Yellow. The colour between green and orange in the visible spectrum. The colour of glowing sunshine, the ball of fire we call our sun and egg yolks, sunflowers and ripe lemons. With all these associations, surely this colour must come out top as one of the world’s favourite colours right? Wrong! According to a study conducted by Dulux, the world’s favourite colour when surveyed is blue, followed by red and green, orange, brown and purple. Last in the list comes yellow, making it the world’s least favourite colour on the colour wheel.
But why? The colour yellow has always been associated with freshness, happiness, positivity, clarity, energy, optimism and joy to name a few and at least when it comes to our homes we seem to be fond of the colour. While it is our least favourite chosen colour, in interior design it is one of the most popular choices for paint within our homes and finds itself into our interiors in endless shades of yellow hued paint tones from soft pastels of magnolia to rich citrine and egg yolk brights. Particularly in 2019 optimistic shades of yellow, coral and pinks have made their way into our interiors with radiant yellow and papaya tones playing central roles in many winning interior designs as well as in art and fashion. Teamed with the Pantone colour of the year, Living Coral, yellows play a supportive role in bringing warmth and a feeling of optimism to interior schemes.
So what about the garden? Here too, yellow tends to be a somewhat divisive colour. While some some people love yellow I have met many people who find yellow a difficult colour to use successfully within planting schemes. In fact, some people go so far as to call themselves ‘yellowists’ shunning any use of yellow in their gardens, finding the colour overpowering, garish and obvious.
So what is it that make yellow so controversial? Well, yellow in its brightness can overpower. It can be a garish colour which demands you to only look at it, taking the focus away from other colours in the garden if used in too concentrated a form.
Also, when we think of yellow, many people think that yellow is also often seen as a colour which is so abundant in our natural landscapes that it seems almost a ‘waste’ to bring it into our own gardens. This ‘common’ colour is that of the gorse which covers the hillsides, the buttercups and flag irises of our fields and the dandelions and primroses which dot our native verges. Unfortunately we often tend to consider rarity as superior to abundant plants when making choices for our gardens. Thankfully this trend has shifted and naturalistic plant choices and native species is once again becoming more welcome in the designed garden.
Interestingly, yellow is also sometimes associated with Autumn in the garden when foliage dies down and starts to decay so perhaps there’s another clue in this as to why people have such a strong reaction to this colour in the garden, particularly when it comes to yellow leaved plants or yellow variegated leaves in general.
Then on the other hand you have the yellow lovers. Those folks firmly in the corner of yellow being the most cheerful and joyful colour in the garden. In my many years spent designing gardens for people I have met lots of people who seem to physically crave this colour- often for the fact that it makes them feel happy as it reminds them of sunshine, warm weather and Spring.
Personally, I went through many phases when it comes to yellow. There was a time when, on a quest for clarity and simplicity, I insisted on only white flowers in my own garden. Well, thanks to cheeky dandelions that didn’t last! Then I slowly started to allow pale shades of yellow into the space and eventually I gave in and embraced the surrounding Leitrim landscape, allowing yellow in all its splendour to spill in and reference the views beyond. I realised that while I may not feel comfortable wearing an egg yolk yellow dress, surely, the garden is the one place where the colour yellow can sit without feeling out of place. Surrounded by green and embedded in many shades of brown and nature, yellow should feel like the most natural addition to any garden scheme.
Considering this exciting colour now, I like to think that yellow is the colour full of innocence and hope which appeals to our innate sense of optimism. It is a playful colour which when used carefully, can become a welcome dash of joyful optimism in our everyday lives.
Tips for using yellow in the garden 🌼
- Sense of Space-🌻Yellow can make a space feel larger than it is. Used carefully it can brighten spaces and give a sense of space to small courtyards or narrow walkways.
- In the night garden – 🌝planting pale yellow plants is a super way to bring brightness to the night garden. When the moon is out light yellow coloured plants almost appear to glow and bring the night garden into focus.
- Bees love yellow 🐝 Bright yellow flowers attract pollinators and bees absolutely love flowers like the Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) and Goldenrod (Solidago) for example.
- Sunshine garden– ☀️yellow can bring great warmth to a space and adding some yellow to gardens can be a great way of adding a feeling of warmth even if it’s raining! Juts think of sunflowers and how they make you smile and think of Summer.
- In a shady corner- 🌿 yellow can be a great way of brightening up a shady corner. The light coloured Epimedium × perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’ under trees can bring stunning light to a dark corner while the evergreen Mahonia is a striking evergreen addition which has gorgeous structure and shiny foliage.
- In the sunny border- 🌼One of my favourite yellow flowers is the undeniably yellow Rudbeckia. It’s such a happy flower with a gorgeous black centre and works fantastically planted in a lilac scheme with Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Perovskia Blue Spire and Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’. Add some textured grass such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ and you have a ready to go border for summer splendour where yellow can shine with the contrast of the cooler blues.
- Yellow In the edible garden-🌽 If you want to add some yellow accents to the edible garden there are plenty of gorgeous additions such as yellow tomatoes or golden raspberries. Golden squashes and courgettes bring gorgeous colour to the Autumn garden and yellow plums are a perfect way of introducing yellow to the orchard garden.
- Yellow in foliage -🍁 there are some plants which have beautiful golden foliage and when carefully combined can bring wonderful texture and light to a garden scheme. Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ can bring gorgeous light to the back of a larger border with its yellow becoming more intense in autumn. Another shrub which has gorgeous lime yellow leaves is the Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’ which becomes more translucent the more sun it gets.