Color Trends 2021: Illuminating Yellow and Gray

Each year, the color-matching company Pantone lists a Color of the Year that expresses the mood of the time and tends to influence color trends in clothing, home decor and even plants. These color trends are fun to follow. In 2019, the color was Coral, and gardeners are still seeing many plants with bright coral flowers. In 2020, the color was Classic Blue, which turned out to be prescient, since isn’t that how many of us have felt this past year! Blue is nearly impossible to produce in plant leaves or flowers, but you saw it everywhere in 2020 in containers and garden decor.

For 2021, Pantone hedged its bets and picked two colors of the year, a bright, sunny yellow called Illuminating and a soft gray called Ultimate Gray. The two colors look good together, with the yellow punching up the gray and the gray toning down the Big-Bird-esque shade of the yellow. These colors together would look great in a patio set, patio umbrella or container. The gray is a color we see in river rock and stones.

The colors are selected after Pantone’s designers have reviewed color trends around the globe. They look into things like entertainment, travel trends, fashion, art and socio-economic conditions. The company says the two colors express “a message of positivity supported by fortitude.”

Gray and Yellow in the Garden

sunflowers are the color of the year in 2021

A bright yellow sunflower is on trend and helps pollinators, too. Win-win!

How will these colors show up in the garden? Yellow is a solid garden color but you may see more of it in garden centers this spring. Looking through a plant company’s new introductions for 2021, I couldn’t help but notice this bright yellow coneflower. The same company also is showing some sweet yellow pansies to plant in the spring. The National Garden Bureau has declared 2021, the Year of the Sunflower and its webpage features several bright, cheery sunflowers you can choose from.

As for gray, in plants this color reads more as a silver. And, plants with silver foliage are definitely a trend we’ve seen more of in the past year or so. Dusty miller, artemesia and some lavenders really do have a gray/silver cast to the leaves. You may see more plants like that in the garden centers in 2021.

It’s fun to learn about the garden trends each year — whether or not you incorporate them in your garden.



  1. Becky Kleager on January 8, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    I am guessing that a bright yellow coneflower is a “natiivar” and maybe runs the risk of cross-pollinating and messing up the genetics of our native coneflower. With so many other bright yellow flowers of many shapes and heights, a particular design plan could easily avoid using this nativar. I would be good to mention this when discussing such plants as many gardeners have not thought to think about this issue.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on January 10, 2021 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks for commenting. The plant in the image is an annual sunflower called Suncredible. It is a hybrid of the Helianthus species, not Echinacea or Ratibida. We will be running an article on native and nativar plants later in 2021.

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