The term ‘tone on tone’ is trending in fashion and now interiors. The idea is to play with one hue——its tints (made by adding white), shades (made by adding black to the hue) and tones (created through the addition of gray). Tone-on-tone is technically only born of the latter of course, but the trend includes using one colour for a complete outfit, room, or even house. One might play across a whole range of colours in a certain family. Mrs. Shell Pink and her coral daughter, salmon son, and apricot husband. You get the idea.
In gardening, we might call this a 'monochromatic planting' scheme, whilst knowing full well, as gardeners do, that nature adores variation. For example, say you’d like to create a calming corner of cool coloured plants. Your (truly) primary hue would be blue, but you’d tone into pastels and shade towards indigo. What might such a scheme look like in terms of flower selection?
In spring: Muscari, ’Blue Diamond’ tulips, Forget-Me-Nots, Brunnera, Scilla, and the wonderful fast-growing bee plant Phacaelis. In early summer: Hardy Geraniums, Baptisia, lupins, Polemoniums, Nepeta (catmint), Borage, Delphiniums, sweet peas, Nigella (aka Love-in-a Mist) and Clematis. In high summer, you could still keep cool by dipping into the pale blues and purples of Echinops (Globe Thistles), Lavenders, or the silver blues of Eryngiums. Annual Linum (flax) is a fine clear blue, while Larkspurs are available in smokey blues and purples. Come August, Verbenas and Heliotope can take the heat. In autumn, Salvia pratensis, and S. ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’ and ‘Black and Blue’ would carry the theme into October, as would the towering deep blue Aconite.
Ironically, such constraint in terms of colour often offers not a feeling of limitation but delight. I’ll explain with the help of a psychological phenomenon known as 'the paradox of choice’. The theory holds that the more options we have, unhappier we become. We think we want it all but when faced with it? We balk.
At the garden centre, the paint store, the boutique, how many of us wander the aisles being drawn hither and yon? We browse and hedge. We need something: that’s why we carved out time to shop. A decision needs to be made, but choice morphs into paralysis. In such a situation, wouldn’t it be nice to simply ask: Can you show me something blue? Perhaps all the options presented by modern consumerism have us now craving less.
Once upon a time I was told you could age a woman by how 'matchy' her outfit was. You know—the shoes harmonizing with the handbag, the scarf picking up a touch of this from that. Now the fashion-forward gardener headed to town need only choose one colour, and wear it head-to-toe. In my case, I'd have to start with my boots which are lamentedly, but honestly and earthily, brown.