Recently I’ve been reading Color for Adventurous Gardeners By Christopher Lloyd. As usual I enjoyed his writing, mostly because he is such a “cranky” writer–highly opinionated and not very diplomatic about it. Also, as usual, 85% of the plants he writes about aren’t hardy enough to grow in my garden. But, no matter, he’s always thought provoking, and this book is richly illustrated with photographs, so I don’t have to try to imagine what a hebe looks like. But it reminded me once again how difficult it is to pin colors down. I mean, I think I know colors, but when I stop and really look at an individual blossom, I often find myself at a loss to describe it adequately. And often two people just don’t see a certain color the same way. Lloyd himself asserts that tomatoes are “distinctly orange,” and all’s I can think is that they never ripen all the way in the lukewarm climate of merry old England, because the tomatoes harvested from our garden are distinctly red, and not even red leaning towards orange, not the fully ripe ones.
One gardener’s blue is another gardener’s lavender
And then there are certain colors I just can’t get a handle on. Lloyd devotes a whole chapter to the color mauve, and I look through the photographs in that chapter, and the flowers look all different colors to me. In the yellow chapter all the flowers look yellow, and in the red chapter they all look red, but mauve . . . Webster’s Third New International Dictionary says mauve is “a strong purple that is bluer and paler than monsignor.” I never knew monsignor was a color, much less what color, so that doesn’t help me much. The fact that the word mauve is derived from malva, the Latin word for mallow, is somewhat more helpful. I know what mallows are–but I always thought they were pink. And what about campanula blue? I have four species of campanula in my garden, and no two of them are the same color.
Clearly, we need some kind of standard that everyone can refer to. The Royal Horticultural Society has published its Horticultural Color Chart, which I’ve heard is expensive enough to prohibit widespread use. What we need is a standard readily available and affordable by most everyone. My friend Bub uses her DMC embroidery floss chart to describe her flowers in her gardening journal, especially the daylilies she’s bred herself. Myself, I’ve often considered investing in the largest size box of crayons that Crayola makes. When I want to describe the color of a flower, I’d just find the crayon that most closely matched it and read the color name off the label. The biggest hindrance to this idea is the fact that I still have several children at home who would love to get their hands on a new box of crayons, and they have no compunctions about peeling them, either. I suppose I could try to keep it all to myself, but I guess I’d feel like a heel saying, “No, you can’t have those. Those are Mommy’s crayons. No, Mommy isn’t going to color with them. She’s just going to refer, uh, look at them. You use all those beat up crayons in the plastic shoebox.” Well, when my kids grow up, I’m going to buy myself a big box of crayons and try it out.