What common garden color is not part of the rainbow?
Most landscapes are largely plants of green and its variants. However, though the contrasts between glossy dark magnolia and cherry laurel, the bright greens of holly and pine, the softer cedars, and variegated evergreens are usually taken for granted, combinations of their hues and textures can sure be stunning.
But when considering garden color, we usually overlook brown — that complicated mélange of red, yellow and blue which, sadly, won’t be found in a rainbow. It’s generally thought of as a little dull, though the naturally warm, wholesome color represents simplicity, friendliness and dependability.
Yet notably, back in 1903 when Smith and Binney came out with the first eight-pack Crayola crayon box, brown was there. Over the years they introduced many variations, including raw umber, burnt sienna, taupe, ochre, ecru and tumbleweed. And who could ever forget the now-abandoned pale brown they called flesh?
Though I have seen dirt that is nearly black, rusty red or bluish, it’s mostly brown. Dry dust is light brown; when wet it’s dark, but still brown.
Other hues of brown include auburn, chestnut, cinnamon, russet, tawny, chocolate, tan, brunette, fawn, mahogany, oak, bronze, terra-cotta, toast, cocoa, coffee, copper, khaki and beige. And those are just the easy ones off the top of my head; a computer search of the color brown or visit to any paint store will boggle your mind.
So, when I gaze upon an all-green garden I notice the browns, too. By combining different-shaped shrubs and elements of just brown and green, we can create interesting monochromatic gardens, even in winter. Along with evergreen foliate, think of a medium brown pine tree trunk against the dormant winter lawn, with tan pampas grass topped by off-white plumes. Add bark or straw mulch, a wooden bench, half whiskey barrel planter and flagstone paving, and there’s enough to command the most color-snobbish person’s attention.
Those are great all on their own. Throw in berries, variegation, colorful containers and, of course, seasonal flowers, and the garden will start to shine.
But there’s more fun to be had. Last week, while preparing for my MPB radio broadcast, in my habit of talking up seasonal vegetables or herbs, heirloom passalong flowers and native plants, I gathered some stuff from the garden. Whatever eye-catcher was doing its thing that day.
I started with a yellow-fruited Lemon Boy tomato and a color-contrasting red jalapeno pepper, but kept going through my flowerbed veggies, grabbing a long pod of burgundy okra, a snippet of indigo-colored basil, and suddenly it struck me that without really planning for it I’ve been growing a hodgepodge edible rainbow.
Not counting flowers, between just vegetables and herbs tucked here and there in various beds and containers, I have the main “Roy B Giv” rainbow colors — red, orange, yellow, blue, green, indigo and violet.
Intrigued by the concept, I grabbed a few more, including a purple bell pepper, a stem of pale violet beautyberry, some nearly blue leaves from my just-planted Lacinato or Tuscan blue kale, and threw in a couple of small homegrown orange sweet potatoes harvested the day before.
And those marquee beauties were just the handful that I had on hand one morning. I skipped pink, a major garden player, because it isn’t in the rainbow. Once in the studio, I arranged them in a stubby rainbow, adding a stem of brilliant yellow (and edible) goldenrod, and my MPB coffee cup for extra blue.
Point is, brown is many useful colors, and can be used proudly. Meanwhile, I’m eating a front yard rainbow.
• Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.