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In December, Pantone revealed the 2021 Color of the Year, surprising many pundits with two colors sharing the spotlight — Ultimate Gray (Pantone 17-5104) and Illuminating (Pantone 13-0647). Pantone says it chose the pairing of gray and yellow because the two independent colors “come together to create an aspirational color pairing, conjoining deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the optimistic promise of a sunshine filled day.”

The Pantone choice wields a lot of influence over design elements including fashion, home furnishings, industrial design and product packaging.

Illuminating is a “bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power,” according to the Pantone color experts. Ultimate Gray is “emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation. The colors of pebbles on the beach and natural elements whose weathered appearance highlights an ability to stand the test of time, Ultimate Gray quietly assures, encouraging feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience.”

The choices are practical and rock solid, says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, yet “gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.”

“The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one. The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude,” she adds.

Echinacea photos courtesy
of Plants Nouveau; Cytisus
photo by Spring Meadow

“The Pantone Color of the Year reflects what is taking place in our global culture, expressing what people are looking for that color can hope to answer,” says Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute. “As society continues to recognize color as a critical form of communication, and a way to symbolize thoughts and ideas, many designers and brands are embracing the language of color to engage and connect.”

Pantone says its Color of the Year selection process “requires thoughtful consideration and trend analysis.” Experts at the Pantone Color Institute comb the world looking for new color influences. This can include the entertainment industry and films in production, traveling art collections and new artists, fashion, all areas of design, popular travel destinations, as well as new lifestyles, playstyles and socio-economic conditions. Influences may also stem from new technologies, materials, textures and effects that impact color, relevant social media platforms and even upcoming sporting events that capture worldwide attention.

The horticulture industry offers copious choices that fit with Illuminating, a bright and cheerful yellow.

“Gardeners want to have plants in these colors because who doesn't want their plant palette to be on-trend?” says Angela Treadwell-Palmer, co-founder of Plants Nouveau. “Pantone sets the trends. This year, one color is a super bright, happy yellow and the other is a neutral, warm gray. I love them both and I love them paired.”

Some of her choices for plants that match the sunny yellow of Pantone’s Illuminating are Echinacea Butterfly Cleopatra, Helenium Mariachi Sombrero and Forsythia Magical Gold.

North Branch Nursery in Pemberville, Ohio, chose Moonshine yarrow for its lemon-yellow flowers and silver-gray foliage.

Zeeland, Michigan-based Garden Crossings says, “yellow is one of those colors that goes with every other color in the garden.” Some of their choices include Sunny Boulevard hypericum, Sister Golden Hair scotch broom and Canary Feathers corydalis.

Past selections for Color of the Year have served horticulture well, including Classic Blue (Pantone19-4052) in 2020, Living Coral (Pantone 16-1546) in 2019, Ultra Violet (Pantone 18-3838) in 2018, Greenery (Pantone 15-0343) in 2017, and another double selections Serenity (Pantone 15-3919) and Rose Quartz (Pantone 13-1520) in 2016.

For more: www.pantone.com

Sources: Pantone, Plants Nouveau, All-America Selections, North Branch Nursery, Garden Crossings