Spring and early summer in Pennsylvania start with the cheerful yellow of forsythia and crocus blossoms, move through varying shades of narcissus, and later in the season some glorious pale yellow peonies.  This season has inspired me to look into the color yellow and how it works in the garden and in floral design.  

The value of a color depends upon how much gray is added to the pure hue. For a more detailed explanation of color theory look to Color 101 that follows. *

An ombre of yellow flowers shows the vast array of values for the hue of yellow.  Pale yellow moves to the pure hue to the darker tones and shades.

Yellow in the Garden

Bright yellow in the garden is a strong statement.  Here in a friend’s garden I was surprised by a sweep of golden ragwort Senesio aureus combined with light and dark orange azaleas.  Aureus was a golden coin from ancient Rome and often the Latin names of plants use descriptive terms in plant naming.

To capture the feeling of this golden hued landscape I used tones and shades of orange and red sparked by the addition of bright yellow tulips.

Yellow in the Garden

Early spring daffodils pop up in the midst of late winter grasses. 

Sunflowers, eremurus, grasses and cattails greet a summer morning.  Garlic scapes and allium bulbs wind through the parallel stems. 

The color yellow thrives with fall colors of green millet and red berries

Yellow calla lilies and yellow gloriosa rothschildiana brighten a kitchen window on a cold winter day while red Sango kuku maple branches glow from a morning rain. 

Color Balance  

When working with flower colors the design principles of balance and proportion are key.  Darks and lights, tints, tones, and shades interact with one another and choosing proper amounts of each color enhances the design process.

Contrasting colors:  Colors opposite in the color wheel are called complementary colors and have strong contrast.

Dark hues of purple and brown are used in a greater proportion to balance the bright yellow roses.


Color balance of dark greens and purples are brightened with just an accent of bright yellow. The green grasses and garlic scapes are a good way to transition from the dark purple to the bright yellow.

Monochromatic colors: Tints and tones of the same hue is the easiest color scheme to balance.

A larger proportion of the light peonies and white azaleas are accented with a few stems of darker tulips and freesia.

Complementary colors in pale tints:
The monochromatic design becomes more interesting with the addition of two purple lilacs and one purple peony. Here the greater proportion of yellow is contrasted with a smaller amount of purple.

Split complement: Colors that are on either side of the direct complement on the color wheel. The direct complement of yellow is violet and on either side of violet are blue/violet and red/violet.

The same soft yellow peonies are used with hydrangeas in blue violet and red violet.  

Color Wheel

Sir Issac Newton developed the theory of color based on three primary colors yellow, red, and blue.  Combining the primary colors makes secondary and tertiary colors which lie between the primary hues.

Color Wheel

The gray scale determines the value or saturation of a hue.

Some Color Schemes
Complementary colors
Near Complementary or Split Complement

Reference: The AIFD Guide to Floral Design