Converting the Yellowist: How to Use Yellow in the Garden
Yellowist. I was taken aback when I first heard the word but I suppose I deserved being called it after blatantly ranting about ripping out all signs of yellow from my garden. Common Daffodils in my garden? No thank you. Black-Eyed Susans? Your fate is the compost bin. Being called out for my discrimination stopped my blazing yellow rage in its tracks. I asked myself, how did I get to the point where I shun all members of a colour family, ripping out beautiful plants like they’re dreaded dandelions?
It was the quest for harmony. The feeling of serenity, delight, and balance from the garden comes from a pleasant blending of colour, texture, height, depth, smells and sounds. In a flower garden, color is the most prominent element to our senses and in my garden, yellow just wasn’t playing well with the others. She’s a bully. Vibrant and bright, she draws your eye and holds it. Too much yellow can make a garden look small and flat. Pops of aggressive yellow blooms overtake the other colored flowers and foliage, turning them all into the Pips.
Nonetheless, I figured if I was going to commit hate crimes against plants then I better get myself educated first. Turning from Yellowist to Yellowazzi, I stalked gardens with my camera and hunted for yellow on-line. Not surprisingly, I quickly realized that my ignorance was holding me back from a relationship with a perfectly stunning color. While I’m still not a fan of the harshness of a Black-Eyed Susan, I’ve found some wonderful examples of how yellow can elevate a garden space through a variety of different uses:
Yellow in the Spring
Summer’s hot sun casts an overall yellow light in the garden and fall’s foliage turns golden signaling the end of a cycle, both muddying the impact of yellow blooms. Spring, however, is a wonderful time to introduce some lemony hues. Pops of bright color when the days are shorter and skies are gray can lift up the garden and add some sunshine to a rainy day.
Highlighting a Garden Feature
A dramatic Canna with a vivid yellow bloom towering in the centre of a circular garden, a yellow magnolia in front of a purple shed, or yellow painted garden accents add a modern, dramatic statement in the garden. A citrus-colored watering can or painted garden door will perk up an otherwise thickly-planted or shady part of the garden, drawing you towards the light.
A select few variegated leaves with golden stripes, veins, or markings among otherwise green leaves will add visual interest to gardens with plantings not intended to bloom. Hosta cultivars such as Chartreuse Wiggles, American Sweetheart or Liberty bring light into a woodland garden or shady patio planter. Lemon Thyme, Variegated Lemon Balm, and Ginger Mint all add beauty and interest to a standard herb garden, not to mention a lift to your cooking.
Softer Shades and Unexpected Blooms
Buttery yellow can be a wonderful alternative to the boldness of sunflowers and daylilies. A creamy, ruffled, German Iris will attract attention for its contradiction: a showy shape and subtle colour. A Yellow Primrose Lilac is controversial in gardening circles because the elusive yellow blooms are often realized as white or (gasp) purple. For gardeners who do get the pale primrose blooms it’s a unique garden find worthy of bragging.
In the edible garden
Those who have seen a fruiting lemon tree likely need no convincing of yellow’s beauty in the garden – lush green leaves dotted with lemons is a beautiful sight. While not all climates can support citrus, honey-colored fruit is possible in the edible garden with alpine strawberries, golden raspberries or plums. The trumpet-shaped beauty of squash blossoms can turn into striking Goldenrod zucchini, Sunburst pattypan, or Yellow Crookneck squash making them right at home in a flower bed. Tomato plants also flower in yellow, with fruit that range from white to deep gold. Try Golden Rave, a two-bite yellow Roma tomato that fruits on decorative trusses and adds extra sunshine to the tomato garden.
In the formal or cottage garden, the opposites of the color wheel, yellow and purple, are a classic team. The modern garden stands out with a citrus palette of orange, lemon, and lime to complement repetitive and structural plantings. My personal favorite is the use of yellow and honeysuckle, a lively but earthy pink that rises up to meet golden tones, perfect in a modern farmhouse garden.
I’m proud to say upon concluding my research that I’m no longer a Colorist, yellow or otherwise. I humbly recognize that yellow is an essential colour in the garden as with nature; her brightness attracts pollinators and guides them to the pollen or nectar. We humans have clearly figured out the power of yellow as well, using her to communicate warnings in traffic signs or school busses. She is the brightest color in the spectrum and as such should be used with caution in the garden. Used correctly yellow can add a cheery lift like no other color can. She now holds a place in my heart…and garden.