Plain as Dirt: The wonderful world of color |

Plain as Dirt: The wonderful world of color

Tom Glass
Vail CO, Colorado
Tom Glass

VAIL, Colorado ” The Color of the Year for 2009 is Mimosa. This much has been determined for us by the Pantone Color Institute, global authority on color.

Pantone touts this shade as a warm and versatile yellow “best illustrated by the abundant flowers of the Mimosa tree and the sparkle of the brilliantly hued cocktail.”

My first reaction when I read this announcement was what an intoxicating name for a color: mimosa. It’s kind of fun just to say it. Being entirely familiar with cocktails suited to the A.M. hours, I knew instantly the shade, but as a plant guy I am loathe to confess that I knew not the color of the mimosa’s bloom.

Realizing it possible that sooner not later someone would ask me to find them a mimosa tree, I investigated and found some full bloom photos of the plant. From a distance it’s pretty.

Upon closer inspection I discovered that what Pantone embraces as a mimosa is not a true mimosa, which is a legume, like beans, but rather the namesake of their vaunted yellow is a branch of the temperate and thorny Acacia family tree, specifically, Acacia dealbata, an import to America from Australia and Asia. The State of California considers it a noxious, uncontrollable plant most definitely banned from sale.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Well, that lets me off the hook on having to find mimosas to sell in the valley. It’s a warm weather tree as welcome as kudzu.

You may think, much as I once did, that this annual announcement of Pantone’s is of no particular consequence; the effects of color being commonly perceived as impertinent to the grave vagaries of living similar to the rise and fall of hemlines.

However, in horticulture, as in haute couture, there are mavens of style that latch onto these types of things, pressing forth notions that a garden is no better than compost if it lacks the current cause for hysteria among gardeners.

Evidencing my fears was further research. I had hit the website of a leader in American gardening style, the Ball Horticultural Company.

Sure enough, they had followed suit and declared yellow, plus orange, and an offsetting purple to be the toniest of colors in gardening this year. To my knowledge, yellow hasn’t been promoted as a true player in American gardens in quite some time. Why? I don’t know. I kind of like yellow.

You don’t suppose the people at Ball are taking Mimosa dead serious? It’s business in bad times; they’re not missing a thing.

What’s more, I think the people at Pantone have larger hopes for Mimosa than just leading fashion victims around by the nose. I suspect they’re shooting for resolution of truly intractable problems. This is what Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of The Pantone Institute, proclaimed of Mimosa:

“The color yellow exemplifies the warmth and nurturing quality of the sun, properties we as humans are naturally drawn to for reassurance,” she assuredly said. She went on to add, “Mimosa also speaks to enlightenment, as it is a hue that sparks imagination and innovation.”

At the time I thought, “Well, it is a strong yellow, but I’m not sure it can do all that.” It’s a rare day when color is a force for change.

And, then I recalled a rare day, an episode from my childhood that rocked slightly the foundations of many homes in America, as it certainly did mine, rending useless the conventional wisdom of millions inured to a lack of hue and value in an important aspect of their daily lives: television.

In the early 1960s when I was a young boy, Sunday nights were reserved as “family nights” quite often spent eating freshly-popped popcorn while bundled under afghans together with my family watching “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.”

Disney’s first episode to be broadcast “In Living Color” was a huge event touted in all the media. Disney had switched networks from ABC – no small temblor in a time of rock solid corporate ties – to NBC in order to capitalize on their singular technology in mass color broadcasting.

The initial episode began in black and white with the avuncular Walt discussing the impact of color on our world. In fact Disney devoted most of the episode to furthering Americans’ understanding of the principles of color. To dramatically illustrate the power of color, mid-episode Disney flipped the switch from black and white to broadcasting in vivid color. Wow!

I’d like to say it was an arresting sight, except no revolutionary vision registered on our television; it was a black and white TV. The only dramatic occurrence in our home the instant Disney cued to color was my brother and sister and I began an incessant and earsplitting whine that drove my parents to buy a color television soon after.

Sponsoring that moment was RCA, then the leading manufacturer of color televisions. I’m certain they heard that whine only as a pleasant ringing in their ears. It sparked of innovation and imagination.

Perhaps Pantone’s plan has promise.

Tom Glass writes a weekly gardening column for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments about this column to

Support Local Journalism