Every year the hugely influential trend team at Pantone decide on a key colour, one that reflects leading fashion and style trends, and also one that reflects our current emotional mood.
These colour trends show up in our homes, our cars, our clothes - and our gardens.
For 2021, Pantone has selected a pair of complementary colours, Ultimate Grey, and Illuminating, a vivid yellow.
You might be forgiven for thinking that after the year everyone has had, Grey is not the most uplifting and optimistic colour they could have chosen - but happily it is a shade that works beautifully in gardens!
Plus is has an added advantage for us gardeners - many grey-leaved plants are very well adapted to hot dry sunny locations.
Like sunshine after rain, light breaking through stormclouds, the clear yellow and light grey together have a light fresh feel that will sparkle and glow in a garden space from first light to dusk. As Pantone puts it :
"Practical and rock solid, but at the same time warming and optimistic, the union of Ultimate Gray + Illuminating is one of strength and positivity. It is a story of color that encapsulates deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the promise of something sunny and friendly. A message of happiness supported by fortitude, the combination ... is aspirational and gives us hope. We need to feel that everything is going to get brighter – this is essential to the human spirit."
Illuminating With YellowFor instant on-trend garden style, there are a handful of plants which combine silver-grey foliage with golden yellow flowers. Plant these and you'll be instantly stylish in 2021!
Grey-leaf wattles fit here, of course, with their sunny pompom flowers - we love the purple-leaf form of Acacia baileyana for metallic richness of leaf colour year round.
Cotton lavender - Santolina - is a ripper little front-of-border plant for full sun and poor dry soils. It has a lookalike in the curry bush, Helichrysum italicum; you can tell these two apart by the spicy smell of the latter's leaves.
Curry bush has a relative with fatter, round leaves, Helichrysum petiolare - commonly called the licorice bush, it shares the colouration but not the aroma.
Another grey-and-yellow plant that enjoys a hot dry sunny spot is gazania, particularly silver-leaf gazania. With smaller daintier flowers than hybrid gazanias, it has a natural look and blends well into almost any kind of garden style.Equally resilient in challenging situations are succulents, and sedum Blue Feather gives you steel-grey fine feathery foliage and hi-vis yellow flowers however harsh the conditions or neglectful the care.
Two south African groundcover plants are perfect for this yellow and grey pairing of colours : Eumorphia Silver Cloud, and Dymondia Silver Carpet. Silver Cloud is taller, airy and fine-leaved, with golden-centred daisy flowers; Silver Carpet is ground-hugging, each leaf green on top and white underneath, and the carpet of foliage is studded with little sunny-yellow starry flowers.The grey-leaved native emu bush, Eremophila Silver Ball, would make the perfect companion, sharing their compact size and striking colour scheme.
Drive along a suburban seafront road and chances are you'll see a coast banksia - big, open, slightly sprawly in outline, and unmistakable when the sea breezes blow and flip up its grey-green leaves, revealing the silver-white undersides. Butter-yellow flowers turn into long-lasting pods, first pale silver-green, then ripening to chocolate brown.
For a bright pop of canary colour without the pigeon grey, there's heaps of choice: we especially like forsythia, a cold-hardy big bush that loves a hard pruning to encourage an early spring explosion of golden blossom. However drab the weather, you can't fail to be cheered up when this bush flowers.
Golden penda, Xanthostemon, is a gorgeous native rainforest tree, supremely showy in full bloom, with smaller varieties available for siting in urban back yards or even on the patio. The big fluffy fluorescent flowers will lure in honey-eating birds such as lorikeets. The native orchid, Spathoglottis has a citrus yellow variety called Lemon Kiss that flowers brightly and happily for weeks in frost-free shaded borders. And of course, for yellow native flowers, you can't go past yellow buttons, Chrysocephalum, the slender silvery-green foliage topped by those cheery little dots of gold.
Adding Grey to Your Garden
Grey is surprisingly easy to add into a garden, as there are many beautiful plants with silver and grey leaves - particularly those adapted to growing in very bright sunny hot climates, and poor dry soils.
Many are groundcover plants that can thread their way through the borders, keeping the soil cool and adding lightness to a colour scheme.
The grey colouration often comes from a fine layer of hair on the leaves which help to insulate the leaf against water evaporation. The furriest grey-leaved plant - like a soft baby rabbit to touch - is Stachys lanata, often called lamb's ears.
Almost as silky-soft are the leaves of the silverbush, Convolvulus cneorum, which in bright light appear almost white. They would make a beautiful pairing with Silver Gumdrop, a grey-leaved Heuchera with surprise flashes of rose-pink under each leaf.
Buddleias often have grey-toned leaves and two of the most-silvery are Lochinch, with grey-lilac flowers, and Morning Mist aka Silver Anniversary, which has small buff-cream flowers. Both could be grown for their attractive foliage alone.Arguably the winner of Greyest Plant of All is the native silver cushion bush, Leucophyta brownii, which glistens like platinum in sunlight. Unique and beautiful, slightly space-age, it won't fit into every garden style - but in the right place it's a stunner.