The color experts tell us we're in for a period of subdued hues, but gardeners need not hold back. Although the events of Sept. 11 have toned down palettes in the design world, great colors are at the heart of every good garden, no matter what.
This year, look for red, white and blue in flower beds, and for purple, orange and yellow -- color combinations with lots of punch.
"When times are tight, the color palettes become more muted, softer, because people are less willing to go out on a limb," says Jay de Sibour, president of the Color Marketing Group, an association of designers who watch the world for the cultural and emotional signals that affect the colors that consumers choose.
"There are a lot of issues playing on people's minds right now," de Sibour says. "We're looking for stability, comfort and peacefulness. But does it mean we're not going to see bright red? No, flowers are a tremendous way of taking a more subdued color palette and accenting it."
Quick-blooming annual flowers will allow gardeners to express themselves with a patri-otic palette in flowerbeds, pots and window boxes. However, consumers aren't likely to limit themselves to the bright colors of the flag, de Sibour says.
"We're going to see the whole family of reds and blues," he says. "The color families may become more muted, more sophisticated, so instead of fire-engine red, we may see rusty red or terra cotta."
Changing the garden's color scheme from year to year is as easy as changing slipcovers in the living room. It's a technique decorators have relied on forever: You can change your style without having to replace your furniture. In the garden, de Sibour says, "nature gives us permission to play with colors, and it's not a big investment." Gardeners like to work with colors, but it takes experience to combine them with authority.
If you're not quite sure which colors go together, there's nothing wrong with seeking professional advice. In the fashion business, interior design and even industrial design, professional color stylists are there to help you develop and express your own taste. Garden designers with a keen sense of color do the same thing.
Wholesale plant suppliers are also making it easier for gardeners to put colors together as successfully as the pros. This year, plants sold as part of a marketing program called the Flower Fields have spots of color on their plastic labels, like paint chips. The color-keyed labels allow shoppers to match a yellow daisy with a harmonizing gold or orange marigold, for example, or with a vividly contrasting purple petunia.
Nearly 1,500 annual and perennial plants are included in the program, which will be available at garden shops throughout the United States and Canada. It is a fresh new concept in gardening, and something we're likely to see a great deal more of as garden companies and retailers incorporate the work of color stylists into garden products of all kinds.
"Gardeners want to have the same feeling outdoors that they have inside a well-decorated house, and that's why practical and wise use of color is very critical," says Jack Williams of the Flower Fields program. "We wanted to provide good infor- mation about what works together."
Williams says he has seen gardeners carrying a swatch of upholstery fabric or a pillow from an outdoor furniture set around garden shops, looking for plants in colors to match. This is precisely the sort of thing the color experts have predicted, de Sibour says. People are fascinated by the effects of color, and they are now taking their color themes out into their gardens.
In spite of troubling world events and a slowing economy, "our basic forecasts remain in effect," de Sibour says.
Purple is popular now. En- vironmental awareness is pervading even the names of colors, like ginkgo green, bayou blue and oxygen, which is described by the experts at Color Marketing Group as "a breath of fresh air representing a silver influence on aquatic blues." You can expect to see these colors in this year's stylish furnishings and fashion accessories, but do not fail to give them wider play -- and with an even broader brush -- in your own back yard.
* For more information about the Color Marketing Group's forecast for color trends for 2002 and beyond, see the group's Web site, www.colormarketing.org, or call 703-329-8500.
* To find out more about the Flower Fields, including the names and locations of garden shops participating in the program, see its Web site, www. theflowerfields.com. Click on the plant label marked "Spring Plants Collection," then on "Search," and type in your ZIP code, state or province.