaries.”
Pantone rounds out its color palette with Turbulence (19-4215), a deep slate grey; Carafe (19-1116), dark coffee brown; and Deep Lichen Green (18-0312), self-explanatory. I tend generally to think of brown in the landscape as the color of dead plants, but that’s not strictly true. Helianthus ‘Velvet Queen’ is a sunflower whose dark, chocolate face is considerably moodier than the big, cheery yellow ones with whom we normally associate these happy summer flowers.
Zac Posen showed an equally deep and silky chocolate gown on his fall runway; imagine it worn with orange topaz, and you can see how to use the helianthus in your autumn garden, perhaps above your orange nasturtiums.
Grey, in my mind, is the ultimate color (Linden Green notwithstanding), and I could sing its praises ad infinitum. In the garden its uses are rather different than in the home or the wardrobe, where it tends to be equal parts dramatic, sophisticated and shape-shifting. In the landscape, however, grey is generally used as a bright highlight and a blending color. I have often struggled to dial down the nausea factor of saccharine pink blooms, and silvery grey companion plants like Senecio or Stachys byzantina are the answer.
But as multiple designers showed us on the runway, grey botanics don’t have to mean lightness and reflection.
Rosa glauca’s deep, dusky foliage and simple, clean flowers are a perfect example of grey’s moody effect on pink.
Hosta sieboldiana var. elegans is a quietly bold foliage plant that grows in part to full shade and likes quite a bit of water. A flowering showstopper would have to shout awfully loudly to distract me from this slate beauty, but be warned that slugs love it as much as I do. They also love beer (we have a lot in common), so you can fill a dish with Milwaukee’s Best and sink it in the soil to trap them. If you live somewhere with enough winter chill to grow crocus, try this hosta underplanted with ‘Cream Beauty.’
Last on Pantone’s list is Deep Lichen Green, and to view it best, look all around you. Moss growing between stone pavers; lichen dripping off oak trees; the dark underside of a conifer’s needles – this is a forest floor color.
Hanako Maeda used it in a vine motif velvet dress for ADEAM, and she references the deep colors of the forest as well as the night sky. As for how to use it in a landscape, there is no method with this deep green. This is a nature color, not a nurseryman’s color. It is everywhere and nowhere all at once, seemingly disappearing in its abundance.