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Yellow and Grey Are This Year's Stars In the Garden

By: Sandra Nelson; Images Sandy DeFoe

yellow leaves; grey fence

My garden is bursting with color right now. Hundreds of daffodils in shades of yellow are all in bloom, filling the beds and weaving through the grass like bright ribbons. It makes me happy to just sit and look at them, and after all of the stresses of last year, every sliver of joy is a gift to be treasured and a solid faith in the future.



The experts at Pantone must have recognized the importance and universality of those feelings. For only the second time in its 21 year history, two different colors share the stage as Pantone’s Color of the Year. pantone colors 2021`  Reflecting on the global upheavals of 2020, the panel of forecasters paired the joyful, upbeat yellow Illuminating with the strong, dependable Ultimate Grey.  According to the Pantone Color Institute’s Executive Director Liatrice Eiseman, “...this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope.  We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.”


We know that spending time in nature heals the body and the spirit. (Gardeners have known this for  the rest of the world is finally catching on…) What better place is there then, than the garden to begin putting the bleakness of 2020 behind us?  Using a broad interpretation of the 2021 color suggestions in your plantings this year is an excellent place to begin that process on a personal level.

girl in fieldWith some help from the Embassy design staff, let’s delve into using shades of yellow and grey in the garden. Let’s take a look at how the colors work in the garden; it may inspire you to try some yourself!




Bright yellow is a vibrant color that symbolizes optimism, energy, creativity and joy. It is the color of sunshine, light and warmth. 

Sunflowers against a blue sky


Soft yellow is a calmer color; one that communicates newness, freshness and a sense of reflection.



Yellow- green is the color of the cycle of nature. It is often seen as the first color of spring as plants emerge after winter and the last color of fall as leaves turn from green to yellow. 

bud emerging

Because it is the first color that the eye notices, bright yellow quickly draws the eye and holds it. This makes yellow a natural choice to highlight a focal point or move the eye away from an unpleasant view. grey skies yellow flowers

Yellows are light reflecting colors. Drifts of yellow add excitement to the garden when skies are overcast or in the spring and fall when the sun’s rays are lower in the sky.

Too much yelloblack eyed Susanw sprinkled randomly throughout the garden, especially a bright yellow, can be fatiguing to the eye. Although it seems counterintuitive, balancing a few large swaths of yellow brings energy to the garden.                


Use soft yellows and yellow variegated foliage plants to brighten up shade areas.  hostas






Positioning yellow with its complementary color purple creates a vivid scene. They not only intensify each other, they also enrich each other.

violas yellow and purple

On the other hand, pure yellows and reds together can be jarring as they fight against each other for the dominant position.

red bench yellow flowers




Grey is considered a stable, practical and sturdy color. It is dependable and long-lasting; you can rely on it no matter what the conditions. Add a few silver tones to grey and you have a color that is graceful, refined and elegant.

grey foliage

While grey and silver-grey are usually associated with the hardscaping aspects of the garden -- things made of stone, steel or concrete  (which given its symbolism seems reasonable), be careful not to discount grey in the plant world. Shades of grey, especially the silver-greys, can bring a soft, sophisticated palette to the garden that provides a soothing backdrop to more vivid displays.


Plants with grey or silver foliage tend to be well-adapted to dry, arid environments that drain quickly after a rain. Overly moist areas will result in cactus leggy plants with dull, uninspiring foliage.



   Because of their reflective tendencies, grey or silver groundcovers help cool soil temperatures,             keeping taller plants from drying out quite so quickly in the hot summer sun.


Grey or silver foliage help to cool down the garden on a blazing hot summer’s day.    At night, silver foliage reflects the moonlight giving a subtle but dreamy quality.  moonlight






Grey or silver leaf plants act as a contrast to bright colors and are especially effective as fillers in focal point displays. The softness of the grey shades gives the eyes moments of rest so they can focus longer on the more intense colors. 

grey contrast


Woven throughout the landscape, grey and silver plants give a gentle sense of unity to the design. 

silver fern


If you're inspired to add some yellow and grey to your garden, we have some suggestions to get you started.




From the design staff at Embassy Landscape Group:

  • Sombrero Lemon Yellow Coneflower
  • Yellow Ice Plant
  • Yellow Azalea (shrub)
  • FloraBerry  Rose St. John's Wort (shrub)
  • Zinnia Zahara Yellow
  • Lemon Pansies
  • Fernleaf Yarrow  Moonshine
  • Coreopsis Moonbean
  • Daylilies  MayMay, Butter Pat, Happy Returns
  • Ligularia The Rocket




  • Brunnera  Jack Frost
  • Licorice Plant
  • Lavender Phenomenal
  • Rose Campion
  • Japanese Painted Fern
  • Dusty Miller
  • Dichondra Silver Falls
  • Artemisia
  • Lamium  Purple Dragon
  • Snow-in-Summer