Nature’s Palette, Always in Style

Written by Davie Kean, master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site



Somewhere, there are people who are paid to predict (or create) which colors will be ‘hot’ for the coming year. Apparently there are people who are color blind in the fashion sense — unable to decide for themselves what color to wear or decorate with. There are even websites to consult when in doubt.

I choose my color schemes on my daily drive to work, and at home enjoying the view from my porch. I follow nature’s seasonal palette rather than fashion’s fickle trends. I’m not sure where the color consultants get their inspiration, but indirectly, it probably comes from the same source as mine.

Anyone who has looked at photographs from National Geographic or Discovery magazines will recognize that even the most outlandish colors were first found in nature. Hot pinks, florescent greens, electric blues — Mother Nature just smiles and thinks, “Been there, done that.”

Fashion color preferences are cyclical. Every few years, ‘naturals’ are the latest cool thing (again). Sometimes we fall under the illusion (or delusion) that we have created these colors or color combinations, but we are really just copying or interpreting what has always been around us.

Joe-Pye Weed

Joe-Pye Weed

I’m guessing that people who understand and acknowledge this source of inspiration use color well and don’t worry too much about trends, and I believe that Selma Steele was like that. She surely understood that she was playing with a palette that had already been laid out. She could use the colors provided, and feel satisfaction in arranging them in pleasing ways, but I’d bet she knew that she didn’t create the color scheme she was working with.

What prompted, these thoughts are a recurring color theme (or scheme) that I never tire of. Summer brings an abundance of wildflowers that can be enjoyed even at 50 mph (on my drive to work). I’m amazed at the variety, and am delighted when my favorites come into bloom. Maybe I should get a bumper sticker proclaiming, “I brake for wildflowers.”

Two in particular that I always slow down for are Joe-Pye-Weed and Ironweed. They are a perfect pair, and look best against a green backdrop — not hard to find this time of year. Often, nearby cattails provide a pleasing accent of rusty red.

Their colors are there for the taking — in pictures, paintings and home decorating. We don’t create them, but we can name them. And so we do, year after year — as if it’s the first time the world has seen mauve, magenta, mulberry, plum, purple, puce, lilac, heliotrope, amethyst, lavender or violet.

So here’s a challenge: Mother Nature has rolled out her late  summer colors, but would like to turn over the job of naming them to you. What would you name these four colors?


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