A Pantone “Color of the Year” Garden

Right on schedule, Pantone has revealed the color of the year for 2021. In a break with tradition, there are actually two colors—a bright, buttery yellow called Illuminating, and Ultimate Gray. The minute I saw the yellow, I thought, perfect choice! It’s cheerful, and after 2020, we need all the cheering up we can get. But gray? Most of 2020 was a dismal, gray year, and the thought of facing yet another year like that is downright depressing. I don’t need to reinforce those bleak feelings.

At least, when it comes to using these colors in the landscape, we gardeners finally have it easy. Last year’s Classic Blue isn’t a color many plants naturally make (although you can get close) and we had to resort to choosing flowers in complementary colors. But yellow flowers abound, and they’re shown to advantage when paired with silvery leaves.  

Since few people would rip out a perennial garden every year,  just to change the colors, I’m choosing annuals or fast-blooming but non-hardy perennials for this Pantone-themed garden. Most of these also do well in containers—the perfect way to show off this year’s trendy colors. Who knew a garden could be so chic?

First to mind are the typical annuals you can either pick up as seedlings or start your own from seed. Marigolds, petunias, and zinnias are popular annuals that come in many colors, Illuminating yellow among them.

It may be difficult to find single-color transplants at the garden center, but many mail-order seed companies have packets in just the right hues. Start indoors to allow time for the seedlings to grow—especially the petunias, which take 10 to 12 weeks to reach transplant size—longer if you want blooming seedlings.

Transplant these annuals after danger of frost (haha) and give them full sun for maximum bloom.

Violas are a biennial or perennial that we treat as a cold-hardy annual. I’ve seen them in full bloom, peeking out of a snowdrift in late winter or early spring. They rarely survive summer’s heat, but offer color at a time when most plants are just getting started.

When we think of California poppies, we think of the bright orange flowers that carpet the state’s hillsides in late winter and early spring. But California poppies have now been bred to come in a lovely variety of pastel hues, including butter-yellow. Sow seeds in late winter as the ground thaws; they’ll bloom considerably later in Colorado than in California’s Mediterranean climate. You may have to settle for a mixture of colors, as individual strains are rarely sold.

Dahlias aren’t exactly annuals, but they do bloom the first year, especially if you start the tubers growing indoors ahead of the last frost date, as the plants can’t handle freezing. In areas with cold winters (Colorado, etc.) you then have to dig them up each fall and overwinter the tubers in an unheated garage or basement. It’s a lot of work, but the flowers are so spectacular, many gardeners are willing to put in the effort.

Chrysanthemums are perennials, but many people treat them as annuals, purchasing new plants in late summer instead of waiting all season them to rebloom. While their yellow tends to be a bit bolder than the Pantone color for this year, their late bloom fills a gap when many annuals are fading or busy producing seeds.

Basket of Gold is one more perennial that is typically sold in full bloom. You can’t miss the vibrant yellow that appears in early spring! While some cultivars are more aptly described as gold, others are a perfect match for that soft yellow we’re looking for.

Then there are the more obscure flowers. You may have to check around to see in any greenhouses in your area have these in stock, but they’re worth some effort.

Greek Bladderpod (Alyssoides utriculata) is only hardy to -10° F, so it will typically succumb to a Colorado winter, but it’s worth growing as an annual for it’s drought-tolerance and ability to fill gaps with warm yellow flowers all summer long.

Bidens, reaching 6 to 12 inches in height and spreading 1 to 3 feet wide, will fill the front of your border with sunny yellow daisies. Perennial in zones 8 to 11, it’s treated as asun-loving annual in colder climates.

Creeping Zinnias (Sanvitalia procumbens) aren’t zinnias at all, but get their common name from their similar appearance. Native to Mexico, they form ground-hugging mats up to 18 inches across, making them ideal for planting along sunny paths and in containers, where they’ll trail over the edges.

According to the Missouri Botanic Garden, Creeping Zinnias don’t transplant well, so many gardeners wait until a few weeks before the average last frost date to seed them directly where they are to grow. Short-season gardeners who prefer to maximize bloom time can start the plants indoors 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting.

With this abundance of yellow, it’s a good idea to add some other colors to ease the eyes. To stick with the Pantone duo, try Dusty Miller (shown at top of page), an easy-to-find annual grown for its fuzzy silver leaves.

You can also pair Illuminating yellow with similar delicate shades—peach and apricot, ivory and pale rose. Or go for maximum contrast. I love setting off my yellow flowers with purple in shades ranging from pastel lavender to deep periwinkle.

Whatever you choose, a garden full of yellow flowers is sure to raise one’s spirits—just what we need these days!

2 thoughts on “A Pantone “Color of the Year” Garden

  1. I have one for you….I planted it last year from my local nursery- ‘Moonshine’ Achillea (a yellow Yarrow)!
    Love your color ponderings!

    1. That’s one of my favorite perennials. I was thinking more about annuals, but yarrow blooms so quickly you could grow it in one season. Thanks!

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