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The Beauty of Brown Flowers

Warm-colored flowers, I tend to avoid. The artist in me knows I'm losing half the spectrum, and the plant lover despairs at such prejudice — but those tones have just felt jarring to my eye. Now I've found a new way to heal this handicap: brown flowers.

In living plants, there's nothing muddy about brown: it glows with the sparkle of light refracting inside their cells; it displays mysterious combinations of hues.

One of the oldest varieties of bearded iris — as common as purple ones — has yellow on top (the petals called standards) and brown on the bottom (the falls). The complex shadings of modern hybrids are harder to describe; for example the catalog from which I bought 'Afternoon Delight,' says "inside of standards is a warm honey-tan which melts through the lavender on the outside. ...Falls are bright lavender sporting a honey-tan border. Undersides of falls are also honey-tan."

Another favorite of mine has standards of purple-brown, with a hint of cream-gold; falls are cream-gold, with purple-brown edges. I got it from a friend who didn't know its name, but I suspect it may be 'Mountain Melody.' (Catalogs describe this iris' brown as "smoky mulberry.")

'Gingerbread Man,' an iris even more brown, still has shadings toward yellow or purple. I love to gaze at the transitional zone between one color and another; my mind boggles at trying to name what my eye is seeing.

Other flowers with a touch of brown: several daylilies, including 'Chocolate Dude' and 'Double Bourbon'. The new calendula (pot marigold) 'Touch of Red Buff ' — "silvery apricot" (beige) petals with redder undersides, and a big brown eye.

Chocolate Cosmos is a deep burgundy-brown, with a chocolate scent. A new morning glory, 'Silk Rose', has huge blooms in a color described as "milk chocolate-rose," with a white edge. The columbine called 'Chocolate Soldier' has chocolate-purple petals, green sepals, yellowish-green stamen and anthers, and brown spurs.

Viola 'Irish Molly,' a rare old pansy, is quite changeable, showing at various times tones described as dark gold, maroon brown, brown-violet, iridescent bronze, khaki-yellow with a hint of green, and chocolate.

The feathery or tassel-like flowers of ornamental grasses come in a spectrum of browns. Grasses' fine textures make good contrast among plants with bigger flowers and leaves. In a similar way, among flashier colors, flowers in browns and near-browns provide variety and refresh the eye.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 16 May 2003

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For more information

Sugar and Spice: Earthy Tones for the Garden, by Lynn Purse.

The Connecticut Botanical Society's page of Green and Brown Wildflowers.

Iris 'Fanfaron" — a modern version of the heirloom yellow & brown iris.

Iris Mountain Melody'

Daylily 'Double Bourbon'

Calendula 'Touch of Red Buff '

Morning Glory 'Silk Rose'

Viola 'Irish Molly