by Cathy Carr, APLD Landscape Design Consultant

Yellow, pink, and green are the essential colors of spring.


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YELLOW is an emblem of hope and happiness.

The color of our sun, it illuminates and brightens.

I’m sure you’ve noticed: there are lots of yellow flowers in the spring. Most years in my garden, winter aconites (Eranthis) are emerging and even blooming by February. Oregon grapeholly, Mahonia spps., blooms fragrantly nearby. These harbingers of spring precede the softer yellow blossoms of winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), which punctuate bright green stems. Forsythia bloom later than the jasmine, in sunnier shades. Of course, daffodils (Narcissus) are also usually some shade of yellow, as are many crocuses.

Because the sky is so visible is early spring, the soft haze thickening the branches of deciduous trees is quite noticeable. The delicate, quiet, buttercup yellow blossoms of Corneliancherry dogwood, Cornus mas, and fragrant winterhazel, Corylopsis pauciflora, are especially stunning when fronting evergreen trees.

Pink is another recurrent color of spring.

PINK is a soothing salve, suffusing us with peace and contentment.

A pinkish-red haze appears high in the sky in early spring, where shade maples command the distance. And about the time the big maples (Acer spps.) begin their show, more pinks arrive; the blooms of Japanese apricot (Prunus mume) and Okame cherries (Prunus x incamp) add soft and variable hues to greet the waning cool. Later, maple flowers carpet paved surfaces and dark pink calyxes of the Okame extend the flower’s rosy glow.

In April, the tissue-paper-thin petals of Yoshino cherry blossoms create cotton-candy clouds. It seems amazing that these delicate Prunus x yedoensis flowers survive our still-harsh weather. The waxy, cupped petals of Saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana) echo the color of Yoshino cherry blossoms, adding texture and depth of hue; the cheery muffs of Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzen’ follow. Crabapple flowers, Malus spps., offer more rich, clean tones of pink.

GREEN is the color of youth and new beginnings, of fertility, growth, and renewal.

The apple-green glow of the budding weeping willow is another sign of spring on the horizon. The tree’s graceful movement brings attention to the color, so hopeful and shy after a long winter. At eye-level, deciduous shrubs like Viburnum and Fothergilla fatten up and unfurl their olive-green tips, while Manhattan Euonymus puts out bright, Technicolor green leaves. All new leaves are thinner and more translucent than when fully mature.

Meanwhile, on the ground plane, the downward-facing green and pink-ivory Hellebore flowers emerge, urging us to Pay Attention! The foliage of spring garden bulbs like snowdrop (Galanthus), daffodil (Narcissus), and summer snowflake (Leucojum), emerge in various shades of green.

Snowdrop and summer snowflake leaves both have a bottle-green hue.  Careful observers will notice subtleties between otherwise look-alike forms: daffodil foliage is blue-green while the less-shiny stems of daylily (Hemerocallis) are yellow-green. Later, varied green shoots arise on Allium, peony, and Astilbe, the skinny leaves of naked ladies, and myriad other perennials.

Clematis bud strong, as do roses that bask in sunlight. There’s a gray-green tint to the soft and fuzzy rosettes of Lamb’s ears (Stachys), catmint (Nepeta) and Sedum spps. Ferns, Hosta, and grasses produce prodigious quantities of lush, dewy green.  There are many examples of white and blue flowers in the spring garden, also, but for me, yellow and pink prevails, and green, my personal favorite, rules.


CODA: Color does not stand alone in the garden.

As important as color is in the spring garden, it does not stand alone. Texture, form, and the quality of light all effect our perception of color and enhance the feelings we attribute to it. Because of the influence of the sun’s arc, the brief brilliance of green fades as spring develops into summer.

There are many observations of the spring garden: which are yours?