Edwardian (Horti)culture 10: Malignent Magentas

'The Blue Butterflies' by William Nicholson, 1913 (The National Trust)

‘The Blue Butterflies’ by William Nicholson, 1913 (The National Trust)

‘I am always surprised at the vague, not to say reckless, fashion in which garden folk set to work to describe the colours of flowers, and at the way in which quite wrong colours are attributed to them. […] Nothing is more frequent in plant catalogues than ‘bright golden yellow’, when bright yellow is meant. Gold is not bring yellow. […] Another example of the same slip-slop is the term flame coloured, and it is often preceded by the word gorgeous. This contradictory mixture of terms is generally used to mean bright scarlet. When I look at a flame, whether of fire or candle, I see that the colour is a rather pale yellow, with a reddish tinge about its upper forks, and side wings often a bluish white – no scarlet anywhere. […] crimson is a word to beware of; it covers such a wide extent of ground, and is used to carelessly in plant catalogues, that one cannot know whether it stands for a rich blood colour or for a malignant magenta’ (Gertrude Jekyll, Wood and Garden, 1899).

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